There is a great love few people discuss – they’re far too caught up with fickle Eros. More constant than romance with beauty that doesn’t fade but renews itself as life and death constantly change place. This is biophilia, a natural devotion that draws us to the wild, stirring and soothing emotion. It inspires us to connect with sister water, brother wind and every other vital, vibrant familial living thing. I may not ever get to be Juliet to a true Romeo, but this love story with the wild will always be my own.
To walk around this garden is to walk around the world as exotic origins, like petals, gently unfold and betray that the seeming most English of sights are awash with much more foreign and distant delights. Lavender, stocks, hollyhocks and sweet sweet peas come from a range of far-flung regions and countries. The Middle East, Canary Islands, China and Italy are where these should variously be found and seen. When you contemplate the blaze of Rhododendron’s colours, you might not be quite so surprised to learn and discover that its blousy blooms belong in Portugal, Turkey and Spain. But I think you might be shocked when I take time to explain that daffodils and tulips come from similar areas, though perhaps less so that camellias are found in Malaysia. The British-butterfly-blessed Buddleia is actually Chinese and I beg you must believe me, honestly, please, that Wisteria grows in climes such as Japan and Korea while some strains of lily come from Northern Armenia. Lilac started life in Europe, but in its southern-most parts and Hyacinth is Bulgarian or Palestinian at heart. English roses are a mixture of indigenous and not – but last not least, don’t let it ever be forgot that Clematis, though its folk name is ‘Traveller’s Joy’, truly is English, yes it’s absolutely the real McCoy! It’s not just our population that blends ethnicities, our soil is bursting with international species – some gifted, others discovered, still more plundered by ill gains, but whatever the story, the results are now the same; English country gardens perhaps need a new name, something that better reflects their cosmopolitan fame!
Who is this sleeping in an unlikely nettle nest? The first-born fawn at Studley taking a late afternoon rest.
Day care isn’t available to doting, devoted does, so they choose a hiding place nobody else could know.
The mother will soon return to suckle her tiny bairn, so let’s creep away quietly and leave it alone again.
II – Taboo joy
My dog will not approve, but I must say a word about all the new additions to local cow herds. He hates it when May comes and they start to appear in the lower fields – he’s utterly overcome with fear. But I still must mark the glee of seeing new born calves frolicking in the fields with their ungainly gangly dance. One in particular, never seems able to stay still, running round the field and up and down the hill. He leaps and cavorts with pure, unfettered joy that no inclement weather seems able to destroy. My dog aside, I dare anyone not to feel elation at the sight of a creature so in love with liberation.
Everyone waxes lyrical about dawn chorus strains but most forget to serenade the dusk’s lesser fame. No need to get up before the swift rising sun, just wait till the evening when your day’s work is done; make yourself a cup of tea and head outside, find a place to sit and be and simply abide… You’ll be richly rewarded by a stream of virtuosos performing polyphony with persistent crescendos. The whole gorgeous din will sound finely orchestrated, a symphony of sound surely purposefully created. And a blackbird will sing with such sweet melody, you’ll scarcely believe he’s re-enforcing territory. This is the soirée of the avian woodwind players, a spacious Evensong service for mindful prayers.
Meet me tonight under the Flower Moon for Spring is ebbing fast and will be gone too soon. We’ll walk among the bluebells in a silver glow, blessed by gently illuminated lantern shows. We’ll talk of time’s swift passage as it sails on past and try to slow the evening down to make May last. We’ll console ourselves by shaping plans for later in June – to walk and talk again under the Strawberry Moon.
High on Ilkley Moor with no hat and no cares, feet finding familiar falls on tourist thoroughfares, I retrace the path patterns that taught me so much, widening my heart to a broader, wilder love. This is where I first found home among windswept heather and lost my breath to freedom in fierce, fabled weather.
I descend to the Wharfe with eager, strong strides, remembering countless times when I walked beside its rushing, raw strength and across its stepping stones – the first time I spotted a kingfisher on my own. This is where I first breathed wild garlic’s perfume and marvelled at its carpeting bright stars in bloom.
