Steam rises from my mug of tea as my eyes connect with the eyes of the black and white creature. He flexes his long talons, seems to nod his head – as if acknowledging me, and though favoring one foot, manages a very impressive saunter into the dark early morning mist. An unexpected feeling of gratitude rolls over me and the corners of my mouth can’t help but turn up a bit. “Stay safe old man” I think to myself.
I tug on my boots and shuffle through tall wet grass carefully trying to dodge the last dandelions of the year. Not only is their yellow color aggressively cheerful but the sacred bees need them. Mist floats just above the ground as the sun tries valiantly to burn through the clouds. Coco and I have just finished our breakfast and it’s time to do some foraging. I tuck a few wildflower blossoms into my gathering basket as we walk. Coco loves these walks, and even though it means I have less time at my desk and with the community, I love them too. We follow the lane until it ends in the neighborhood forest garden. When we moved to the green collective community 3 years ago, the first item of business was a course on respecting the shared spaces, including how to harvest food from the community forest garden. I have to admit, at first I expected people to trash our shared spaces because in years past shared areas became “no man lands” unsafe, abused and ignored. It turns out, guidance and accountability are what is needed to make shared spaces thrive. Seeing communities like mine turn this around has created an immeasurable sense of community pride.
Forest fresh air revitalizes my body, especially when I’ve been cooped up indoors. I breathe deeply in these walks – they allow me to recalibrate and give me time to think. As we walk along I collect apples, spinach, wild garlic, and mushrooms. So many ideas of meals come to mind! The birds sing in the canopy above and I’m starting to learn their calls. Nightingale, Woodlark, Robin. We’ve learned to leave some food for the forest creatures because if we don’t they’ll take the unripened fruit and vegetables. Or, their population will dwindle and the ecosystem will become unbalanced. Forest gardens are all about balance – learning how to keep the balance is something we’re learning from Indigenous cultures around the world. Our community collective has been key in connecting Indigenous elders from around the world to towns like mine and ensuring they are fairly compensated for sharing their wisdom. Old models would have predicted that this would lead to selfishness and problems but actually, it’s led to flourishing Indigenous communities and the regeneration of land in communities like mine all over the world. Now that we have an idea of how valuable Indigenous wisdom is, land rights and protections of Indigenous communities have worldwide support. Talk about restoring faith in humanity!
My thoughts are suddenly pierced by a cry that rings out and reverberates through the canopy. Coco and I both freeze next to the blueberry bramble she had been sniffing. Neither of us breathes. Time stands still. The cry comes again and I realize it’s not far down the path from where we are. Riskily glancing behind us, I realize there’s no one else around. When learning about the forest garden we were told there might be predators, they are an important part of the ecosystem. We were told that they are not typically aggressive towards humans unless they feel threatened. Chills run down my spine. My heart thumps too loudly. Slowly breath comes again, my mind running through possible scenarios. We aren’t supposed to kill predators unless we feel our own life is in danger. Could I even kill if I my life was in danger? I don’t know what I’m up against. I was trained to make myself look bigger and make loud noises to send threatening creatures running in fear. A third cry rings out, this time weaker. Curiosity now pulses through my mind. What is happening? The last cry makes me believe this animal is in danger. Coco and I make eye contact and I give her the hand signal to stay by my side. She silently slinks over. I leash her to be sure she doesn’t get too curious and we press on down the trail.
Quietly padding through the underbrush, I attempt to get a view of the source of the cries. We reach a vantage point and through a mess of vines and undergrowth I see a badger struggling. It seems to have a paw tangled in something and it’s not going anywhere. It’s long claws have carved deep troughs in the ground and its lips curl back in a snarl to show very large, very yellow teeth. Fudgecicles. My heart beings to race anew. Do I try to help it and risk being hurt or do I leave and let it perish? I tie Coco’s leash to a tree and instruct her to sit quietly. In my bag I carry a set of wire cutters because the forest garden was created on an old farm and errant barbed wire in the underbrush is a regular nuisance. Looking more closely, I realize that’s what is going on here, the badger’s paw is tangled. I edge the clippers out of my bag and slowly move forward.
Allison Whitaker USA Allison is a workshop facilitator and marketer who has historically consumed more fiction than she writes. She’s attempting to change that (and the world) by using her powers for good. An American by birth and traveler by heart. View all posts