In the 80s and 90s when I grew up I could tell you what my neighbours Forsythias flowers smelled like, how the bark felt as your tried to grab a branch to climb up it (painful and bobbly). I can close my eyes now and remember what lawn grass tastes like and that the best, sweetest part was at the base, just above the crown. When chit-chatting with my dad whilst he was digging out the vegetable patch for the years’ trial plantation of potatoes, tomatoes for mum and courgettes; I was told to never eat or touch ‘that’ (pointing at an innocuous plant) because it will kill within an hour. I listened hard and could feel my stomach flutter if I came within a metre of the plant that was especially terrifying as it was called ‘Deadly Nightshade’ (Atropa belladonna), yes those berries looked absolutely delicious but I daren’t look too long or too hard just incase it poisons me by looking at it too much.
However, what I can’t remember is actually appreciating the beauty of the nature around me. Again, it was my father who showed me a secret spot in Hartsholme Park he found when he was a policeman in The Lincolnshire Police where sweet chestnuts (not a common plant at all in Lincolnshire compared to now living in Nottinghamshire and them being everywhere) could be found and dissected accordingly. ‘This is cool’ I thought, finding a secret spot in the middle of a busy public park was thrilling and learning what a
raw sweet chestnut tastes like is with me still. I went back to this little spot when I was pregnant with my daughter on one of my daily hour-long dog walks. I found the same spot and although it took me a few times to walk up and down the path to find the way down to the side of the lake where the sweet chestnut was growing and discreetly shedding its nuts, I found a truly picturesque spot where a fallen log lay with at least 10 mosses and lichens making themselves at home, a carpet of orange and pink from the falling leaves of cherry and chestnut and the campions, dead nettle, willow herb giving a show with only me to watch and another fallen branch was straddling the lake and the bank with geese and ducks taking a rest in a line like bench at lunchtime. It was perfect, it was new and yet I’d been before- I just hadn’t seen it like I was now.
I’ve been thinking lately about how you change from what you want to be to what you really are. At 22, I wanted to be the girl at a gig every weekend and a pint of cold lager or Jack Daniels in my hand looking cool and standing out. Now, at 33 I enjoy being the woman in a field or wood or beach looking down, around and up and seeing what is on offer today to taste or photograph. I like going home and researching what I have found and then trying to remember it for the next time. I like writing about it and I like reading about what others have to say about this piece of nature I will never just ‘see’ again. So with my daughter, I can’t expect her to be as engaged as me about everything we do. I show her what I know, I’m present in her company when we are out and I show her things that she may not have seen. I walked my daughter home from school yesterday picking out what we often ignore ‘what do the clouds look like today?’, ‘have you seen the colours of those leaves?’ and ‘I wonder what bird was in that nest, what do you think?’. It took 20 mins as opposed to 7 mins but then she warmed up to the idea and became present with what she was seeing, observing a group of 6 starlings in the sky, then a gang of 10 darting and dancing in the twilight of a November sky. She may not, right now, appreciate an Earthstar (Astraeus hygrometricus) as this amazing construction from the natural world like I do- but maybe, when she’s older she will come back to nature, like I did, and then be blown away.