SMELLING THE FLOWERS - WHAT A CITY PARK MEANT DURING LOCKDOWN
A Book of photos and quotes of what a London City park meant to people during lockdown
The Book costs £20 + postage and packing and please just contanct me if you would like to order a copy.
The COVID-19 lockdown in the UK started at the end of March 2020 and lasted for 4 months. During this time, I was coming to my local London park every day - usually in the early morning.
On each visit, I took photos of the flora and fauna, of the people and scenes of the park and then every day, I shared these on social media. The responses were very moving - both from people I have spoke to in the park and via social media.
People described just how important the park had been to them.
Time slowed down.
And as people slowed down – our relationship to nature and each other
became somehow richer.
In the absence of noise from planesand traffic, our awareness of the sounds of the birds and insects heightened. Noticing the scent of flowers and the fresh smell after the rain. Gaining solace from being connected to a place of great tranquillity and beauty. New learning – about the lives and habits of the flora and fauna that inhabit the park. About ourselves, too.
Our relationship to each other changed.
Talking of connecting to others in a different way – being together and sharing moments in nature, through such strange times. Gaining comfort from others – exchanging smiles, having deeper conversations and feeling part of a community.
Some reflected on their own lives and the changes they might make as a result of their time spent in nature during lockdown.
Those having to self- isolate described how important seeing the photos each day had been. Having nature and the outdoors brought to them whilst not being able to physically leave their homes. They also felt connected with others through the comments exchanged.
People expressed their heartfelt gratitude for having access to a park nearby when others might not have been so fortunate. For all the value and benefits it brings.
Listening to and receiving these responses led me to the idea of this book. I hope it helps emphasise the meaning and importance city parks have had for many during these ‘unprecedented’ times. To those who love and cherish the many gifts these green, public spaces bring.
I hope that the photos show something of the beauty and natural diversity these special and precious spaces have to offer.
Being in this beautiful patch of urban wilderness and giving my attention to the birds and plants around me has helped me to slow down. It has grounded and steadied me. Ordinary life has slowed down. In this enforced stillness the joy of every note of nature is somehow more heightened. More poignant. More precious.
Of course we must move away from lockdown - too many people are suffering within its grip. I shall gird myself to move back into the real world, but will try to hold on to that precious gift of looking, listening and being still.
Connecting with others
A bat hawking on the ponds. Swifts and martins scything insects over the meadow. A fox looking at me on the cycle track. All these secret, wild moments in this special park lift my heart in these difficult times. If I am lucky there is someone else there to share the secret with and I have a valuable moment of eye contact with a stranger.
I am so much more aware of my connection to others. It is wonderful and so cheering to see how we are reaping the benefits of our connection to nature when everything else seems so uncertain. Someone once said ‘We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree and flowers from the same garden’. This rings so true and is so very pertinent for me now.
Connecting with nature
Watching the flocks of parakeets, the bees pollinating the flowers, the swans on the ponds - all carrying on with their lives. They have reminded me that life goes on and have helped to keep this crisis in perspective for me.
It’s hard to be sad when eggs are hatching and flowers are blooming. It’s hard not to smile when dogs are playfully bounding. It’s hard to worry when sitting under the old oak.It’s easy to be glad to be alive, here in the park, surrounded by nature – tranquil and verdant.
I wonder if we will be able to step back from our modern, materialistic, gas guzzling, all consuming ways and might strive to live more harmoniously with our natural resources. Time in the park has given me the space to reflect more on this.
Learning to listen – perceiving at first the birds’ close-by, then tuning in to more distant calls until the air seems thick with a myriad of songs. The rich contralto of the blackbird, the confident piping and trilling of the tiny wren and joyous conversational song of the robin. Learning to recognize the songs of the common and garden birds feels like discovering treasure. Noticing trees – the daily unfolding of blossom, bud and leaf. Finding out that trees have flowers and delighting in their diversity
‘Watch out for the frogs’ the elderly swan-lover in front of me turned to call over her umbrella, and just like that I was absorbed in the world of impossibly tiny froglets. As the evening light faded, they crossed the wide tarmac expanse between Pond one and Pond two, barely visible, jumping about six inches at a time on their hair-thin legs. I was not the only one who carefully picked a few up, allowing them to crawl into my now huge, cupped wet fingertips to transfer into the long grass, away from ducks, blackbirds and big boots. This made me happy.
I have come to the park each day with my sketchpad and watercolours. Sitting in different spots, observing, painting and trying to capture the moment. There are always changes - the weather, nature unfolding and the people who come at different times of the day. I’ve gained pleasure from seeing my painting skills improve through what has become regular practice.
Every day I come and sit under the old oak tree that has stood here for so long - over 5 centuries. It has seen so much. Seems so wise. This beautiful old tree’s enduring nature brings me such great joy and comfort – like that of an old friend.
I am on furlough from work. My 18-year-old daughter is hoping to go to University in September. I worry about these things and wonder what this virus has in store for us all. But when I am in the park - sitting watching the swifts arrive, hearing the loud, comforting calls of the parakeets, smelling the roses – my worries seem to abate. I take solace from being here. Sitting on my favourite bench. Watching the world go by.
I thought that I would get bored and that my anxiety would increase, but in fact I have found the opposite. I am taking more pleasure from the simple things in life and coming to the park has helped me to do this. I am even beginning to think that I’ll miss going back to how things were before. Hopefully, we will keep some of the things we have gained during lockdown
I let the pandemic blues ease away and instead stand soothed by nature’s natural blues – the kind of blues that bring balm and heal. The natural life of the park reminds me that it’s good to be alive.
Seeing from afar
I have been isolated for so many weeks now and shielding, as I am in a vulnerable category. Seeing the photos on social media of the park each day has brought the outdoors to me and given me much joy and hope.
I have not left my flat for many weeks now and am isolating with my daughter, her partner and 2 boys. The youngest was born prematurely and is vulnerable. I have had to stop my daily walks, which I have found hard. I just love the photos. They give me back a bit of the nature I used to observe before quarantine. Helping to lift my spirits.
I came to England from Japan for an English course and could not go back when lockdown started. Everything in the park has been a blessing to me. It has installed a love of nature that wasn’t there before and taught me so much. The brooding mother swan taught me persistence: once hatched her cygnets gave me the joy of growth. I learned from the firm and vast confidence of the trees. Nothing rattles them. They know our every deed.I would like to express my gratitude to the park keepers who open the park early in the morning and take such great care of it and the people who greeted me from a safe distance, smiled at me, exchanged a few words and made me feel welcome. Everything has a silver lining in the park. The cygnets and other young are getting ready enough to leave their nests. It is time now that I go home to Japan.
‘Go outside amidst the simple beauty of nature and know that as long as places like this exist, there will be comfort for every sorrow whatever the circumstances may be’