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Six Lockdown Walks

Artist John Newling and writer Alys Fowler exchange letters on their daily walks, through residential areas and open spaces in Nottingham and Birmingham. Reflecting on the pattern language of these environs and their own behaviours, some happy accidents and moments of connection occur.

Explore John Newling’s exhibition Dear Nature online.

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Letter: 1/6
From: John Newling
Date: Monday 6 April
Time: 10am
Weather: Sunny intervals and a moderate breeze
Subject: A walk at distance 

Dear Alys,

The first and possibly only route decision on my walk is whether to go left or right outside our gate. I go left. 

I pass neighbours and friends houses and find myself waving at them. Weirdly I think this helps as if some sweep of air percolates through their walls and makes a greeting. I bring my hand down feeling a bit silly. Before long I have to cross a main road. It reminds me of film footage of the M1 opening in 1959 with single Morris Minor trudging along the vast open space of tarmac. I cross the road and think about how the earth is doing a huge spring clean right nowthis gives me some solace.   

There is, and always has been, a distance between what we hope for and the reality of our world. Distance has been a generator of human endeavours for millennia. Social distancing gives us a chance to think about what we wish forThe earth is getting cleaner and in some ways all of this can be seen as a rehearsal for some of the conditions we need to maintain if we want to survive as a species. 

I turn right and start the uphill climb of a private road; always good for a bit of cardiovascular exercise. A private road is what it says. It is a wealthy part of the city. I enjoy walking up this particular road. Even now I get a delicious sense of not being allowed here; a cuckoo, so to speak. It has some beautiful domestic architecture and large front gardens. I have, for many years, followed the growth of some of the road’s plants and treesalso enjoy looking at what is visible in the front windows. Many of the houses are set way back from the road and not much can be seen. I guess this is another kind of social distancing. Occasional glimpses of the people that live in these houses are always a treat; like spotting a rare species.  I always want to know what they do for a living. 

It is spring, my favourite season, and everything appears to be in a rush to amaze us. I stop to look at the early leaf unfurling on a beautiful beech hedge. Beech trees are very slow growing and lock in lots of carbon. They come into full leaf late in the spring. I once grew nine beech trees for a work and really enjoyed studying how their leaves grewNature does not stop for us, but we can stop for it.

When our son was young we used to go collecting conkers. Once, in an area around a private road, we saw a great horse chestnut tree laden with conkers. We started to collect them when someone emerged from the house and shouted “You do not belong here, go away!” In truth the tree was in their front garden so I guess they had a point, but the phrase ‘you do not belong here’ still hangs around me like some poisonous fog.

Sometimes I walk with a political voice in my head,

“Is there is such a thing as a Daily Mail reader’s garden or, for that matter, a Guardian reader’s garden?” I wonder.   

On walks, I often just stop to look at some plant or building for some time. These are slow time activities that help me know where I am.

Out of breath, I reach the top of the private road and start to meander through other places.

I see someone about fifty metres away walking towards me. I start to cross the road at the same time as they do; a shadow dance of sorts. I then move back and we both laugh. As we pass each other we wave. Perhaps it is “not waving but drowning”. However, I feel a small sense of wellbeing from the wave.

I am overwhelmed with a desire to shake a hand or give someone a hug; such greetings do mean so much. The handshakes, hugs and smiles are surely what will narrow the distance between us. We will mind the gap and be better for it.

Just maybe all this awfulness will help us move away from our predilection for thinking exclusively in a binary of blame/ virtue. We are a fragile species that has the capacity to dazzle like the blossoms I am seeing.

Distancing is strange thing. I pass a queue of people waiting to go food shopping. I have to say the older people in the queue have a poor idea of what six feet is. I work out that if their idea of six feet is true then they would all be four feet tall. Perhaps they are scared someone will fill the gap; very odd. I have also noticed that when an area is given speed restrictions drivers seem to want to go to that limit, so it could be the same with social distancing. Perhaps when we are told a specific distance we want to be at or on that limit. We are all frightened and keen to comply to the letter so to speak.

I am making my way to a local park. I love parks. For me they are the freely given lungs of our cities. I walk briskly through the park; there are more people here than I expected. It is the park that Ann and I go to at least once a week. It is a park favoured by dog walkers. I laugh to myself as I remember that, in the Italian lockdown many dogs have been reported as exhausted as they’ve been passed between friends for walking. Italian rules allowed a walk with a dog. Not sure if this true or not.

