I am currently doing an online course with Emergence Magazine about nature writing and last week we were thinking about place, specifically relationship to place. Normally on sunny, warm days I would be found in the local park which I treat like my garden. If I need to stay home for a delivery or whatever, I might sit out the front of my flat on the pavement. Neither park nor pavement are options right now. What follows is what I wrote about my only option, the back yard.
The back yard is not a space I am intimate with. It isn’t a space I have made familiar. I have avoided it as much as possible. It comes with fear, anxiety and an unwarranted sense of trespass.
When I first saw my flat had a yard, I filled my imagination with dreams and plans, I designed the space in my head. And then I met the neighbours I share it with, and their two untrained dogs which bark and leap and scratch all over my allergic legs. And I saw the dog poo that wasn’t picked up and the dryer fluff that comes out of their window and sticks to the floor. And I got yelled at and threatened for things I hadn’t done.
And those dreams and plans were lost.
Four years later. We can’t spend this sunny afternoon in the park, or sit out the front by the street. Regular habits have been put on pause by coronavirus so, instead, we snatched at a chance when my neighbours went out. We sit in the yard. It is lovely feeling sun on my skin and air outdoors feels twice as fresh. But a bitter buzz deep in me can’t shake the anxiety and fear that my neighbours, or their dogs, will appear.
The self I see out here is one who gives copious amounts of space to others, who makes herself incredibly small so they can stamp all over her more easily.
The front of my flat goes straight onto pavement, but there is a small square where the council planted a bush. I claimed this as my garden. A bird feeder clings to my window above it, visible from the riser recliner I reside in most of the time.
I have built a relationship with this space. Watching sparrows and starlings on the feeder, blackbirds on the bush and pigeons on the floor hoping for scraps of seed. I track the light of the sky slice I can see. Weather permitting I keep my windows open, if only a crack, so I can hear the life outside.
Overtime I’ve ‘trained’ my carers to tell me about birds on the feeder out back that I can’t see from my chair. They send me photos of nature they encounter on their days off; trees abundant with blossom, daffodils singing about the sun and shells seen on a beach. These love notes, for that’s how I think of these pictures, always make me smile. Snapshots of nature in the wider world, sent back to me in this flat, in this chair.
From this chair, I have learnt the names of species but I’ve also got to know the individuals; my friends. The baby sparrow who could feed itself but convinced mum to feed him (and even though you couldn’t yet tell, it had to have been a boy, a mummy’s boy). I watched a lone starling grow up and gain his or her starspots. I have seen a blackbird courting a female and heard his songs from my bed. I have seen bees and butterflies, wagtails and magpies, pigeons and gulls.
This small slice of nature, fills my world and feels so much bigger the more intimately I know it. A fraction of the size of the yard, yet this is mine. This is where I grow and glow and beam so brightly that I seem bigger, not smaller.