Taking a walk on the Wild Side..!

And she said…
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen…

The words of the popular Harry Chapin song that was much played in our student days.  I’m often sympathetic to the conventional view of the lady in question as I come to terms with the recent ‘wilding’ or ecological approach to many things these days.  Especially when it concerns what have been until recent times neat urban spaces.

From early childhood, while on holidays I relished working with my grandfather in the garden and in the fields of his small farm and around the local Church that he cared for.  He maintained them meticulously and with great pride.  As quickly as a weed popped it’s head up it was gone.  With such training, I always appreciated and expected horticultural spaces to be neat and tidy.  Frequently mowed lawns, trimmed hedges, flower beds that reject the advances of migrant weeds, seeking refuge.

A lawn in my reckoning should strive to imitate the smoothness of Wembley Stadium on FA Cup final day or the evenness of the cricket field in Trinity College.  A number of years ago I did a series of retreats in Manresa House, the Jesuit Centre for Spirituality in Dollymount, near St. Anne’s Rose Garden and the Bull Wall in Dublin Bay.  I loved to admire the delightful colour of the rose gardens and in contrast equally enjoyed the ruggedness and wildness of the sand-dunes parallel to the strand.

The lawns in Manresa were at that time very well kept.  On the days when the grass was cut the swallows and small birds had a literal field-day flying low over the lawn catching whatever insect life would rise from the freshly cut grass.  And then… one Summer, to my horror a fully-grown meadow had taken over with the concession of a tightly mown labyrinth in the middle for walks!  Horses for courses, they say.  Wildness for the wilderness.  Urbanity for the urban space.  I don’t believe I have returned since to the centre and go on retreat elsewhere!

I have to be honest, it greatly dis-improves my humour when I circle the roundabouts in our lovely capital town of Ennis.   It pains me to see just a margin around the edge, maintained, cared-for and well mowed.  Inside that, from the distance of a meter or so the terrain is like the labyrinthian jungle of Manresa.  Long grass, weeds, whatever you’re having yourself.  The healthiest and finest specimens of dandelions, thistles, nettles and an occasional sparkling yellow rag-worth for colourful variety. If the car were to stray on to the middle of the roundabout it might be days before it could be recovered and rescued…!

And yet, I know deep down… there is a reason.  As the biblical Quoheleth often reminds us; there is a time, a season and a reason for everything under the sun.  Nature and wildlife are proportionately in better humour as I huff and puff and the ecological agenda gathers momentum.  It was widely trumpeted that one of the reasons that our beloved capital did so well in winning the most recent tidy towns overall winners award was on account of the biodiversity policy and commitment to returning urban spaces to nature. I appreciate the irony of the situation, the untidiest set of round-abouts winning the award for the tidiest town in the land.

At a recent Bishop’s meeting, mindful of the religious aspect of the ecological agenda a vote was taken to recommend to all dioceses that 1/3 of Church related land around the country should be returned to nature by 2030.  The insights of St. Francis continues to inspire in that area.  Pope Francis led the way in more recent times with his ground breaking document Laudato Si, Praise be to Him, on care for our common home.  The Season of Creation is celebrated with ever growing interest each year in the month of September.

At the start of the recent pandemic, it was remarked that a new series of rarely used terms have become common parlance.  So too with the recent conscientisation and ecological awareness of the impact of climate change, the threat to our planet and the many species therin we have suddenly a whole new lexicon:

Wilding, wildlife, biodiversity, biodiversity loss, drivers of biodiversity loss, biotechnology, buffer zone, conservation, co-management, ecology, ecosystem, endangered species, eco-tourism, fauna, flora, habitat, genetic diversity, native species, natural environment, over exploitation, protected areas, sustainable use, no-mow-May just to mention a few spores flying in the wind.

But the little boy said…
There are so many colours in the rainbow
So many colours in the morning sun
So many colours in the flower and I see every one.

The wisdom, perspective and freshness of the mind of the young person.  Maybe I’m on that journey of change, conversion of heart?  I recall the much quoted words of St. Augustine in a different context: “give me chastity and temperance – but not yet!”  Lord, make me green – but not yet… just a bit for now…! And by the way, my lawn-mower is not for sale.

✠ Fintan Monahan is Bishop of Killaloe

Article for the Clare Champion 4th of August 2023