I cut down a short road lined on either side with town houses. Each house has a small back garden and a front door onto the pavement. I have walked this road for several decades now. For a while the houses looked shabby and a bit neglected although structurally very solid. Then a few years back someone, maybe a family, moved in and painted their front door and window sills. They also placed potted plants on the pavement. Slowly the whole street took to doing similar things and it became a fine place. Now many of the houses have plants outside. It is delight to walk along. Significantly I have never seen any damage done to these plants. It is amazing how much change can be generated by painting a front door. I notice the virus is spreading to the adjoining streets. Such things bring a sense of care to place.

I pass the “pink shop” on my way back. The pink shop is painted grey. It has been like this for many years but is still, on occasion, referred to as the pink shop. When Ann and I moved into the area some kind people gave us directions to a grocery shop via the pink shop, but we couldn’t find it. This was because it was no longer pink. Such landmarks abide in conversational form in many areas; local histories acting as guides.

I notice many houses have teddy bears in their windows. I found out this is for mums and dads who take their children on a bear hunt. This thought lifts that poisonous fog and makes me less inclined to fall out with my own species.

I am home. I wash my hands and put the kettle on.

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Letter: 2/6
From: Alys Fowler
Date: Monday 9 April
Time: 4pm
Weather: Sunny, warm, light breeze
Subject: A walk with no distance

Dear John,

I can go forward or I can go right. If I go left, I hit the railroad. If I go forward, I head towards to the shops, to people and commerce. I consider this the other world. If I go right, I enter my world. I take three more rights until I dip under the railway bridge and scramble up into the park, to snake between the poplars and the emerging cow parsley, to count the cowslips (just one this year) and watch the buttercups wake up. Then through to the little wood, saying hello to the wood anemones, curving past the fallen tree where the slime mould lives, checking in on the oyster mushrooms that are now wilted snotty handkerchiefs of their former selves. Then a little further on, past the pond and the great beech (not yet in leaf, unlike your hedge) to the allotment gate and my destination.

I do this walk nearly every day. It is mapped on my heart and that of the dog’s too. She is fond of certain spots the way dogs are.  She likes to idle by the pond, knowing full well that I want to get behind the gate as quickly as possible and, playing on my frustration, will get offered a treat to hurry up. She has a mighty will for a small being.

About a year ago she decided it was beneath her to be tethered any longer. She knows the route and the routine; the lead is a ruse she no longer wishes to partake in. If you put it on her she goes so painfully slow, digging her heels in as you try to chivvy her along.  If you take it off, she trots along with an air of purpose and pride that makes me feel guilty that I ever thought it was necessary.

Today, I go right with the dog, and with Ele, who’s just graduated early from med school and has Easter off before she is drafted to a local hospital. We have a basket full of mixed corn for the hens and seeds for the soil.  Up we scramble to romp through the main field so the dog can gallop and we can look at the clouds and the crows. Then into the little woodland where on the path we meet something unexpected; a very unusual looking pigeon.

We used to keep white tumbling doves when I was a child. Occasionally, one of the females would get swayed by a feral pigeon and we’d get these piebald babies that never knew their father, but carried a wild freedom inside them.  They would improvise on the loop to loop of their flight pattern or just become curious and go see the wider world.

The pigeon on the path looked a little like them, black, white and grey with a pretty little head and the tell-tale ring on her ankle. She was a lost homing pigeon.

Ele and the dog stay back and I sit down with some of the chicken corn, doing my very best to persuade the pigeon to come live with us. She comes closer, then darts back, gobbles up corn and looks at me curiously. I send Ele and the dog down a different path so that they can come up slowly behind and edge her towards a life with us. Just as I think it might actually happen, the dog does a very dramatic sneeze and she flies up into the branches, refusing to come down for any amount of corn. The dog looks away: I’ve thought about this since and I am quite sure it was timed on her part.

For a good hour, I mourn not having that pigeon as a friend. I look for her the next day, but she is nowhere. I hope that, refuelled on my chicken corn, she has gone home. That or she met another pigeon and now is living a wild life along the rail tracks.

I’m very interested in pigeons. I am fascinated in how they transcend so many different spaces for us. They are feral and domesticated, prized, fattened (a fancy pigeon eats a very refined diet) and despised. They have raced, travelled over boundaries as spies carrying messages, won medals at fairs for their plumage, been food for working families, a source of manure, psychological test subjects and even taught to recognise breast cancer. They can apparently spot it as accurately as any oncologist.    

