I carried myself away for some rest and recuperation to an old English garden where, as I wandered with camera in hand, a flat-topped bench beckoned me to perch for a while. Each of the seat’s timbers were gently ridged along the grain, and within every little furrow a hint of green algae could be seen.
Previously for an hour or so I’d been zigzagging around a glorious garden that was falling radiantly towards winter. Yet as lovely as it was, I’d left the garden for a while and was heading for more natural spaces. The bench I happened across wasn’t the first, but it did seem to call me, so it would have been rude to walk on by.
So there I found myself positioned midway down a long and very straight path, the tips of my boots grounding me below the bench. What an exposed position I first thought, with a steep bank falling away behind me towards sheep nibbled fields and to my front, a large open pool stretching wide and long.
As I settled down I studied the scene more closely. To my foreground and beyond the grey gravel path a grassy margin softened and underlined the view, and beyond that the pool. Beyond that again at a comfortable distance from all humankind, squawking waterfowl filled the space with noise that carried across the water. Floating and flapping, flying about to escape pecking and skid-landing, they animated and enlivened the place.
Cool to say the least, was an early November breeze that repeatedly stroked the back of my neck. To the front though, broken occasionally with long shadows cast from passers by, the sun warmed me through. I could feel the heat of those rays on my face, the backs of my hands and legs, and it was super welcome.
After a few minutes, there was a long pause in people walking by, and I felt safe closing my eyes for a while in order to tune in to my breathing and the sounds around. When I surfaced a little while later, I noticed more clearly than before the brightness levels, a freshness to the breeze, and real warmth. That light and heat would vanish periodically as clouds swooshed by, changing the atmosphere in every second, yet out in that park at that time, I knew I had the right seat. Not one those cold metal benches back amongst the flower garden, as pretty as they were, but there on solid wood, in that place and in that moment. Simplicity, for me, often wins the day.
Speaking of that place around me, it held a picture wherever I turned my head. Some scenes were still full of foliage and vitality, some were dull, muddy and middling, whilst some displayed drama with trees baring their branches and readying for winter. All scenes however were intricate, offering depth, character, detail and presence, and were riddled with history and intrigue.
A stone’s throw away and growing in the grassy verge were butter yellow, pencil thick stems which had exploded months ago from a stooled willow shrub. To the rear and left of me, a large candy floss sized cluster of blood red leaves shivered in the midst of a head high mountain ash sapling, and much further away bronze leaves on a stressed parkland oak glowed, backlit by sunshine.
I am fortunate, I realise, in knowing that it was one of many landscape scenes that has filled my eyes over the years, they’re seemingly here, there and everywhere. Yet in our increasingly unstable world, I now feel that I may just have taken them for granted, for too long. As I sat there in that moment however, I realised that I couldn’t be more thankful.
I understood that the twisted trees that decorated the view would not be everlasting, and despite dropping acorns by the thousand this mast year, those oaks would not regenerate easily without help. Even the stout ash trees that lined the pool side walk were visibly failing with disease.
So whilst I sat there processing thoughts and minding my business, I couldn’t help but wonder if cupping my hand over my eyes was intended to screen sunshine in my eyes, or to momentarily block some of the issues that stared in my face. The landscape’s threats, be they to flora and fauna, or the historic fabric of the place itself, were inescapable.
Nevertheless, whilst I sat there absorbing that cleverly laid out picturesque scene, I realised that ‘having the moment’ was the very reason I’d ventured there in the first place. In real-time I understood the tension and frailty that existed in each of the three-sixty degrees around me, yet I knew that really, all was as well as could be.
On a personal note, what mattered then as I sat on that bench and matters still as I reflect, is the fact that those moments happened at all: the sun’s heat warming my skin, the chilly breeze, the cawing crows, quacking ducks, rattling leaves, crunchy gravel and clanging gates at the end of the path. Even muffled but violent engines of ascending passenger planes and cars in the distance.
The place, despite its historic pedigree and legal protections, aside from funding challenges and changing management; will continually change, adapt and evolve. The birds I watched playing, the mowing sheep and growing trees, even us people who occupied the space between; we shall all move on. It is all fine as we’re all just passing through, so we might as well pause awhile, grab a seat, take notice, and make the best of each moment.
Everywhere I listened, everywhere I sniffed and looked, I felt a professional connection, but more than that, I felt a personal, almost spiritual connection. Be it the soggy soil, the murky pool or the silvery clouds up over; I had made time to see, to smell and listen, and I feel every bit as connected now as a write these words as I did whilst rooted to that bench.
Today or tomorrow or maybe next week, you might find a place to connect too, and I wish you the the very best. 🌿
Landscape Recuperation, Gary Webb. 4th Nov 2022