But by opening my eyes and being sure to explore as many nooks and crannies as I could find, I found not only the obvious green places, but odd little surprises in corners I hadn’t even considered.
As a keen birdwatcher, I’m used to paying attention to them nearly all the time, monitoring the arrival and departure of migrants in spring and autumn, noticing the flurry of nest-building from March to May and listening out for the blackbird’s mellow twilight song. But broadening my horizons opened up a new world.
The Japanese microseason calendar gives each season a name: East Wind Melts The Ice; Bears Start Hibernating In Their Dens; Light Rains Sometimes Fall. So I followed suit, using one memorable aspect of each season as its defining point. The results were of course not quite the same as the Japanese calendar – there aren’t many bears in West Norwood. But names like Starling Hullabaloo, Snowdrops Poke Through Soil and Christmas Trees Are Released Into The Wild made handy hooks on which to hang each little package of days.
Sometimes the changes are close to imperceptible, but close inspection is rewarded. The leaves on that tree – weren’t they smaller last week? I’m sure those plants weren’t in bloom last time I was here. Oh dear, dead fox.
But they can also hit you in the face, like the time I came back from my morning walk to find the peonies in the garden had exploded with a HELLO, WE ARE HERE LOOK AT US, AREN’T WE MARVELLOUS.
And sometimes it’s the weather that defines a season, like the four days of stifling, muggy heat in August 2020, which I spent watching the weather radar, begging for the blessed release of a proper thunderstorm.
I chose to write a book about that year, but you needn’t take it to such lengths. You can write brief notes on what you see, photograph it, record a voice note or make a collection of found objects. It’s the noticing that’s important. I think it’s important, what with the state of everything in the natural world, that people acknowledge nature, get to know it, nurture it.
If I have a manifesto, it’s this: that everyone, no matter who they are, might be at least on nodding acquaintance with the nature in their local area, that they might say hello to it, the same way they say hello to the barista or postal worker or shop assistant (we all do that, right?).
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It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the names. Nobody’s born knowing everything, and while for some it can become a badge of honour to be able to reel off lists of species names, for others it’s enough just to say “Ooh look, the gothbirds are hassling the diving murder-falcon again” (crows and peregrine, if you prefer). As I say, it’s the noticing that counts.
You can buy Light Rains Sometimes Fall: A British Year in Japan’s 72 Seasons from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.
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