The Way Home
I walked over the field on the way home from taking Mia to school.
It's not really a field, I don't know what to call it.
Officially, according to humans, it is parcelled up, titled property with building permits for residential use.
According to nature it is a flood plain.
The water buffaloes, when they pass by, probably call it food, for them it is a meadow for munching on, and the other creatures that lived there... well, since the draining... I doubt they call it anything much.
I stepped off the newly laid asphalt onto what should by damp soggy earth, but the grooves in the tread of my old boots remained clod free.
The lightness of my feet brought a heaviness to my heart.
As I stepped forward on the hard uneven ground I found my front foot, where I was putting my weight, was falling long or short upon the uneven land, each of my steps were clumsy and my body jarred with the jolts.
I shifted my weight to my rear leg, gave my attention to the land below me and allowed my front foot to tread through perception rather then presumption.
Flat pavements have made us presumptuous.
I wondered how people used to walk.
Us pavement walkers have forgotten how to walk intuitively... Sensing.
Maybe in the past we were more inclined to walk sense, make sense, talk sense... and now everything we do seems to be 'non' sense.
The flood plain should be wet, except when it's not... A flood plain can take the dry season in its stride.
But right now in late wet November after days of rain I should have sunk ankle deep.
The buzzard I used to see, before the drainage pipes were installed, should be hunting there...
Instead someone has a tiny cage crammed with those tumbling pigeons and occasionally they fly like drunks in a tiny patch of sky, too afraid or tame to make a break for it.
I wonder, if we could get beck in sync, if we'd learn to walk with our weight on our back foot, would we learn to walk on rugged terrain?
Soon, if I can't stop it*, people will live in houses here, they will come and see the land dry, like this, and they will erect concrete monuments to human greed and stupidity, they'll call them homes or 'villas' and they will surround them with concrete walls to keep out the floods and they will.... Until they don't.
The above photo is a screen grab from TV, with this flood we made the national news, but later worse floods devastated cities and lives and this one faded into insignificance, for now.
Rivers don't like to be confined, it is in their nature to shift and change and to swell up at times. Paradoxically nature serves us best when she is free and unhindered.
The buzzard won't visit ever again.
Unless the flood washes us away...
Or unless we talk, walk and make some sense pretty soon.
I stepped on to the bridge, narrow and only just wide enough for the vehicles and a sliver of pedestrian walkway. Drivers thunder past oblivious to what is around and oblivious to basic driving sense and decorum too.
I saw a photo of a restored river in England, it looked like this:
(This is a chalk bed stream, I know that's a different ecosystem, but still!)*
This is what our river looks like:
Despite the devastation and the draining of the life out of this ecosystem the egret was in the distance. They notice me, even when I'm probably 300 meters away, even despite the traffic and all the other human made bustle, they notice my change in pace. They can tell by the tilt of my head that I'm focusing on them, they pay attention... ('Pay' attention... see how our words insinuate transactional and finite resources! I actively try and use language from the weight of my back foot. Perceiving deeper meaning and avoiding the jolts as I go along. Here I could say they 'gift their attention, or they are attune with or aware of their surroundings)
Unlike the humans who never seem to slow or stop and see that there is a spectacular creature, white as a fairy tale unicorn, standing in the mud and managing to survive despite everything.
Does 'egret' mean 'hope' or 'magic'? It does to me.. And so does 'little crake'.
On the way to school we saw a bird flying high over head, I'm guessing cormorant, but it triggered Mia to try and remember the name of a bird... She was wrestling with her memory for a few hundred meters when she gave up and reminded me it was the one that came into our house... Ah yes, the little crake. It had wandered into our kitchen, we live 50 meters from the river so it must have been disoriented, we saved it from imminent cat doom and released it back over the river.
Cats are a real concern.
You may love your cat, we do ours, but they love to kill and sadly, in many places, the wildlife populations are in dire peril.
Mia loves to remember these random connections with wild creatures. She feels an affinity with the little crake having assisted in the catch and release operation and especially since the bird had braved feline and such to pop into our home and visit.
The river is a muddy gloop, where previously Mia and I had looked down from the bridge and seen a mini shoal of fish swimming around in the current between the reeds, now there's nothing. Seemingly nothing. I know life hangs on with incredible determination, and we miss perceiving most of what lives right beneath our feet, but the devastation we cause to this little river* is severely challenging life of any kind.
As I looked and ached I saw it, a little wader bird in the mud, at first I guessed it was a little crake, I thought Mia had called it to me in her remembering. I watched her for a while and tried to grab some photos with my phone until I turned to capture the vehicles behind me at close proximity and the sense of violence that they impose, and when I turned back she had disappeared.
I had noticed that her beak was longer than a little crake's and she had a brave dash of white on her butt, under her perky tail. Pure bright white like the egret and despite the mud.
This was a white rail, "highly secretive inhabitant of freshwater wetlands", giving a brief appearance to remind me why the river must be saved from human insanity, depravity, destruction...
I turned and looked up to see that esteemed members of parliament were observing and debating. Or rather a clattering, which is about right.
I wonder if they have expectations that look like hope? I suspect they do, so I told them I would try to live up to some. They looked sceptical.
I walked home and as the thoughts and feelings tumbling around in me I remembered that I had started to avoid the walk to school. I sometimes can't bear it. The land communicates so much to me while I walk it that I can't start my work day for at least 2 hours after, the land is yelling, the creatures are squealing, squawking up a cacophony of alarm. I sit fit to explode with it all and have just these words to try and express it...
This is just one route of less than 1.5km, what would happen if we would walk around the whole world perceiving as we go?
Passing my home I continued onwards and back to the river side, approaching quietly knowing that the egret would spot me immediately and be perturbed by my stillness.
That question mark neck... That sublime white query of brightness, standing on the dredged up reeds and river bed that were excavated after the last flood.
Standing there I remember that before the reed massacre there were damsel and dragonfly abundant in my garden, and soon after they were all gone. I saw hardly a single one through the summer.
I stand on the heaped mud sensing that a few generations of dragonfly larvae perished there. A mass grave of squished and ravaged biodiversity.
The egret took off.
And I came home to write this out of me and to ask, what does the land beneath your feet say to you?
What creatures do you see when you slow down enough to notice?
And do you hear them asking you to be their hope and the magic that our ecosystem needs?
Jodie Harburt Karadağ
* I wrote above about me fixing the flood plain problem, and seeing as I don't think a single other person, organisation or department has made any similar attempt for this particular place I feel I have to do something. It is a long shot but I have prepared a concept project that embraces the ecological, social and economic needs of the place, inhabiting and migratory species and the people as a starting point... the project includes the compulsory purchase of titled land so that it can become a mix of restored river and wetland restoration zone with buffer flood zones that will protect the existing residences and the town infrastructure. This work is surrounded by a comprehensive route, (literal and metaphorical) towards creating local resilience and a hub for eco regeneration, conscious tourism, exploration, learning, farming and agriculture, entrepreneurship, construction and R&D. Let's see if it does any good. I hope so.
*The rivers are damaged by many factors, not just the dredging, these I talk about in detail elsewhere (links coming soon)
*Source of quote about the water rail https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/water-rail/
More information about the water rail
* Photo of Chalk Stream via Mike Blackmore on Twitter