Whilst the news rages and restrictions are placed us on left, right and centre, it’s easy to feel caged in. But, despite the seemingly unending waves of uncertainty, on our doorsteps, we do have one constant. Whatever else is going on in the world, nature carries on, undeterred.

Forced onto a treadmill of variations of the same few daily walks, throughout this strange year I’ve challenged myself to accept my surroundings, look deeper, meet the world half-way.

Out on walks, I’ve attempted to slow down, to look into the verges, to hedgerow-gaze, to stop and tilt my head and look up into the trees. I’ve been coaxing myself to take out my phone and snap small details I might never have noticed if my head was down and I had my usual, blinkered stomp on.

As the seasons have changed - and my eyes have adjusted to the green screen - I’ve noticed the opening of blossom, the flowering of herbs, the sprouting of trefoil from kerbside cracks. I was there the day the field maple’s leaves began to turn gold, took note as hazelnuts carpeted the paths through the woods.

Newly curious, I’ve spent evenings flicking through wild food books. I’ve scoured websites, seeking to put names to plants I’ve spotted out and about, scrolling on for a sneak peek of what I might discover next, what can be gathered, cooked with, tasted. This year, I’ve learnt that yarrow’s feathery leaves were once used to staunch wounds. That hawthorn berries are bland and powdery, That freshly dried camomile makes the most delicious tea.

Whilst my parents took me blackberry picking and sloe hunting when I was small, this year, I’ve been extending my relationship with the world on my doorstep, learning the flavour of previously untried weeds and edible wildflowers, and gaining newfound respect for the shiny red fruits I was warned not to put into my mouth as a child.

I’ve learned to savour the intimacy of leaning into bushes to clutch at rosehips, trusting their branches to hold me. I’ve traced the smooth, firm skin of a surprise puffball mushroom, crushed wild marjoram between my fingers and let it’s scent rise up my nose.

There’s a frustration in staying put, but it’s also an opportunity to break the ice. Foraging, I’ve found, is like taking the time to say ‘hello’ to a neighbour. It’s an acknowledgement of our surroundings, rather than a stride straight past. A wave to a passer-by. A knowledge that comes from a deeper connection.

Irreversibly opening my eyes to the companions we live alongside feels like an acceptance of our strange reality and a good intention for the future. A way to treat this time of uncertainty as an awakening, rather than a closing down.

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