Meeting the pigeon sent me back to reread the multispecies feminist writer Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble, Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016).  Do you know it? It is about how we must find new way ways to reconfigure our relationship to the earth and its inhabitants in the midst of spiralling ecological devastation. She writes of pigeons;

“Everywhere they go, these cosmopolitical pigeons occupy cities with gusto, where they incite human love and hatred in equal measures. Called ‘rats with wings’ feral pigeons are subject of vituperation and extermination, but they also become cherished opportunistic companions who are fed and watched avidly the world over.”    

Haraway is interested in species that are boundary crossers for us: occupying more than one place in our minds and thus are able to cross over and create threads of stories of how we, as multispecies, as kin, might get on better together.

That pigeon was a reminder of how I want the pretty, shy-headed one with a fine patterning to her wing, but not the cocky fat one that walks my garden daily looking for cabbages. Another hierarchy to ponder on these walks.    

All this suggests that I have not been thinking of people, of hugs, of friendships and greetings, of meetings and partings. I have, I have! Perhaps too much, so that when offered a fleeting fantasy of a friendship with a pigeon, something I could hold, something that might be sent off and would return home. Well I ran away with it for a while, much to Ele’s amusement;

“Are you looking for your pigeon friend?”

“Always.”

I look forward to reading your next walk. I miss Nottingham, its hills and higgledy-piggledy streets.

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Letter: 3/6
From: John Newling
Date: Friday 17 April

Time: 2pm
Weather: Sunny with a gentle breeze
Subject: Between a chalked sign and a tree that hugs itself

Dear Alys,

It’s the daily walk. Compliance is a strange thing. I heard this morning that it will take 66 days for us to accept the new conditions and, indeed, to get a bit grumpy when the new conditions are changed. Not sure where that comes from, but odd all the same. We are currently drowning in snippets of data. I can still feel the stinging of my hands from last night’s clapping; that’s three so far, another six and we will be close to resenting the end of lockdown.

Right or left at the gate. I go right. I pass our next-door neighbours’ house and glance up at the flag flying from the pole they have installed. Our neighbours are smashing people and very creative. Amongst many things they have a huge collection of flags, from smiley faces to national emblems. I am not a fan of places flying the St George or Union Jack. They give me the creeps and I find myself making all kinds of assumptions about the place and its occupants.

No, our neighbours’ flags can change daily, tuning our small community into the rest of the world. I love the flags as they remind us of other stories and places whilst being remote from the relentlessness of our news media; a kind of community journalism. At the moment in the porch of the same household there are two white boards with short bursts of text, information on the flag they are flying, facts of the day and jokes; brilliant.

The spring awakening seems to be racing towards teatime as the blossoms are now bedecking the pavements and most trees have that sublime haze of green that mists the landscape. There is a moment when spring finishes and summer sets in. I always find this a slightly sad time, but we are not there yet. It is so hard to reconcile these quiet, empty and beautiful streets with the truth that we walk them in the company of a pandemic.

I cross the road.

Walking in the city, I notice how each house has its own kind of semaphore. Windows often hold objects facing outwards to the street. This stuff is lovely to see and encourages our curiosity, allowing us to admire and conjecture on the interests, desires and hopes of others. I read that at different times we have objects on the sill facing into the home or out onto the street. In this time of lockdown our streets have become places of solidarity and support; objects and signs greet the passer-by. Perhaps our fears of touching are slightly assuaged by these other forms of expression.

On one side of a street I count: 15 hand-drawn rainbows, 9 large candles, 5 teddy bears, 3 telephone numbers offering help to people in isolation, a display of ceramic pigs in a variety of poses, a bundle of Indian scarves, an old election poster, ceramic ballerinas and so much more. It’s an anthropologist’s dream.

After a while I come across a pavement chalked with images of Easter bunnies, rainbows and flowers. It hasn’t rained much recently so the chalk is still there. The drawings are exuberant even celebratory, drawn with large chalks by children with big hearts. I stop to look at these marks of a moment passed and left to wash away at some point in time.

Then, set aside from the colourful display, I see a very different bit of work. Drawn in white chalk on asphalt it says “lock down love”. Below each of the words is a drawing of a padlock, a downward pointing arrow and a heart. Not sure if it was drawn at the same time as the other chalked works, but I find it singularly moving. It is unsure and fragile in its execution. The lightness of the chalk suggests the author wants it to wash away quicker than the adjacent bunnies, rainbows and flowers. I think it has been drawn by an adult, possibly a parent of the children. It does feel like a work that was strongly felt and needed to done by whoever did it. I can feel the resigned sigh of the person as the simple action is finished; nobody knows the true psychological consequences of this pandemic.

