‘In lockdown, spring is unfolding before my eyes’

There are breeze blocks in the stream bed and plastic bags deeply embedded in the roots of an alder tree. And away in the wings, in the shadows, there are cameoappearancesgoing on that I would have missed in previous years: the satin purple of vetches and early orchids. Presumably, in that innocuous and inconspicuous patch of shingle, right beside the breeze block and the plastic bag, the next generation of this rarejawless fish are now readying themselves for hatching and their own journey. I am based in a second-floor flat in Edinburgh, with only the windows for fresh air and no flora or fauna except for a trio of cacti and an uncatchable kitchen mouse. All things considered I’m still lucky, with a lovely park five minutes’ walk away on the edge of the canal, and a great local bookshop still doing deliveries. It is a tale too slow for the impatience of our age, not of immediate enough import for its desperate problems.” It’s a remarkable sentence, particularly given that Nan was writing of the “impatience” of the late 1940s, half a century before smartphones or social media declared war on the public attention span. How rare a thing it is in the era of fast travel for someone to truly know any patch of land, anywhere in the world, in the way that Nan Shepherd knew her Cairngorms. Acutely detailed but never exclusionary or gatekeeping, Nan describes the changing of the seasons in humble, unpretentious fashion. “That it was a traffic of love is sufficiently clear,” she writes, “but lovepursued with fervour is one of the roads to knowledge.” Many of us might walk in local nature spots regularly but dismiss, or not even consider, their beauty, having seen far greener grass or grander mountains elsewhere. Inspiredby Nan’s message that “each of the senses is a way in to what the mountain has to give”, I have begun noticing scents around the park, and touching the fallen petals of the cherry blossom.I’mfinding a new peace, free from the anxiety of the daily news cycle. The Living Mountain is testament to the value in knowing what bird’s call is waking you up in the morning or whatflowers and trees are endemic to your area. Stuart Kenny Undeterred by his lack of binoculars, ornithological books and even paper (he wrote many of his observations on cigarette packets), Buxton threw himself into the task. During stints at two camps in Bavaria, he and fellow prisoners would spend countless hours watching the birds, their vigils interrupted only by meals and interminable roll calls. While today’s lockdown can hardly be compared to the privations of wartime prison camp life, the notion that we too can escape through close observation of the natural world in our vicinity still holds true. Having moved last year from the inner city to the South Downs national park, I’m keenly aware of how fortunate I am to be able to cycle from my home up on to green hills in a matter of minutes. In fine weather, my chosen patch provides views across an undulating ridge to gleaming chalk cliffs and a hazy sea beyond. With just a handful of species – plantains, red campion, vetch and ox-eye daisies predominate –this highly regulated concession to nature has little of the romantic chaos of a meadow. While one prospers and blooms, another’s withered leaves cry up to the skies to end April’s unfamiliar drought, and a third defies the odds with its dogged colonisation of soil as hard as stone. And then last week came an unexpected delight: a cheeky unauthorised sprig of speedwell carving out a space below sheltering brambles. Numbers of this bird have declined alarmingly in Britain, and their spiralling song seems charged with a reckless hopefulness I can’t help but admire.