Susan Zelouf muses on rewilding by design or by neglect …
Wandering through Dublin’s Kilmainham neighbourhood, I come across a two-up, two-down terraced house with an overgrown postage stamp-sized front garden, junked up with an abandoned car bedded down on a slab of broken concrete, a spread of Creeping Buttercup filling its cracks, the car’s rusting chassis swallowed by a tangle of briars and buddleia. Painted ladies, lolling between migration and breeding, browse spears of purple mallow and flowering catkins of toothy stinging nettles. Stick around, and there will be birds. Spiders’ webs. Voles and moles. Maybe a hedgehog. By design or neglect, the rewilding of a tiny piece of D8 had begun.
Those brave or crazy enough to venture into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone more than three decades after the deadliest nuclear accident in history (so far) might find, like wolf expert at Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences Marina Shkvyria did, according to a 2016 article by John Wendle for National Geographic Animals “a refuge for all kinds of animals – from moose, deer, beaver and owls to more exotic species like brown bear, lynx, and wolves”. The wolves have taken back Chernobyl, notwithstanding the radiation. Bison, too. And boars. Badgers, otter, red foxes, mink, polecats and raccoon dogs. Bats. Ravens, songbirds, storks and swans. Scientists studying Chernobyl wildlife populations take heart that even radiation is not holding it back. But what of Marina? What has happened to Marina Shkvyria since the Russian invasion of Ukraine? I find her on Instagram, continuing to post a few weeks into the war, her tracks still fresh: snapshots of a snail on wet leaves, bears foraging for food in a forest, a medical kit stocked with syringes, a graphic plea for a No-Fly Zone over Ukraine.
In a 2015 piece published in The Guardian (“The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape”) nature writer Macfarlane describes assembling his own glossary of place words: “a gathering of terms for the land and its weathers – terms used by crofters, fishermen, farmers, sailors, scientists, miners, climbers, soldiers, shepherds, poets, walkers – and releasing it back into imaginative circulation, as a way to rewild our language.” Like Macfarlane, the work of late writer, artist and cartographer, Connemara-based Tim Robinson (Connemara Trilogy) and Manchán Magan (Thirty Two Words for Field: Lost Words of the Irish Landscape) conjures disappearing ways of life through the Irish landscape and language, rescuing both from extinction.
Lying awake at night in our warm beds in our safe homes, we make mental lists of what we’d take if/when we are forced to run for our lives, from fires, floods, fallout, during air raids or at gunpoint. What would our neighbourhoods look like if/when we are able to return? How long until our homelands rewild, if ever? While we cannot hope to stem loss, at once uniquely personal and incomprehensibly global, consider the herd of wild Przewalski horses, nearly extinct before being introduced to the no-go zone surrounding Chernobyl in 1998. John Wendle describes his 2016 encounter with the increasing Przewalski population: “They charged toward us across a large shaggy field, their brushlike black manes standing straight up from taupe bodies, and took a long look at us as disused power lines swayed in the distance.” The worst in us casts a long shadow; the best offers up hope of renewal, a rewilding.
1. I’M SEEING time stand still in Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, while nature fills the void. Subscribe to www.nationalgeographic.com.
2. I’M BIRDING in the backyard, even if Violet-backed starlings mightn’t summer here. Danish photographer @sorensolkaer documents starling murmurations worldwide in Black Sun.
3. I’M LETTING my car go to seed, and biking it; the thighs have it!
4. I’M SCRUBBING up well with Heather & Moss soap from Fragrances of Ireland. www.treasurechest.ie.
5. I’M BUYING better, buying less. Lichen basket from www.joehoganbaskets.com.
6. I’M GRAZING the Wild Atlantic Way, guided by www.atlanticirishseaweed.com.
7. I’M ALIGNING with my spirit animal through Irish artist Margo Banks. www.solomonfineart.ie.
8. I’M SWEETENING the pill with ivy honey from Cork’s www.hannasbees.ie.
9. I’M PLANTING bluebells (in my décolletage) by Laois goldsmith @yvonnebjewellery.
10. I’M SWOOPING like a kingfisher in feathery Tom Ford RTW Fall 2022.
11. I’M MAKING a pilgrimage to Áras an Uachtaráin, Phoenix Park to see The People’s Acorn by www.racheljoynt.com.
12. I’M HONOURING my one wild and precious life with insight from Rob Macfarlane’s The Wild Places.
13. I’M BUTTERING my sourdough on both sides with Irish dulse butter. Order The Farmette Cookbook by Imen McDonnell for recipes from www.farmette.ie archives.
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