Waste Free

Walking with the World in Mind

Today’s guest post is written by one of my very close friends Rowan. It is a beautifully poetic post with a very important message. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Thank you Rowan for taking the time to write this.

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Hey! Welcome to today’s blog post. I’m Rowan – in my early twenties, with a theology degree, a passion for people and the planet, and (somehow) a guest slot on this rather wonderful blog.

Today, I want to invite you to join me on my commute to work. I’m fortunate enough to live within a walking distance of the building I’m going to, so take a moment and go and get your shoes on.

You’re ready? Good.

The door clicks shut behind us, and the sun is just rising above the houses opposite. The air is still and still quite cool.

There’s grass on the verge. It’s trimmed roughly, a single species marking a line between our feet and the road. But if we stopped and looked down, we’d see ants – perhaps up to three or four separate kinds – worms that the early bird has yet to catch, and perhaps some fox dung.

Turn with me and head off down the road, startling a blackbird that’s somewhere within the hedge that forms next door’s boundary, causing it to scream a shrill warning to the world. In a few months’ time, the hedge will doubtless be covered in spiderwebs, glistening with dew.  A few months more and there may well be aphids, which the ants from the verge will care for and ‘milk’ for their honeydew. For now, it’s just a wall of green leaves, taking in carbon dioxide from passing cars and pumping out oxygen.

As we turn the corner onto the main road through the estate I’m on, the school run traffic picks up – noise drowning out the sounds of the builders who are just picking up tools at a large site. The fencing has been there about a year, and brambles have sprung up and over and through it – today, a couple are picking blackberries and putting them in plastic Tupperware, dressed in tracksuits and quietly flirting with each other. A few metres further on, in an entrance that’s not currently in use, a flock of house sparrows are fluttering, taking a dust bath in the disturbed ground. They fly off when we get close – but not too far, they’re used to humans. A moment more will show you they’ve moved over to a patch of plants that have colonised the site – from this distance I can’t tell what they are, only that they’d probably be labelled “weeds” by most people. One has had very pretty yellow flowers for the past couple of days.

To get to work, I have to turn off this road and head down another street – this one has mature sycamore trees all the way down it which are currently blocking the morning sun almost entirely. A flock of starlings on a nearby rooftop usually roost in them, and once or twice I’ve seen a grey squirrel dart across the road to get from one trunk to another. There’s no sign of it today, but the weather-damage remains of a woodpigeon nest are still just about cohesive in the third tree along.

At a certain point, we’ll cross the road and head down a lane – but just before we do, if you look down, you’ll see the paving stones are letting dandelions through. When it’s rained this particular section of path is a minefield of snails. The lane itself is tarmac, enclosed by old brick walls, crumbled and covered in wallflowers clinging into the cracks – popular with bees, at least later in the day.  

One more road to go now. Dense terraced housing crowds both sides of the street, but overhead
one, two, three… five house martins zip past, cutting through the sky at the height of the rooftops and screaming as they go. We have to step to the side to avoid the contents of a ripped open bin bag, and the herring gull that was probably responsible eyes us from the chimney opposite. Down at our feet, a fern pokes carefully through the grates of a drain cover – I’m surprised it hasn’t been removed yet, since there’s a minor flood each time it rains, but still, there it is, growing up and looking for a little light.

Somewhat abruptly, the terrace opens up to a swathe of green grass, the occasional tree – a mix of sycamore and horse chestnut – are sprinkled across this opening, and a least some of the gravestones that dot the ground are covered in a patina of lichen. The church in the middle of this space has solar panels on the roof, and it’s toward this building that I’ve been heading. I’ll be stepping inside to start work soon, but I’ve got a minute to notice the butterfly that’s considering alighting on the lintel above one of the stained-glass windows. Today will be a good day, I think.

You may be wondering why I’ve just written about my morning commute, and nothing else. It’s because I’m convinced of the importance of the small, every day, ordinary parts of life. I do that walk twice a day, five or six days a week and every time, I’m struck by something new. Caring for the environment can be exhausting, and more than that, it can be abstract and distant from your local context. I’m in a moderately sized town and the route I’ve just described takes me through a slightly worn and poorly planned housing estate, a road out to a leafy suburbia that I never reach, and an alleyway to a terrace split by a main road. In short, it’s not actually that nice – at least not by most standards. And yet, in my walk to and from the church each day I walk past dozens of species, surviving in the urban environment we’ve imposed on the landscape. With COP26 round the corner, I could have used this platform to urge you to write to politicians, to (safely) attend rallies, to sign petitions and post on social media. It’s often said – correctly – that love without action isn’t love at all. It’s worth considering, though, that action without love is weak-willed, begrudging, and often minimal. I’m not talking about summoning up a burning, all-singing, all-dancing passion that’s almost always heavily performative, I’m talking about the quiet, powerful passion that comes from a steady love of anything – in this case, a place. I find my walk to and from church for work connects me to the place I live, lets me appreciate the quirks of its flora and fauna, lets me learn the natural rhythms enough to notice the changes, and gives me the perspective to begin to honestly consider how to advocate well for the environment right where I am, working with what’s already present.

My walk is also my commute. Yours doesn’t have to be – in fact it might simply be impossible for it to be. I’d encourage you, though, to get out and really look at the spaces you inhabit. It won’t necessarily transform your life in an instant, but it will undergird your actions generally. I’ve been doing it for a while, so I tend to spot the usual things fairly easily, but at first, I had to actively look, to stop and consider each view as I made my way forward. It took effort, especially leaving earlier to give myself time to. It’s worth doing. It might be that you took up walking during one of the lockdowns and are already doing this practiced study – in which case, you might wish to consider taking a pencil and a notepad with you to record your sightings and your thoughts. You might find it better just to continue as you are.

In a society where transport is built with cars in mind, whose members don’t often know their neighbours, a society where loneliness is almost endemic and idolised individualism isolates us all from forming bonds with people, thus preventing us from working together to seek the common good of our communities, please don’t miss the revolutionary capacity of walking with the world around you in mind. Go and get your shoes on.

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