Round the corner and across the road there is a narrow path between hedges.  It leads to an in-between place.  If you turn left where the hedges stop there is a route beside a dirty brook.  It goes on for too long in seclusion, between high sheet-metal fences, ending disappointingly at a busy road.

To the right, however, is my new-found oasis in this over-polluted area.  OK, so you don’t have to go far to reach a chain-link fence and hear a high-voltage hum, or to be stopped on the other side by the dark trickling brook behind the adjoining gardens.  However within these boundaries lies an unexpected abundance of life – birds singing, and rabbits running to hide.  Lush greenery and wildflowers, hawthorn, willow and sycamore trees.

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Yesterday, I spent most of the morning exploring it with my young daughter.  When I first explored it on a run a few years back, I didn’t think much of the place.  Too small; leading nowhere.  Now, seeing it through her eyes, and at this glorious time of year, it seemed 10 times bigger and more beautiful.  I am seeing it now for it’s own sake, not just as a route to another place.  Which is how I’m learning to appreciate a lot of things in life.

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My attention was drawn back to it lately by the faithful work of one of our neighbours, regularly trimming the hedges along the way down, picking up litter and petitioning the council to tend to the paths.  He does this with little recognition or thanks.  In the last week or so, I have taken to sitting just inside the woods among the low-lying boughs of a spreading tree early in the morning, to listen to the birds, read and pray.  I glimpsed a couple of rabbits and thought my daughter might like to see them and discover the place for herself.

So, inspired by ‘How to be an Explorer of Life’ by Keri Smith, we set off carrying a small plastic box with compartments, to collect beautiful or interesting things on our trip.

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We swished through barely discernible paths in fields of knee-high foliage.  We found a plank across the trickling brook and sat together between it and someone’s back fence, on the thick horizontal branch of a willow tree.  We sat and did nothing in that spot for a while, and she didn’t want to leave.  I pointed out the tender green tip of a new branch breaking out of the rough bark.   I said we would come back to this spot and watch it grow.

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Moving further, back through the tall leafy plants, we climbed a steep slope, and were surprised by an open area of rough grass bounded by hawthorn trees in full bloom.  I thought we should bring a picnic here on another day (we will sit with our backs to the pylon beyond the fence).

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The blossom on the hawthorn trees fell like snow the moment we touched the branches.  We sprinkled the open box with petals, and noticed how some of the blossom was turning from white to pink.

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Along to the right, in a dense tunnel of foliage between the chain link fence and more hawthorn trees, we saw the evidence of rabbits starting work on new holes – gashes of dark brown soil in a floor thick with fluffy catkins.  However we didn’t see a single rabbit this time around.

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At the furthest point of the path, with nowhere else to go, we sat down by the brook.  Despite the pollution that blackens it in any other weather, today it sparkled warm and transparent in the sunlight.  A large fly was struggling against the surface tension of the water.  It cast a glowing shadow onto the silt below.  We rescued it with a leaf, and watched it’s waterlogged wings shake and harden into a rattling buzz, at which point it darted off.

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Again at this resting place we stayed a while, and my daughter was in no rush to leave when I suggested going back.  I sensed this place was feeding her soul as well as mine.

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This little patch of wilderness is becoming a special place for us, partly through a choice to see it with fresh eyes and to explore it deeply rather than discount it.   My wife and I often wished we lived on the other side of the city, on the edge of the countryside.  But we chose to commit to being active members of this polluted urban community.  Now I am not so envious of elsewhere, but proud of our own little patch of wild nature.  To me it is a symbol of the potential for life, growth and beauty in unexpected places.

Where is your special place and why?  Please share in the comments.

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