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Toward a radical middle

a time for fear
Thursday, May 15, 2003  
Turning Back Against the Town

Wildlife is finding whole new habitats in unlikely areas: urban centres and industrial sites are adaptable landscapes, packed with new advantages, quickly shedding their terrifying novelty and turning up rich pickings in the trash, waste and squalour of our worst environments (and the birds are getting so fearless: I've seen a raven scouring for food in the middle of a main road, dodging traffic). Birds, mammals and insects make the most of urban living in ways so imaginative and unexpected that it's like a silent environmental revolution. London's eeriest Nature Reserve: Abney Cemetery in Stoke Newington, home of blackbirds, mistle thrush, warblers, tawny owls, kestrels (all those rodents!) among the wrecked Victorian grave stones and a gutted church. A Grey heron fishing in a roadside pond near Stamford Hill. Birds of prey hovering above the marshes, along rail tracks and roads, elegant angels of death. Urban foxes, a renegade, motley breed compared to their country brethren, scraping through inner city surburbs, raiding bins, dodging dogs. Swans in regal clusters on the Lee Valley Canal. St James's Park and its mad menagerie of exotic ducks and ghost-faced pelicans and special gulls who can swoop in from 300 metres away to catch bread mid-air. All those green parrots in places like Eltham Park, adding a dash of surreal exotica to gentle foliage and fauna, flitting like sprites between Elm and Oak. Plus I swear there's some sort of killer eel alive in Hampstead Pond, the size of a small seal, blowing intimidating air bubbles for the kids, its oily thick skin occasionaly breaking the surface as it devours another unsuspecting tufted duck. Etc. More than that, there's new stuff moving in, like the Gulls nesting on their High Rise islands (I love that: a maze of four-faced cliffs; animals totally re-orientate your way of seeing the city); even Otters, whose numbers in England have grown five times since the Seventies, are moving closer and closer into urban waterways. Our cities are evolving into new natural territories, unexpected habitats, zones of conservation (like Walthamstow Marsh, where cattle is being reintroduced to facilitate the growth of some rare weed or moss or something): slowly and continually, wildlife is moving in, de- and reterritorialising urban space. Total concrete jungle (and if you include all the crazy people, all of us skimming our own territories, mining our routes and parading the streets...)...

The country is a city without houses, the city
merely a kissed country...

Frank O'Hara

8:02 AM

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