Pathways in the Urban Wild – Lucy Jones

Photo by Luis Diaz Devesa via Getty Images

Lucy Jones reflects on the healing benefits of an attentive relationship with the living world and the complex barriers to that relationship within urban areas.

Five petals in the absolute definition of scarlet. Ultraviolet purple center with a baby pink core. Crimson pink stamens ending with all-important anthers in sunshine yellow.

It was sunny, so the flower was open. Serendipity and the sublime, in broken concrete. We looked up to see the red kite circling the construction site, and swifts screaming through the skies, echoing the wonder at our feet.

I’ve been taking my three-year-old daughter on “wildflower safaris” on our street, seeking beauty in small handkerchiefs of land and patches of soil beside the building site. During the height of lockdown, this was our one mandated walk outside, for just an hour. We inhaled as much life as we could find.

At first, there wasn’t much to see. I live on a big, wide road that feeds into the center of a town in the English countryside. It’s a bare road compared with other tree-lined avenues nearby, with a few, small trees dotted about. Across the street is a large construction site where they are building around six hundred new homes. I can see the deep-green countryside on the horizon over the scaffolding and breeze blocks; in our ward, there is an under-provision of open space, and the immediate area looks very industrial and urban.

But as we looked, and looked some more, our eyes adjusted. And something else happened too.

I want to tell you about the magic on my street. The borders of the road, left unmown by a council busy with the virus, became banquets of nectar for pollinators and brimmed with shapes, patterns, colors, scents. Clover in different shades—dusky pink, candy-floss, a memory of pink—spread among the sharp oranges and lemons of bird’s-foot trefoil. Bees sucked sweet sap. Giant oxeye daisies with their disc-like yolks shivered and quivered in the breeze. Before the clamorous engines of the cranes and diggers were turned on again, we heard the ticker-tape of grasshoppers and the honeyed drones of bumblebees.

We had time to consider individual dandelion seeds, the brown hard nub like a handle, then the central tightrope ending in a splayed inside-out umbrella: one o’clock, two o’clock, three o‘clock. My daughter’s wicker collecting basket would be full by the time we got home. Our spirits were full, too, with poppies, thistles, valerian, rosy garlic, borage.

Our lion, our leopard, was found among metal barriers and builders’ rubble. The noise had started to crank up again—various industrial tones and staccato beats—and the roads were newly busy. But at our moment of discovery—Quick! Come and look at this!—we didn’t hear any of it; we didn’t hear the fears of illness, the daily death toll, the anxieties of living in a society predicated on destruction and inequality, the Arctic reaching 100.4°F. Instead we zoomed in: I crouched down with my knees on the tarmac (my daughter is short enough to enjoy tiny wonders) and observed, closely, a scarlet pimpernel.


WHY DID WE go in search of worms and shepherd’s purse and starlings? Spring was unfurling, and looking closely, actually noticing, truly seeing, became a grip on hope. It was also a meditative escape. A little later, setting out to find snails in the warm summer rain, examining the different helix patterns, forced us to focus on the present while our subconscious was trying to furiously process what it meant to be in a pandemic.[…]

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