Sir David Attenborough’s newest recommendation for restoring our broken relationship with nature is reassuringly simple. “One of the best issues that you must do in the event you get the possibility, if you get the possibility, is simply naturally to cease,” he informed the Call of the Wild podcast.
I’m wandering by way of Horsenden Wooden in far West London, searching for a superb place to cease. Though it’s a tightly circumscribed parcel of nature – 10 acres in complete, and all that continues to be of the traditional forest that when dominated these elements – I’m, in fact, somewhat bit misplaced. Strolling in aimless circles will do this to you. I couldn’t, at this second, even level in the overall route of my automobile.
As soon as I uncover a spot the place I can’t see something however bushes – principally oak and hornbeam, in keeping with an indication I’ve handed 3 times – I seek the advice of Sir David’s directions once more. “Sit down,” he mentioned. “Hold quiet. Wait 10 minutes. You’ll be very stunned if one thing fairly fascinating didn’t occur inside 10 minutes. Doing that in a woodland, in the event you haven’t achieved it, is extraordinary. Don’t get too impatient both.”
I’m somewhat impatient, as a result of the log I’m sitting on is moist. Often I’ve to fake to have a look at my telephone when a canine walker passes close to, as a result of a middle-aged man sitting by himself and being very quiet appears, I believe, a bit suspect. If individuals imagine I’ve simply stopped to examine my emails, they are going to be reassured: he’s solely working from nature. Within the meantime I practice my ears to hear.
The very first thing I recognise is a agency bedrock of noise, a churning, whitewater rush that underpins the entire symphony. That is the A40, a few mile south. It’s annoying, but additionally kind of comforting. Within the 30 years I’ve been in the UK I’ve at all times lived inside earshot of this river of site visitors. Its sudden absence throughout that first, panicked lockdown was barely unsettling.
Subsequent: birds – tons of them. “Talking for myself, you then’ll realise how ignorant you might be,” Sir David mentioned, “how you may’t truly recognise what that birdcall is, which you ought to have the ability to, I actually ought to have the ability to do.”
My spouse can determine many various birds from their calls. I, alternatively, know the names of a few dozen frequent skirting board profiles. This doesn’t, I can guarantee you, assist to interrupt the ice at events.
I do my finest. I do know the bark of the crow, and the cries of parakeets, however after 10 minutes a fancy world of sound opens up, that includes calls I solely describe: fluting tweets, quick harmonica chirps, a distant swanee whistle, and the lengthy, whining fall of a siren. That seems to be an precise siren, a police automobile heading east.
Then, lastly, a woodpecker begins drumming in the tree straight above me. I’ve solely just lately realized that woodpeckers peck not simply to drill for bugs, but additionally to speak with each other. They don’t have any name however pecking. Certain sufficient, in the gap one other woodpecker solutions. I’m reminded that I as soon as noticed a woodpecker pecking a metallic cell phone mast. On the time I believed he was being an fool, however the sound was wonderful.
In some unspecified time in the future the dominant birdcalls die down and a sub-layer of quieter birds will be heard from the undergrowth. I watch a squirrel dig for a nut that he clearly remembers burying, if not precisely the place. Finally, he finds it.
I’ve spent extra time in parks and woodland throughout lockdown than in another 12 months of my life, however at all times strolling and at all times speaking, as a result of the outside is the one place you’re allowed to see different individuals. Typically I get informed off for not saying sufficient, for falling silent and looking out round as an alternative of asking the type of questions that mark you out as a superb listener. However this type of listening – alone, on a moist log – I might get used to.
• Hadley Freeman and Tim Dowling might be in dialog on 25 February at 8pm. Discover particulars and £5 tickets for his or her stay streamed occasion at membership.theguardian.com.