A solitary finger of a footpath sign points out across a field of ripening wheat. No person had walked here since the seeds were sown. There was no track on the ground worn bare by passing feet. I had seen this sign every work day for 10 months, but on this day, stuck in traffic I wondered, ‘Where does that path go?’
Maps can show you the network of paths and tracks, but it is only on foot that you get the sense of understanding the landscape. So with nothing better to do on 22nd June 2007 I set off to see what was there. You can only do this once on a given set of paths; around every corner, a new discovery. And you can only make this kind of discovery through walking. I set off and just followed the most interesting paths. Doing this without a map gave me permission to get lost. I took 50 photos of things I had never seen before. Everything was new and shiny. My notebook filled up with birds and other wildlife. I learnt about things I could never know from the car.
A few days later I opened the note book to remind myself of what I had seen.
Garden Warbler. x2
But quite soon I must have passed it to someone else. They interpreted what they saw. This other person wrote about how the landscape made them feel. Who the f*** was this other person filling my bird notebook: the one that only I write only birds in. And it went on page after page. Whoever this other person was, they were a right Sticky Beak. There was no need to write personal thoughts, the ones that even I do not admit to me. Perhaps I should have taken something to stop this writer getting dehydrated on the walk So in that half day the landscape, this landscape grabbed me. Perhaps this is what a patch is – somewhere that you can feel attached to. Somewhere that sticks to you, as much as you stick to it.
If asked, I would have said my landscape was wild inter-tidal marshes with their out-of-reach shorebirds, having spent most of my early summers in Blakeney. Maybe though my inner core-landscape is farmland with Skylarks overhead and Yellowhammers in the hedgerows and I found them here: ‘my’ patch. It became my addition to the BTO Bird Atlas. I raced to a mighty 94 species in the 2014 Patchwork Challenge, but in 2015, I returned only three times. I’d had this mad idea about finding birds in NZ26 Newcastle/Gateshead. It was great fun, don’t get me wrong, but each of those three times I wanted to ditch my urban project. Now in 2016 I can wander the paths again and see what has changed.
The montage is of photos I took back on that day in 2007. The quotes are some of the things I am prepared to share.