It’s all about the small town mentality. It’s in the meaningless rumours, the stagnant beliefs and the closed-off minds.
For the best part of my life I have lived in relatively small villages that feed from either side of a relatively medium-sized town. When this is all you know, it’s hard to come to terms with the idea that home can be a restricting place.
This recent time spent at home has been a mental and physical journey to truly answer this leading question. Does home always have to have this small town mentality that many describe as an unfavourable and toxic mindset.
My Evolution of Birdwatching
It is fair to say that the past four months have been full of empty and quite frankly, monotonous days. It is exactly this that has meant I have been unequivocally bored. However, within these days of fairly nothing going on I have found a small amount of solace in the mildly exciting activity of birdwatching. Maybe it was the hours and eventual days, weeks and months that i spent sitting at the kitchen looking out onto the patio, but those ‘common and drab’ Blackbirds and Pigeons started to catch my eye. Along with them came the tits; Blue, Great and Coal. The idea that I could see a new bird come to the feeder excited me. Having had nothing come close to excitement after we went into lockdown of March 2020, the prospect of birdwatching became something of a thrill to me. For days i’d sit there and hope that a Long-tailed tit would enter the even in close proximity of the feeders, but everyday I was left marginally disappointed when they wouldn’t come. Still, I enjoyed entertaining the idea in my head of just how exciting seeing a Long-tailed tit at my feeder would be.
This innocently thrilling diversion of boredom really became one of the most wholesome and relished parts of my day. It was frustrating and tedious, but the birds always seem to deliver when you least expect it. Coming to the end of a warm day, I was dozing in the hammock. I had my suspicions that a lot of pigeons occupied the tree above; the shear amount of pigeon excrement on the hammock being the leading giveaway, however out the corner of my eye was a red, white and black bird. Instantly, the sudden recognition that this bird was not only something other than a pigeon, but was also the owner of an exceptional pattern on its belly was more than enough to make me excited. This great spotted woodpecker’s distinctive drumming noise made it easy to know when they’re near, but finding them within the tree’s leaves proved to be an issue. In this moment, as I watched the woodpecker do its thing, I had three thoughts: make as little movements in the hammock as possible, admiring the bird in the flesh, and the last thought was that I so desperately wanted to take a photo of the woodpecker, whilst I had one in my sight. Taking photos of the birds became a big part of birdwatching as a whole. Capturing these feathery, beaked creatures doing such mundane tasks, such as pecking at the seeds on the feeder brought life and colour to the photo itself.
At the start of the year, I started documenting various life things three times a month: at the start, middle and end. Even though I was inconsistent and most of the time barely coherent, I took special joy in documenting life during lockdown. The funny thing was that as time went on I was doing less activities but had more to write about. The expert below was from the ‘middle of April’.
Days. Days. More days. Everyday is similar. Wake up late, run, eat, float around, eat, sleep. I would say they are the same but sometimes days have little bites of something special in them. The smallest things start to make you the most happy.
I’m finding it hard to document this period. You open the news app, flick on the tv, hear the humming of radio in the background and it all plays the same music.
Out there and online it seems this crisis is immediate and horrifying. However, the only story I know is mine and within these four walls, there is no sudden crisis, only mundane life. I keep thinking and thinking that there must be a way to document this, because hidden under a normal household spending everyday like the last, there is change occurring, individually and as a group. It has been nearly 5 weeks living like this and already the prospect of everyday activities once being completely normal strike me as threatening now. Joining together with grandparents, breathing in the musky air in a suffocating underground tube, sharing drinks with friends. There is no question whether these have become social norms, but the question is when they will be reformed. I crave some bodily contact, I need some different voice, to step out the car on different soil. It starts to become these mundane events of everyday life that we need to stay human.
The time spent looking into the garden at the families of pigeons, woodpeckers and tits, has led to spending time thinking about the gardens further afield. Gardens that fill the National Parks and spaces that teem with life much bigger than what grows in my back garden. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a magnificent tree in the local National Trust forest. The red giant stood alone and distinct from the native trees in the area. This was no Oak, Ash or Beech. It was a giant sequoia.
The Journey of The Sequoia
It would be no lie to say that the sequoia intimidated me intially from its shear size and the crimson, fibrous trunk that was firmly planted into the soil. Despite that, the intimidation sparked curiosity, which led to the eventual rabbit hole of what on earth a giant redwood was doing in my town.
The majestic, coniferous trees that are commonly known as Redwoods are native to Sierra Nevada in California, USA. What makes these trees special is the shear size that they grow to; ‘General Sherman’ is the largest living single-stem tree by volume, with a diameter of 7.7m. So, if Giant Sequoias live on the west coast of America, then why did I see one in Essex in the southeast of England?
The Giant sequoia forest came to England around 125 years ago, when wealthy Victorians were looking for these trees to put on their large estates. William Lobb, a plant biologist, took to this idea and in 1852 visited the Sierra foothills. A year later, in 1853, he brought back seeds of the Giant sequoia. As they say, the rest is history.
Recent wildfires in California, which have been deemed ‘the third-largest in the state’s history’ (BBC, 2019), are destroying the redwoods at an alarming rate. It is a fact that the giant sequoias rely on natural forest fires. The fire brings hot air into the canopy to create a convection current, which dries and opens the cones. Furthermore, the fires clear competing vegetation and when human activity suppresses the wildfires, the vegetation on the ground builds up and acts as fuel, which leads to more intense wildfires. Since 1970, the National Park service has started to burn the forests in a controlled manner. These trees are built to withstand the heat, with fibrous bark and tannic acid in the sap, which is a natural fire protectant. However, wildfires like the one burning through California at the moment presents a real threat to the future of these trees. These more intense wildfires that are more frequently ripping through parts of America are thought to be a result of the climate crisis. In an article from the Guardian, they wrote about the ‘ecological sensitivity’ of the trees and that ‘once they’re gone, they’re gone’. John Muir, often regarded as the founding father of the US’ National Parks wrote about the Sierra and the Giant Sequoias in his time, which in turn passed a congress bill to establish the Sequoia National Park in 1890. These natural spaces cover a multitude of benefits, as Muir states, “Even the sick should trip to these so-called dangerous passes, because for every unfortunate they kill, they cure a thousand”. A legacy film, named ‘Ode to Muir’ touches on the importance of nature as one of our greatest resources and the reality that if ‘nature fails, humanity fails’. And, as we near the end of the story of these giant trees, the link between my local green space and the green world couldn’t be more salient; both justly have their own charm and allurement, whilst both still calling for more gratitude and recognition.
So, is home really that restricting? This piece has taken a while to write, it’s not a page of continual and constant thought, but sentences that were made from staggered ideas and self-reflection over 5 months. At the ripe age of nineteen it seems that my place in the world lives outside of my home, the village I grew up in. But, as I sat there and watched the birds, it became clear that home is only a microcosm of the opportunities that lay out there. Observing home in a deeper way has led the way for me to change my ideas on what home really is about. Sure, home isn’t a place constantly teeming with adrenaline and thrill, nor is it a place filled with an abundance of bizarre and unfamiliar wildlife. However, despite all that, my home is a place where the field of wheat that sits in front of me comforts the swallows as they swoop above brushing the heads of the wheat, or it’s where I sit next to a juvenile oak tree and listen to the hum of the traffic, whilst squinting my eyes to watch the tiny people in the airport control tower eye the planes as they come in. My home isn’t restricting, only under-appreciated. Being cemented to my home for nearly half a year, I didn’t mean to be lured to the craze of birdwatching and the eventual exploration into these colossal trees, but it happened and I am so glad it did.