On every walk I get a small jolt of joy from seeing children with weary looking adults. These small tribes exude care and fun in equal measures. Goodness knows what the adults are thinking, but they display no sign of anxiety to the children. I love them for that.

I walk the length of the street, take a short left, then a right and another right. I am now in an area that I haven’t walked in for a while, but vaguely recognise the street. The houses are larger than the others I have been passing, although not set back too far from the pavement. The street trees are huge and stunning.

I recall this is where I saw a tree that seemed to be hugging itself. I have come across this tree on other walks, but am now a bit hazy on where it is and, indeed, whether I have mythologised it. I do know roughly the area and it is a very large street tree. After a few wrong choices I get a sense that this may be the street. I think it is the tree I am walking towards, but it isn’t. It is the next tree that is the one with its extraordinary root wrapping itself around its base. This is the tree. It feels like the walk had a destination and this is it.

I spend some time looking at the tree; circling its trunk and touching its bark. The combination of the chalked Covid-19 drawing and this magnificent tree sends a wave of sadness through me. It is the same kind of resigned sigh I sensed when looking at the chalked work.

I head for home at a faster pace not really looking at anything.

This is a time when an old soldier walks around his house with his new hip and medals, raising millions for our NHS. The old soldier is a good and decent man with only the best of intentions. He has become a diversion from all our fears; a shield of sorts. I cannot help but think political advisers must be clapping his every lap. Meanwhile in some city, town or village that is somewhere and everywhere, a person struggles to sleep because they cannot feed themselves or their family

I get home, wash my hands, give Ann a hug and put the kettle on.

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Letter: 4/6
From: Alys Fowler
Date: Tuesday 21 April
Time: 4pm
Weather: Sunny
Subject: A daily routine: a walk to feed the chickens

Dear John,

A few days ago, I ran into friends walking their dog and we shouted at each other from opposite sides of the street. Michael hollered;

“I woke up, opened the curtains to another bloody sunny day and concluded that it really is Groundhog Day!”

I nodded wildly in agreement.

I didn’t really think this one through: one walk a day and I have to feed the chickens. So it’s the same walk again and again and again. Plus, work dictates at the moment that it’s always in the afternoon. This makes me all the more grateful for your walks, at least I can read of different vistas! I love the hugging tree. I have a similar tree on my walk, except this one wears its heart on its sleeve. I’ve attached a picture.

   

Anyway, today the dog really wants this walk, just not with me it turns out. I think she’s pissed that Ele hasn’t come along too. She dawdles, drags her feet and stubbornly refuses to come from the middle of the field until I offer up a whole pocket of treats. I swear that dog can count treats from 200 yards away. You have to make this elaborate gesture of taking out even bigger handfuls from your pocket until she is satisfied, at which point she races towards you. This routine continues all the way through the wood until I run out of patience and in a fit of irritation put her on the lead.

When we get to the allotment she hides at the bottom and then refuses to acknowledge me until she eventually appears at the shed sheepishly, demanding a jumper to sit on (she won’t sit on a chair without soft furnishings).

All the while I was battling with the shed lock. I recently replaced it, but it’s a cheap, flimsy thing. I find nothing more frustrating than that lock-key twitch as you try to ease it free. I end up in another fit hitting the lock repeatedly with a comedy-sized wooden hammer, which has very little effect. I send Ele a dramatic text telling her that everything is rubbish, the lock has bust and to top it off the dog hates me.

I go to weed because, in my experience, weeding is the equivalent to walking off a problem, but maybe better as you get to physically and metaphorically extract the issue.  I remove great tangles of ground elder root, yank out dandelions and docks, tear at wood avens and creeping buttercups until I have a satisfying mound for the compost heap and space to plant my wedding flowers.

We are supposed to be getting married in June. This, I conclude, is the nub of the problem. No weddings in lockdown, just lots of weeding instead. My rational side is quite at peace with having to postpone. It will happen, just not this summer it seems. In light of everything, I have my love, we have a house, a funny dog and two spirited chickens. We have our health.  But my irrational side is more childish and desperately wants to dance with other people, fling flowers into the canal and toast future paddling adventures.

In place of the weeds, I planted out the calendula that were destined for the wedding. I nestle them in under the exuberant blossom of the step-over apple trees and take in the quiet of the place. The cool damp earth lowers my pulse and I hear the robin call at the sight of the weeds. The small child inside me settles down.

