Last month, I signed up for a walk in my neighbourhood—Mumbai Overstory: A Tree Walk led by @sananda_mukho. As our group of 6 slowly meandered along the bylanes of Bandra, Sananda stopped to draw our attention to the shape of a leaf, the musculature of the trunk of a gulmohar, the seed pod of the red sandalwood tree and the greyish rough bark of the saptaparni.
Over the past few years, through the course of the lockdown I have come to befriend the trees in my neighbourhood. The absence of a vehicle and access to any public transportation meant walking to the markets in my vicinity for supplies. In the quiet that had befallen the otherwise very busy streets of Mumbai, I found myself looking, listening and pausing more often as I stepped out on these grocery runs. The crepe myrtle were hard to miss at the onset of summer—arresting in their bright pinks and purples, another road was lined with yellow blossoms of the copper pod, and a month later, my childhood favourite, the amaltas burst into bloom. The trees were an invitation to stay present in a time of deep anxiety and ‘what ifs’. Each time, I came away comforted by their presence, my breath slower.
On the Tree Walk, my attention was drawn to different aspects of leaf, bark and bud and with it, an opportunity to deepen a relationship that had been fostered since I played as a child amidst the roots of the banyan tree in my school. In a culture of inattention, however, where so much emphasis is placed on busyness, these moments of pause had withered away–doing replacing being.
By turning my attention to what J. Drew Lanham describes as a ‘wild-like refuge’ or the wildlife that inhabits the nearby faraway, I was rekindling this forgotten connection. He writes, ‘What would happen if we became aware of how wildness thrives on occasion under our noses in vacant urban lots, discernible by the unbinoculared, high-def glimpse of a bare-naked, squinted eye? If we listen on moonlit autumn nights with open minds and hopeful hearts, we can behold it flying over us where we are: journeying birds blessing us with the distant unimaginable in moments of nearby.’
In my wild-like refuge, I spot fungi growing from the stump of a coconut tree in the garden of the building I live in, an African snail making slowly making its way along the pavement, stone walls covered in psychedelic green moss that only comes alive under monsoon skies. I stop to the touch the petals of a rain lily, lifting its smiling face up at the sky. I am recentred, humbled, inspired. As Alexandra Horowitz writes in her book, On Looking, ‘[a walk] is stopping to admire the murmuring of the breeze in the trees; locating the source of the bird’s song; pointing. Pointing!— using the arm to extend one’s fallen gaze so someone else can see what you’ve seen. It is a time of sharing.’
Through the month of October, we’ll be walking, listening and pausing with birders and tree group enthusiasts as they share their journeys of what brought them to turn their attention to the wilds in their neighbourhood. Listen to our podcasts on come visit our social media spaces to explore what spaces and places of wildness bring up for you.
To leave you with a prompt framed by @quillandfern: Where in the natural world or outdoors do you feel most centred? We hope you will join us and share your reflections too.