Wherever we live, we are surrounded by wild things. Each autumn, globes of sweet-smelling ivy flowers erupt along walls and hedges, going unnoticed by us, but drawing in dozens of different bumblebees with drops of late-season nectar. Summer skies above city streets are speckled with swifts, gliding high on sickle-shaped wings that give them the power to fly faster than any other bird. Even the small clump of moss by the doorstep reveals its perfectly geometric design when examined closely. These things offer us a daily embrace of nature.
Perhaps you’ve noticed butterflies lingering on flowers and peered closer to look at their gorgeous colours. Have you ever wondered what they are doing there? They are probably warming their wings in the sunshine whilst guzzling sugary sustenance from each blossom they visit, drawing it up through a long appendage called a proboscis which works like a drinking straw. Each time they drink, they unfurl their proboscis into the heart of the flower, then roll it up again when they’re done.
The last time you glimpsed a wild fox trotting down the road, did you notice the rich tones of its red fur and its discreet, wily gait? Maybe it was a male out foraging food for his mate, who stays tucked away in their sheltered den during March and April, suckling a brood of cubs. By June, cubs will be out playing and learning to cock their ears to the ground to listen for the sound of beetles and worms squirming about in the soil, only a scrape away from becoming a tasty snack.
Strolling down an urban laneway in summer, old walls may not be as grey as they seem. Cast your glance upwards and you might see elegant fractal-patterned ferns draping down beneath a leaky gutter; the succulent circular leaves of wall pennywort; colourful splodges of lichen; or towering bells of tubular foxglove flowers emerging from gaps. Each have exceeded the odds to seed themselves there, finding a nook in the wall where their special suite of evolutionary adaptations allows them to thrive.
Wild embrace is about awakening to the everyday nature in our midst. It’s about tuning into the happenings taking place all around us
For many of us, raised on television nature documentaries from far-flung places, nature is something exotic, out there. Yet all around us, wild stories are unfolding every day. The antics of some familiar Irish plants and animals are just as charismatic as those we see on television. Discovering them can be as easy as putting the phone away, looking up, peering closer, and being curious. Even within our immediate environment – on the bark of trees, in amongst the tangle of a hedge, emerging from flowery fields, and flying through the sky overhead – an endless variety of wild things are going about their lives.
Wild embrace is about awakening to the everyday nature in our midst. It’s about tuning into the happenings taking place all around us; noticing how the ways of our native plants and animals are infinitely more interesting than we may have realised before.
When the scales fall from our eyes and we know what to look out for, glories like these can enrich our daily lives
“Wow” moments need not be confined to curated experiences or exotic places. A flicker of blue and yellow feathers on the garden wall leads us to discover that a pair of blue tits are busily feeding a brood of tiny, featherless chicks in a cavity not much bigger than our fist. Not only are the parents filling little beaks with caterpillars and worms, but they are also keeping the nest clean by removing tiny parcels of poo, which baby birds conveniently produce in neatly contained sacs. Each of us can experience daily awe – in the sublime patterning of a caterpillar munching on a bramble leaf at the side of the road; the cryptic camouflage of a furry white moth lingering on the white bark of a birch tree in the local park; or the swooping murmuration of a flock of starlings in winter. When the scales fall from our eyes and we know what to look out for, glories like these can enrich our daily lives.
This book brings together my love for and knowledge of Irish nature, in a celebration of what I call wild reverence. It offers an invitation for you, the reader, to cultivate a more direct relationship with everyday elements of the living world, embarking on your own joyful journey of discovery. Here is a guide to help you develop and nurture the skills you need to carry you on a lifelong adventure with the nature all around you.
Wild Embrace: Connecting to the Wonder of Ireland’s Natural World by Anja Murray is published by Hachette Ireland, March 9th, 2023. Hardback and ebook; £14.99