A writing exercise as part of a course in nature writing that I’m taking at the Institute of Continuing Education, Cambridge.
One of the things I love most about muggy, overcast days is that the colours of the earth below seem richer in contrast to the grey skies. The grass looks greener, the daffodils brighter. As I lock the door of my house to step out for a walk, I notice that the pillbugs that are usually near the rose bush are absent today. A rainy, curl-up-in-bed day for them, perhaps.
Outside on the high street, cars whoosh past me in the evening rush. I like maintaining a pattern: I follow the same route every day, a little meditative circular walk of my own. Semi-detached houses line the street, each with its own carefully-maintained garden. Red roses climb on the trellis outside a house, alongside white ones. As a faithful lover of bold tiger lilies, I’ve recently found a new appreciation for more conservative roses. Especially white roses tinged with pale pink, like wispy clouds in a fading sunset sky.
I walk away from the high street onto a smaller street, where the noise of the traffic fades away and the song of a blackbird takes over. Perched on top of an antenna, it creates a tune of squiggly loops and lilting trills, like water flowing over rocks in a stream. Bees feast on lavender plants that grow alongside the footpath, clinging on to them as they sway in the breeze. Large, white flowers of bindweed emerge from an overgrown patch. I stop and wonder why some of the prettiest plants are problematic: they’re either invasive or poisonous.
Parasols of elderflowers sprout from a large bush in front of me, each individual flower shaped like a mini-sparkler that I’ve held as a kid. Blueberries grow robustly in a garden, and I see more roses by another lawn, some heavier flowers bending over. Across the street, I spot a vertical wall of green hedge, studded with little shiny yellow jewels—St John’s Wort. I go closer to examine them, such exquisite little things! I start to question my loyalty to my flower favourites.
Joining the blackbird’s chorus is now a wood pigeon which stares unblinking at me from the branch of a grey birch, its 5-syllable song appearing to say, “Go hoooome now, go home!” I contemplate walking further down to the park, where I have a favourite horse chestnut tree (I saw my first woodpecker there). But it looks like it’s going to rain any minute, and I decide to follow the pigeon’s advice.
On my way back, I realize that the cherry trees that line the street are barely noticeable now, and blend into the landscape. Just a few weeks ago, they were in full bloom, grabbing the attention of anyone with a camera and sending everyone into raptures. It’s almost as if they’ve stepped back to make way for the other flora to have their moments of glory.
Between the grills of a house, I see lilac poppies, with their carefully-painted watercolour petals. Tiny red and pink trumpet-shaped flowers dot another garden. I don’t know what they are, but they seem to promise the discovery of new words and delightful additions to my colour palette.
I’m almost home now, the cars are still whizzing past, and the pedestrian signal is loudly beeping. As I open the gate, I notice that in the far corner of our hedge, a rose has bloomed quietly, soft white and pristine.