Rob Cowen, excerpts from Where Nature Gets to Run Amok:
A few mornings back, after another week of waking each day in disbelief at the news feeds on my phone, I rose early, pulled on my clothes and headed out into the darkness. There’s a place I always go when I feel like this. Crossing over the highway, weaving through the masses of housing and the still-sleeping suburbs, I sensed it rising behind the low walls and privet hedges on the outskirts of town like a great wave — that strange space beyond the streetlights; the tangled, messy border where human and nature collide and collude. Edgeland.
By the time I reached it, the sun was rising to the east, coaxed into the sky by the chorus of blackbirds and robins. It had been clear and cold overnight, and a thin mist hovered over the shabby fields, like a breath exhaled. Rounding the corner of an old lane, I’d seen them — a pair of roe deer feeding close to a hawthorn hedge, their great hare-like ears twitching and flicking as they ranged for sounds. The wind was with me, the noise of my approach was masked by the first washes of traffic spilling onto the main roads, so I was able to watch them for a while before I was detected. Then one shot up its head and fixed me in its otherworldly vision, and some silent signal was exchanged. Both vanished noiselessly over the field in great leaping bounds, like fairground horses on a carousel. The whole encounter lasted five, maybe seven minutes. There, then gone. A brief portal into another realm and other vivid lives lived in parallel to our own, but more than enough to get me through the day ahead.
Such is the wonder of edgelands. And chances are you know a place like this yourself. They are those spaces in the peripheries of our vision, glimpsed from the corner of the eye on our daily commute or maybe half-remembered from explorations as a kid; those wastelands that seem to defy the capitalist definitions of usable or workable, they run wild between the urban and the rural environment as a strip of old common, a fenced-off belt of trees, an abandoned, rough, wildflower-filled patch beside a housing project, highway, office block, mall, mill or warehouse. […]
Some months ago, I heard that the local council is strongly considering a plan to run a road through my edgeland. The word is that the road is a steppingstone to more wide-scale development, and the transformation of the area into housing within a couple of years. All of it there, then gone, just like the deer in the field. The thought breaks my heart. There have been protests organized; groups are petitioning the council for its protection, and I’m doing as much as I can. Not only because this edgeland is a repository of personal memory for me now, and the place I take my two children most, but because I know that the chance to encounter and experience the intimacy of nature in all its beautiful and terrifying glory is a key part of understating the true shape of being human.
To walk into such places daily is to be delivered into the possibility of escape — from ourselves, our fears and worries and the increasing madness of this human world. To do so reminds us that we are part of a greater and more beautiful planet than we often take the time to remember. And right now we need that as surely as we need anything.
Find Rob Cowen’s entire essay: Where Nature Gets to Run Amok: (NY Times, April 15, 2017)