Perfect Imperfection

Pristine new flowers, beautiful newly-emerged butterflies, perfect new leaves unfolding.  It is easy to be drawn to the fresh and the new.  This year, thanks to the dry spring and hot weather, summer seems to be fading early, and many of the flowers in our meadows are dying back.  The poppies have more-or-less finished.  The mayweed is dying back.  The grass seeds are drying early.  It is almost time to mow.

But it isn’t all bad.  There is such beauty in the fading flowers, the poppy seed heads ripening, the grass seeds drying.  A foretaste of Autumn maybe, even as early as July.

Faded beauty in a world where we seek perfection.  We worship the young, the flawless, the perfect and regard with disdain the old, the faded, the crooked, the wrinkled.  Not just in nature, but in society too:  we seem to idolise pretty things and ignore the rest.

Only with trees do we start to value the old, the crooked, the quirky and the broken.  Ancient trees have character and support a startling variety of life and living things.  Our oaks, between 100 and 200 years old, have nooks and crannies.  Many are hollow.  Some have multiple holes supporting bats, owls, woodpeckers, nuthatches, blue and great tits, and treecreepers, sometimes several of these in one tree.  Fungi grow at the base.  Insects thrive in the bark.  Bees nest in abandoned nest holes.  There is so much energy about these old and gnarled trees.

If we can value these veteran trees, why not value other things that are less than perfect?  Too often I see public open spaces tidied to the point of becoming sterile.  Rows and rows of perfect blooms in flower beds.  Lawns cut and re-cut without any room for plants to grow, mature and set seed.  Verges strimmed.  Hedges manicured. This is often welcomed by the people living nearby.  We seem to want tidy open spaces, nature parks for humans, rather than nature, designer gardens on a landscape scale.  And so we miss out.  We miss out on the beauty in seed heads and fading flowers, the beauty in a small patch of wild meadow, and the beauty in the insects, birds, mammals and bats absent from over-manicured parks, gardens and public spaces.

I am certain that our obsession with tidiness is one of the reasons I often hear the phrase “You don’t see [insert name of species] around much these days.”  We want wildlife but we don’t want the rough places upon which wildlife thrives, at least not near our homes.  We cannot have it both ways.  Our obsession with tidiness and perfection will drive wildlife away from where we live, and once it has gone, we will gradually lose the connection we have with it.  Wildlife needs places like ours, but it also needs places to live in the towns, the cities, the villages and industrial estates.  Imperfect verges.  Overgrown scrub.  Fading blooms.  Seeds and weeds.  Imperfection is perfect for wildlife.  Let’s try and get used to it!

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