Gardening is all about placing faith in the future; you plant out tiny seedlings, remove weeds, nurture and tend. Planting things you may never even see grow big in your lifetime. It is not hope that drives this gesture. Hope is too often attached to wishful thinking that things might just miraculously change, which is hand in hand with denial in some ways. It is not even understanding the whirl of sunlight, water, oxygen, the wonder of chlorophyll or the magic the roots draw up to make the plant grow. I think it might be something much older, something hidden in our DNA. Anyway the joy of it all is that it happens as long as we keep spinning round that great star.

Then Ele suddenly appears on her bike with WD40 and a very impressive lock that she tells me she kept from her squatting days. This funny young doctor who started off at art school sculpting metal, now off to begin a career at the strangest of times.

We feed the chickens and wander home in the late slanting sun that turns all those new green leaves into neon dancers, catching the cow parsley in full bloom and bursting the first of the buttercups into welcome.

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Letter: 5/6
From: John Newling
Date: Friday 1 May
Time: 11.15am
Weather: Occasional sunshine, windy and showery
Subject: A walk at distance: languages

Dear Alys,

Beneath the street tree outside our gate is an area of soil that I dug over in 2010. It was exciting to dig in this place; not a garden or an allotment, but a kind of non-place. I love digging. It has something to do with cutting through our cultural surfaces, in this instance old tarmac and pavement detritus, to find what is below. It is a kind of discovery, where you see what has always been beneath our feet, albeit forgotten.

The original plants I put into the zone have long gone, however, many more have appeared. Some have been planted by friends and others have just blown in. I like the thought that the root zone acts as a catchment for seeds whirling in the wind, on our feet, fur and paws. I have often wondered at the ways in which plants grow through the pavements and walls of our streets.

I cross the road to another site of digging.

In 2016, I planted a birch tree in an empty root zone. Every spring I give it a good feed. I hope this helps the tree. In truth, I think it helps me even more.

The wind makes a distinct sound when the leaves on the tree are young. Much truth has been said about our renewed hearing of bird song. Today the silver birch is singing in the wind. It sounds like a soft sea meeting the shore in a liminal hour; always welcome here in the Midlands. It has rained and the greenness of everything seems intense, as though varnished. The streets are full of fallen blossoms. In many gardens the blue hues of early spring are changing to pale yellows, mauves and dense pinks. Oranges and deep reds are only days away.

I turn left at the end of the road.

Our occupation of the streets is in full swing. The pavement is decked with chalked games and instructions. One asks me to spin three times, jump as high as possible, hop for four metres, star jump ten times and so on; a new variant of hopscotch created by children and adults alike. Further down this street I notice several homes have put boxes of books onto the pavement; a library coming out of the community.

This morning I seem to be seeing more of our neighbours and friends. They all look well, even serene, calm at least, little changed by these few weeks. It’s our hair that seems to be taking a hit, not just growth but colour as well.

I wonder if our daily walks have consolidated our sense of place. Not just the architecture, of roads and homes, but the people that make a place. Before lockdown, many people walking the streets during the daytime were of a certain demographic; retired and elderly. Now our streets are occupied by a much broader population. I feel optimistic that this knowing “where we are” will nudge us towards thinking locally and better connecting to our environment. Landscapes are never fixed, rather they change all the time. I do enjoy the languages that come to mind on these walks.

I stop to look at a trench cut into a tarmac drive. I always enjoy looking at these cuts through the street fabric. The thin layer of tarmac and concrete soon breaks away to soil, roots and conduits carrying I do not know what. What gets me every time is the depth of the covering we make. It’s as fragile as are we.

Then I witness another kind of thinness; a crust that is breaking right now.

Across the road is a Co-op.  I notice the distance between people in the queue has increased to approximately four metres. Is this a sign of our growing fear?  A security woman at the door is patiently allowing people into the shop. A young man shouts abuse at her. It’s nasty. The woman shouts back at him. Those in the queue do not come to the aid of the woman. Are they fearful of contact? In the end the man barges into the shop and those in the queue take pains to reassure the security women. She is upset. The veneers are wearing thin.

I glance back at the trench. The browns, oranges and tinges of yellow in the soil have such a deep and complex language. The broken roots are the same. It’s difficult not to compare this with the language used outside the Co-op.

I turn left and zigzag through several streets. I am heading for a favourite place, a patch of woodland.

It is part of a local park, which is hardly ever visited. I spent some time in this place in the autumn and winter of last year. I collected sticks and marvelled at the few bits of language I could translate from its floor. I now observe all manner of plants growing from a two metres patch; I hardly recognise it from a few months ago. Landscapes change.

