These days, walking out the front door to go for a stroll is a scary business. The solitary flowering daffodil immediately in my line of vision is no longer a glorious wonder of spring, rather an ominous siren luring me onto Infection Street. I find myself checking left and right before placing a single foot onto the garden path. You never know, there could be a plague carrier incoming, a milkman or postie. I step out and recce my proposed line of travel equidistance between toxic surfaces shuttering my short driveway – the wall, the car, the tree trunk. For a brief moment they appear to be a gauntlet bubbling with millions of agitated Covids, hairy microscopic golf balls, bouncing against each other and chattering in excited anticipation. “Here he comes!”
It doesn’t last long; doorway to pavement is but a dozen paces yet the fear is tangible and horribly unnerving. I check that the road and pavements are clear then stride towards the white line, turning left to follow it, proceeding down the centre of the road to the snicket that leads to my R&R destination. Barely a handful of people are out promenading, undoubtedly feeling equally freaked out, eyes scanning the tarmac as if to look up and acknowledge me might risk impregnation, by or from. I’m feeling bold by now and cheerfully hail them. They immediately respond and positively beam, waving as if we’ve all just received a swift immunisation shot. Strange days…
My designated R&R has been to engage in a spot of guerrilla gardening in the wetlands located at the bottom of our estate. These were created maybe eight years ago to mitigate the Daybrook flooding, a small stream that used to rush straight down a culvert running along the side of what was then scrub land. Issuing from a park less than a mile away, the brook still managed to aggressively overflow, so the corporation sent in contractors to dig a meandering course and redirect the flow. Then they just walked away, leaving a pretty unsightly mess, which I presume they believed would soon grow into some kind of attractive wilderness. It didn’t.
Six years ago I started pushing willow whips into the sodden earth to add a little height to the reed beds that had indeed germinated, but the snaking brook quickly became a pond then a lake that now hosts a range of waterfowl including herons and egrets. Little or no attention has been paid to the area by the city gardeners responsible for it, and you simply can’t leave willow to grow and grow, not when they are next to a public footpath. Sooner than later heavy branches are going to come crashing down. They don’t call it crack willow for nothing!
So I’ve set myself the task of pollarding and coppicing, and building a solid winrow, an activity I can safely perform for a couple of hours each day by isolating off my section of the path. Despite blocking either end with felled branches and despite an alternative route that is anything but inconvenient, wouldn’t you know that some idiots still insist on forging their way into my exclusion zone.
But from a distance my work is clearly appreciated by those taking their legal constitutional in the wetlands. If I get away with it, I might just continue as I’ve started and sort out the whole darn place. One week on from the lockdown, seems I’ll have plenty of time for it.