We all have our little tricks, to make ourselves feel better when times are glum. I like eating leftovers, testing loose batteries to see once and for all if the fecking things are working or not, and hiding chocolate in the hope I’ll forget I have it. I have since added a new one, the joy of weeds. Not weeding, weeds.
Because there is a lot of nature around and in some places it’s coming back. But it’s not always the type of nature that we’ve been conditioned to like.
Nature is ugly and untidy and not colour-matched with our walls. It’s not always the Serengeti with a cheetah slinking around like a super-model or a three-way Royal Rumble between a wildebeest, crocodile and a lion.
Just like not all TV is Netflix-unmissable and you need the Weather Forecast as well, so it is that Nature has its necessary, less glamorous parts. It takes a while to unlearn what we think about nature and wilderness. I blame the World Wildlife Federation for making the Giant Panda its logo. It’s cuddly but it doesn’t help itself.
Eating only bamboo even though its body clearly wants a bit of meat. I’ve heard it said it’s a bit like the Royal Family. It’s a freeloader but it brings in a lot of income. However it means we only want cuddly stuff and not nettles.
During the lockdown, when the distance limits meant you needed a bit of imagination to bring a bit of variety to exercise, I went on a good few cycles through industrial estates and other areas with spare land around them. I used to despair at the abandonment on the fringes.
The half an acre here or there that could be a nice park with benches but instead has a dumped black bag at the edge. But beyond the edge – dumpers are arseholes but they’re also lazy – you can see the weeds. And hear insects and birds. If you look at it a particular way, land-neglect can be good.
Look at what’s growing in the cracks in pavements in the more enlightened local authority areas. Of course the stripy-lawn merchants and the Kilgores who love the smell of Roundup in the morning will bleat about it. I would have been that way myself. I loved neatness.
But instead of complaining about it, just look more closely. The sheer amount of species you see is surprising. They’re not giant flowers. They’re sometimes a bit homely from a distance. They look a lot like …well… weeds.
Having said that, I’d feel more of a connection if I knew WHAT half the nature is called. All those pavement plants are still a mystery to me. It’s likely they have two names: A Latin name like Plantus plantypantus but also they will have some colloquial name that reflects a store of old knowledge.
A small pink flower called Housemaid’s Elbow, Falconer’s Umbrage, Saint Dominic’s Preview, John-o-the-hill-of-the-hoor-with-the-guzzy-eye. They provide habitat for the little insects: the spudge-beetles, gonkflies and bloplice. And where they are, surely the birds are not far behind – the robins and the non-robins.
I think there is a gap in the market for some new consultants. Taking us by the hand and naming stuff around the area. Rewilding consultants. We don’t need wolves. (We do, but wolves need to go underground for a while after the reaction to Eamonn Ryan’s perfectly sensible suggestion.)
Just an army of naturalists telling us the names of things. Think about it: labour-intensive work providing livelihoods when all the other jobs are disappearing this summer.
Let’s get Ireland growing again.