It is the end of the year. The sun is low in the sky, glimpsed through the bare branches of the trees as I move through the wood. On this short day, the sun has not risen far above the horizon and it will soon sink once again. The year is turning.
I walk with family through the woodland of a city park, through a curated wilderness within the noise and order of the city. We walk along neat paths. The trees stand within a carpet of brown leaves, broken here and there by small green shrubs. A dirt path winds a grey corridor though the wood. We follow through long shadows cast in the low sunlight.
There is beauty in this place.
This place of once exclusive enjoyment, welcomes all today. A city park once private garden now allows all to enter. This created place is a tamed wild wilderness in the concrete and tarmac of the city. It is a wildlife oasis.
But in this place where once wolves would have walked, we have to look closely for that wildlife. We have to pay attention. Where massed birds must have alighted, deer herds roamed, beavers swum alongside human settlement, long before these trees were planted, we have to look. Few of us think of what has been lost, what those who lived here so long ago experienced and took for granted. What was once here and is now no longer.
This place is one with a past, a present and a future. It is somewhere that has altered more than we can begin to imagine over centuries and millennia. Once a monument to exclusiveness it now allows all to enter. But long before 19th century sugar barons created this tame wilderness, it was a place of true wildness where human beings lived, hunted, farmed alongside a richness of wildlife and nature that we can only imagine.
How many feet have walked this land before us?
This, then, is a landscape that invites us to enquire, to consider, to listen and to learn. Though few question. Few ask. Few of us learn the lessons the land can tell us. Few hear the whispers of this place, the whispers of the past.
Dusk is falling so we turn for home. Soon the sun will set. Darkness will fall before the sun rises on the new year. In this time of reflection, of resolution and newness, will we listen?