I steal briefly on to Beanlands, then cross to Middleton Woods, the queen of bluebell-homes for miles and miles of neighbourhoods. I lose myself in wandering on wayward, weaving tracks, enjoying the poignant sensation of this special coming back. I drive on to Burley to have coffee and cake with old friends, remembering even when you move, connection to place never ends.
Skirting the fields with low skimming flight like metal detectors searching for bright; emitting a strange electronic sound, lapwings stay close to the treasure-laden ground.
Their calls collide curious car alarms over rural idylls and quiet lowing farms – the strangest noise to grace broad blue skies, belonging but evoking urban high rise.
I stop, look and listen at the fields’ first edge to spy on their strangeness from behind the Hawthorn hedge. I can’t help thinking that – a bit like me – lapwings started off as townies before they found the country.
High in Low Wood, in a deep, hidden glade, is a secret staircase the little folk must have made. It ascends a fallen tree with such even steps that it has the solid feel of a planned project. I imagine a figure climbing to act the sentinel, ready, if alerted, to ring his warning bluebell. This is bracket fungus, well used to build these shelves, a natural lookout ladder for tiny woodland elves.
Nine new neighbours have moved in across the street, and just as I was hoping, seven have four feet! There are five fantastic Collies with fabulous thick coats and – the news that absolutely thrills me the most – two Irish Cobs, with gentle, heavy gait. I’ve sent a welcome card but I really can’t wait to get to know them better and move on to stroking terms; to perhaps become a horse-sitter and take occasional turns at caring for my new friends when their owners go away… yes, being their holiday cover would really make my day!
The garden is stacked with store-cupboard scents as even though Blackcurrant isn’t fruiting yet, its leaves give off hints of thick sticky jam that titillate the taste-buds with breakfast-aping scams while bluebells broadcast honey on offer in thin air with a rich, round sweetness from the foliage over there. I’m heading in, defeated, to make a slice of toast – and spread it sinfully thick with the flavours I love most.
Strange to think our vast world of such rich, abundant life is also a tiny rock spinning around a pinprick of light. When I look up at the stars glittering distant in the sky, it’s impossible to imagine our sun’s burning ball of fire is also just a twinkle when viewed from far away; but this enchantment is real – it’s the perspective of space. The Earth can feel so big, and the Universe so small – a distant night time show blinking way above us all. But our globe is like a pebble or a perfect, polished fossil; a microscopic jewel amid the swirling colossal. Hopkins wrote God’s grandeur before we saw Earth from space – imagine how he’d poeticise now on whole galaxies of grace.
Alone on Brimham Moor on a wet weekday, its weird rocks shape shifting out of the grey, stacking themselves together in impossible ways – erosion sculpting gritstone as if it were clay.
I walk the winding tracks my feet have grown to love as the Eagle and Sphynx watch me from above, silent witnesses to wanderings of countless crowds dwarfed by their majesty, left collectively wowed.
No wonder the Georgians pronounced these Druid’s stones, unaware the credit belonged to River alone as she first carved her path down through the valley below, creating Nidderdale as her for-millennia-long home.
Left, forward, back, right, Barn Owl quarters the dusking light. Looming large, glowing white, a sister moon to bright the night. Scurrying creatures run and hide, burrow and dig to stay alive. A fierce beauty silently flies, I catch my breath as I catch the sight. Grace goes hunting, ready to fight, the Queen of the Gloaming is out tonight.
Stitchwort, lungwort, dog’s mercury and vetch. Devil’s bit scabious and Jack by the hedge. Ivy-leaved toadflax and cow parsley. Sneezewort, shepherd’s purse, snakes head fritillary. Selfheal, bear leak and purple loosestrife, Ragged robin, herb robert, night-scented catchfly. A library of folk tales with half the volumes checked out, no way left to discover what all the titles are about. Wild flowers weave their antiquated echoes of the past, their stories lost to the wind while their strange names last. Hogwarts and Cackles are now what come to mind, endless ingredients for Shakespeare’s witches to find.
Time weaves spells in Old Spring Wood where fresh leaves, established wood and creeping moss merge moments with memories of seasons, Septembers and centuries circling ever round and out.
Monks coppiced here, in Old Spring Wood; their calloused hands coaxing the land to harvest oaks that grow again as I trudge by, still sensing them here even while I conjure fresh ideas to whisper and play among the trees.
