The grass in the little park which my flat overlooks hasn’t been cut for an unusually long time. In places it must be a metre high. Very small children running through it almost disappear, and small dogs doing the same actually do disappear, detectable only by a fast moving line of waving grass. The grasses themselves look like the surface of the sea as they wave and ripple in the wind. The delicate seed pods on their extremities nod and sway. And all over the park, among the trees, edging the pathways there have appeared carpets of daisies, buttercups, things that look like buttercups but I think are probably kingcups; bright yellow flowers that look like dandelions but aren’t because the ends of their petals are more right-angled and which are often called – I believe – ‘false dandelion’ and sometimes even, ‘hairy-cat’s-ear’! And all that takes no account of the banks of clover flowers that have appeared.
Many years ago this park formed the grounds of a school for the blind, now long gone. I find it extraordinary to think that these flowers and grasses, waving in the wind today, are the direct descendants of the grasses that waved in the wind in those far-off days. The seed develops, produces its offspring which, in turn, produces seed which then, in turn etc., etc. and will probably go on doing that until the sun burns itself out.
Way back in the mists of time, I moved with my mother and step-father into a newly-built house in what was then a small town just to the west of London. It was a little estate of about forty semi-detached houses erected on what had once been a meadow, part of the grounds of a recently demolished big country house. I spent most of my teenage years there. In the mid-eighties, after the break-up of my marriage (and coincidentally, the death of my mother) I moved back into that house with my step-father.
It had a big rear garden about thirty metres long. My step-father, who also died not long after I moved there, had many years ago given up on the vegetable garden to which he’d once been so devoted, and had turned it all over to grass – which he cut every week, come hell or high water, with a hover-mower. When he too had departed this vale of tears I decided to leave at least half that grassed area to grow naturally without mowing it or cutting it back. I liked the idea of having a miniature country field in the garden.
I was amazed and delighted to see soon appear wild flowers and waving grasses that clearly hadn’t put their heads over the parapet in over forty years. Well – I guess they would have put their heads over had they not been so assiduously mown down before their prime by my step-father. So all that time, despite the ground having once been a vegetable garden, and despite having had a concrete path laid through it, the seeds of those grasses had survived, patiently waiting until they were called on again. And now – here they were, their colours as fresh and intense as though the last time they’d appeared had been only the season before.
The long grasses brought lots more insects. And the insects brought more birds. I had a burgeoning nature reserve on my hands. I decided to add a pond. It was roughly circular, about half a metre deep in the centre, and perhaps a couple of metres in diameter. I constructed a little waterfall, powered by a pump fed by a cable that ran from the house. It all took a few weeks to settle down, but within a month a frog had moved in. Water boatmen joined the frog. The frog must have persuaded a member of the opposite frog sex to join him/her because before long the place was awash with tadpoles. I bought a few small fish from a garden centre. One morning, soon after that, I had to chase away a heron who was perched on the bank and staring with a fixed, predatory look into the water. And for those not familiar with the UK’s Grey Heron it’s a huge, long-legged bird with a two-metre wingspan and a beak on it like an anti-tank gun. I couldn’t compete with him. When my back was turned he soon disposed of my fish.
Life is endlessly amazing. We so take it for granted. And it’s everywhere, irrepressible. Sitting in the park the other day with W, I saw, making its way across the sleeve of my jacket, some green living thing that was so tiny it was only just visible. Then it stopped for a second, changed direction and continued on. It had made a decision – let’s go the other way. Maybe it had taken a wrong turning – or simply changed its mind. I hope it arrived at wherever it was headed.
And as I write this, though it may appear like a bit of dramatic licence on my part – it’s not – out there in the park there are rumblings of machinery starting up. Looking out the window, I see two huge, petrol driven mowing machines. They’re about to cut the grass again! I hope they leave it for as long next time – then the flowers and the waving grasses will be back. And maybe that tiny green thing as well.