I am reminded of a visit to another wood, on a farm south west of Aberdeen, with Lorna Dawson, Head of the Soil Forensics Group in the Environmental and Biochemical Sciences at the James Hutton Institute.

Walking through the woods, Lorna described the method of reading a landscape known as winthropping.  Anyone looking to hide something in unfamiliar territory will follow certain contours of the land and pick out distinctive reference points. Police, searching for hidden bodies or drugs, have used this technique to read landscapes in a manner very different to the rest of us.

In one case, a stash of drugs had been found buried in woodland. Police had had taken samples of soil from the boots and spade of a suspect. Lorna was asked if she could evidence a link. Soil contains microbes. These microbes are vast in number, with as many as billions in a gram of soil. What Lorna did was to use microbial DNA to solve the case. In this short text it is hard to make clear what a feat of detective work this was. The police were reading the landscape and Lorna was reading the very soil.

At the institute I saw, under huge magnification, human induced carbon in the soil. I cannot pretend that I understood all I saw, however I knew what I was hearing and seeing was a new language. Lorna can read messages from our soils; quite extraordinary, a language of us in our environment; a very special kind of translation.

My point is that, on all our walks we pick up materials, from our treading and brushing, which provide traces of where we have been. Unbeknown to us, we are seeding places all the time. This is a remarkable distribution of languages that we are only now beginning to translate.

I get back to our front gate.

My shoes are covered in the fallen blossoms and soil from the wood. I wipe them clean on the door mat. The mat has become a book of other languages.

I take my shoes off, wash my hands and put the kettle on.

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Letter: 6/6
From: Alys Fowler
Date: Tuesday 12 May
Time: 12pm
Weather: Dull, cold
Subject: Same old, same old

   

Dear John,

I found a hole in the road and peered in on your behalf. I guess that hole is going to be there for a long while to come. It was the start of some big works, for pipes or perhaps wires, but now abandoned. I pondered the thin veneer of concrete and all the layers.  In this part of the world, you don’t have to dig very far to come to that blue-orange smear of pure clay; good enough to make the bricks of the city.  I had half a mind to come back at night and plant a tree in the middle of the road to see what might happen. I haven’t though.

Instead I’ve been battling a migraine that crept in after breakfast, halfway through the first draft of an interview, and has lodged itself for the day. I’ve pruned its ambition with painkillers, but that just leaves the odd sensation of the space the pain occupies. Like the ghost of the headache and the strange auras that come with it.

Thus, it has been a very slow walk today, wrapped up in a jumper, cardigan and woolly hat, to go check on the pumpkins. They are none too pleased to be in the polytunnel under additional layers of fleece, bubblewrap and a plastic sheet. However, this is in preparation for tonight’s frost, which may well be worse than last’s night version that left the garden dusted in a layer of white and took a few nasturtiums with it.

Still, this is the stuff of May, the in/out of tender things as you try and acclimatise them. Strange weather for strange times. In/out, in/out, shake it all about.

On the way back from the allotment I graze. I find this one of the most satisfying ways to forage, nibbling here and there, turning back on the path if my body enjoys a particular flavour. I have a round of garlic mustard tops, the last few flowers and the first new seed pods. Sweet, garlicky-mustard and tempered from the bitterness of a few week ago. Then I eat some of the younger leaves of the second generation. Hot and peppery. From there, I nibble on a few birch leaves and have a good fill on young lime leaves before happening on a pretty little hawthorn, catching a beam through a gap in the canopy left by a fallen poplar. Hawthorn is at its best as medicine right now. There are the flowers, which can be dried for tea, or the lovely young leaves, so sweet and nutty.

I eat a handful of leaves and realise my body wants more, so go on a hunt for another to sample. Hawthorn is good for your heart; it aids the circulation of blood and is often used, particularly on the Continent, as a prescribed prevention for cardiovascular diseases. It’s said to also help the uneasiness and oppressed feeling of the heart, opening it up both physically and metaphysically. I eat another handful.

Tomorrow, when this headache has gone, I’ll come back and pick the hawthorn flowers, some for drying for tea and some for dyeing. They produce lovely delicate yellows on silk. Ele has a shirt she wants to wear for the wedding that has a huge hole on the sleeve, so I’ve decided to dye some silk to patch it up. I like the idea of her wearing the heart plant on her sleeve.

Best wishes to you and stay strong and well

Alys xx

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