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The beauty of a common weed

During this hugely odd time of lockdown, as many are feeling fear, frustration and feelings of claustrophobia, I have realised that I have started to look at things in a new way. There are people who have noted that they are hearing more bird song and seeing more and varied wildlife. Is this true or is it simply that we are at home and paying more attention to things that would normally pass us by?

I am very fortunate as I have a garden, yet unlike my parents who had an ability to plant anything and see it thrive, I am not green fingered, Not letting this stop me, over the past 3 years I have tidied it up and started to plant, not only for beauty, but to encourage and help insects and birds. As a lover of the outdoors, it is a space I enjoy spending time in.

There is a real joy in knowing that I am sharing a space with other living creatures and with a garden being a real luxury in London, I am keen to make it one which is enjoyed by as many creatures as possible, as well as myself.

Over the past few weeks, I have taken to taking my yoga mat outside, strangely not for the practice of yoga but simply to sit on the floor and read or write. I don't really know why I have started doing this given we have perfectly good garden seats. Nevertheless, doing this has meant I am closer to the ground and as such, I have noticed the ants. It feels a little strange to even write about this as seeing an ant comes of no surprise to anyone and unlike our wonderful bees, they aren't to my knowledge, threatened or on the decline (although, I suppose all insects are to some degree).

Seeing them has struck me because watching ants isn't something I have done since a child. Poor ants seem to be of great fascination to children. I know I often spent time observing them, making mini assault courses for them to navigate, looking at them up close while they crawled over my fingers, wondering where they were travelling to, what their homes looked like underground and how many there were, taken off into a dreamland of what life would be like to be that small. The number of times I would watch them with fascination, carrying bits of newly cut leaves or dead siblings on their backs.

This spring has been the first time in many years that I have lost myself in the act of staring at these tiny but fascinating creatures, not because I had nothing better to do but because I rediscovered the art of losing myself in the life of another creature.

On Sunday, after realising that I had spent most of the day indoors and immobile, I felt a real need to get outside and stretch my legs. I have been known to go on short runs near my home (ok, slow jog might be a more accurate description!) but rarely ever a stroll, however, on this evening, that was what was calling me. It was a beautiful evening and I was excited to get outside.

Being a Londoner, whilst in the city, I am always on a mission to get from A to B. Even time spent in a green space can often be on a lunch break, time boxed by having to get back within the hour. I left the house with the sole intention of stretching my legs and having an enjoyable walk, yet in an area that I have known for years, I soon found that I took interest in a lot more than I normally would.

I effortlessly found my eyes wandering, looking at houses that over the decades I have passed so many times, but this time, seeing them as though for the first time. Observing a few hand drawn rainbows in the windows made me smile whilst also bringing a sense of sadness for the times we are living through.

It wasn't just the colourful rainbows that captivated me. I saw a cluster of bluebells. Seriously, bluebells?! I never knew they grew just one street from my house. They were in full bloom, a carpet of them on a verge by the road, a road that is usually filled with parked cars, concealing the plants and flowers beyond them.

Once the bluebells caught my eye, I found myself looking at wonderful trees with new buds forming at the end of beautiful brown branches, telling me that Spring was well under way. I am aware that these ‘exercise’ breaks are not intended for photography or birdwatching, but with my phone in hand, it was difficult to resist a few shots of nature staring me in the face.

I didn’t walk significantly slower than I normally would, but I now seemed to be noticing so much more.

As a walked past a house on the corner, a lady walked out into her front garden to collect a cluster of her own bluebells and a few dandelions. I wondered whether this was something she would do each Spring or if this was a new task as an attempt to bring a little bit of nature into her house at a time when were spending so much time inside.

My walk took me to a normally busy road connecting Hangar Lane to Harrow. It was around 5.30 on a Saturday evening and whilst the road was busy with cars, it was very sparse of people. This road has never been one of much interest to me, simply a long and busy road, yet unusually for the area, it is tree lined with grass verges.

As I started to walk down it, what took me by surprise was my fascination at the number of dandelions I came across. There wasn’t anything particularly wonderful about these dandelions. They were the same as any other and in either one of three stages: either the yellow flower, a full ball of seeds, or a partial seen head which had been caught by the wind.

I am not sure what it was about them but I was transfixed, uncertain to why I found such fascination in this common weed but as I walked further down the road, I kept finding more and more that I wanted to take photos of. I was struck by how nature had purposely made the seeds so transient, but as a result, created such beauty in what remained.

Dandelions are things we play with as children – making a wish as we blow the seeds into the breeze, but as adults, we seem to have forgotten the joy this simple act brought us, now seeing them as weeds, unattractive and unnecessary, having lost sight of the real magic of nature.

Lockdown is giving me a new way of seeing, providing a new patience and respect for even the most familiar of things. Returning me to an enchanted child.

Cover image from Nine Köpfer, Upsplash. All other images my own.

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