Things are not at all what they seem at this point in May when chestnuts sport umbrellas and Spruces spruce up the day with a thousand little brushes poised to clean or paint, while Hazel covers herself with fresh growth of such restraint that her tiny new leaves look fit for bonsai trees as they flutter with infinite delicacy in the afternoon breeze. No, this is not the time to get out your tree spotting guide and use its leaf identity charts to accurately decide the species you are seeing as you examine and compare – best to wait till Summer’s here and then go from there!
Go away cold front! You’re not welcome here. Stop pelting Spring’s bright flowers with your little rocks of fear. This is the weather for April or March – leave May alone! Blow away! Quick march! We’re tired of your hail and single figure degrees. Leave us alone now! Give Spring some peace! We’re ready for coatless days and fine firepit nights… let us have our sunshine – give up your fight!
More than half the world’s bluebells grow in the UK so don’t ever miss out on enjoying them in May. Make sure you set aside at least one day to walk among their fabulous, fragrant array.
You’ll find them growing wild in all our ancient woods but why not plant their bulbs in every built-up neighbourhood? Then they can do each citizen the power of good – transforming the mundane with exquisite Wedgwood.
The world is much improved by well placed petal power, uplifting the lonely and brightening the dour; dousing the dull in heady flower showers, making every minute feel like golden hour.
I’m putting off any more procrastination and booking myself onto a woodland vacation where I can dose up on a free prescription of health-boosting benefits beyond description. I’m ready to breathe in my fill of phytoncides while adrenaline and cortisol quietly subside. I’ll happily let the green enhance my white blood cells and relax in all its beauty while my immunity swells. This is the science of ‘shinrin-yoku’ – I hope you will explore its wonders too.
Searching for clues written in spraint, stealing down to the river ready to wait… Deposits on rocks give it away; the otters are back on our stretch again! This, for me, is a wild weekend night – staying up late to catch a rare sight of a run and dive or brief bobbing head; a rippling splash already past the next bend.
There’s a demon in the conservatory with two tiny green horns. I don’t trust him at all despite his frail, diminutive form. It won’t be too long now till his true colours gleam and hints of his fiery powers will be unmistakably seen. They’ll grow in devilish points all over his strengthening frame – threatening savage burns, matching his diabolical name.
Wisteria hysteria seizes me every time. I can’t help acting as if its trailing blooms are mine; leaning over gates and walls without neighbours’ consent – desperate for a hit of its heavenly, heady scent. Its heavy hanging flowers have me utterly enthralled, there’s a Briar-Rose-enchanted-castle-sense about it all. Oh, to grow a bower of cascades in my bedroom, and sleep among their blue rain falls till late each afternoon. But until I can live out Aurora’s daytime dreams, I’ll have to keep inhaling this fragrance by illicit means.
You bring the blanket, I’ll bring the tea, come and have breakfast in the woods with me. The light will be dappling every forest glade, magicking the morning with sun-kissed shade. And the floor will be covered with a billion bluebells, their heady fragrance balanced by petrichor smells. Let’s catch the final bars of the bird’s dawn opus and give their wild melodies our full, devoted focus. Let’s hold this perfect hour for as long as it can last, and share all our secrets while the day ambles past.
I’m searching the skies for the first few swifts, even as the geese conclude their northward drifts. Strange to think if I lived in Norway or Sweden such different birds would herald my Spring season. Stranger still to think about the whole great exchange and how so many avian species know how to arrange their jaw-dropping migrations around our vast planet – to imagine myself inside the minds of cuckoos or gannets. Migration is a marvel we are only starting to unravel as we investigate the routes each different bird travels. People used to believe swallows hibernated in dirt before it was discovered just how far they traversed. And still no one has charted where house martins go – for now that is a mystery we must keep waiting to know. We think that many birds can read magnetic forces and orientate directions from the sun and stars’ courses. We know some find their way without first being shown, the route somehow understood before being known. Millions race back home, hundreds of kilometres a day, only pausing intermittently for short breaks on the way. The distances they fly are astounding for their size – a bi-annual Olympics played out before distracted eyes. For all that we achieve with our advanced technology, this great exchange holds an even greater awe for me. I will never tire of learning about these brave explorers’ routes and their in-built natural navigator system attributes.