The parks, green spaces and streets of south east London become instantly full whenever the winter sun emerges as it has this morning. I find myself idly wondering what London would look like if everyone who lived here came outside at the same time. And it makes me feel a bit faint.
I’m trying to let go of twin cravings for somewhere new and somewhere empty to visit, instead going back to my old nature haunts with a new perspective. South Norwood Country Park has turned into a temporary wetland since I last came. After the rain of the last few weeks, today large areas of the meadows are covered with standing water. There are more people walking here but it’s a big enough space to let us all spread out a bit and negotiating the mud is a surprisingly mindful experience.
I return to one of the pond-side platforms to see if I can see the kingfisher which was here when I last came. I’ve only been there for a few seconds when a family appear. Their little girl was hoping to feed the “ducks”, which in fact are coots. Resisting the temptation to be a patronising old grouch with the coot-thing, I scan the pond edges unsuccessfully for another minute before the girl’s disappointment moves me on. The mum’s grateful smile makes it more than worth it.
On the park’s perimeter, flocks of redwings flick from tree to tree in my peripheral vision as if playing a game of grandmother’s footsteps. As usual I’m trying to both look upwards for birds and downwards for plants at the same time. I started the year compulsively hunting for anything which is flowering and can’t stop it today. I find that photographing flowers is a meditative way of enjoying nature, even on those occasions when it’s difficult to find a quiet patch. This park has felt a bit edgy in the past. One benefit of the extra visitors is I’m more confident about getting out my camera without worrying about being mugged.
It’s a conflict. Brilliant though it is that more people are spending time in nature, in urban areas we surely must be stressing wildlife. And perhaps selfishly I just want to find some peace too. While around a half of Greater London is green space this is mostly concentrated in the outer boroughs. The impact of lockdown restrictions has demonstrated that there isn’t enough local space to support a natural desire many of us have to get away from the crowds.
In the meantime, focusing in on nature literally* is the best I can do for my wellbeing.
[*To be clear, ‘literally’ is used here in the literal sense rather than the Generation Z one!]