I have long believed that litterpicking is a powerful act of magic, when it comes to honouring and building relationship with the spirit(s) of a place. In that sense, yesterday morning was thoroughly magical.
We have finally moved “across the water” to the Wirral peninsula – my love/hate/love/love -inspiring sacred landscape; a few weekends ago I was enthusiastically recruited to the Friends of Birkenhead Park, which is why, yesterday morning, I found myself wandering around the world’s first publicly-funded public park (it really is quite something) picking litter. It taught me a lot about my new locality.
The park borders some of the richest communities in this area on one side, and some of the poorest on the other, and the litter left in different areas speaks pretty eloquently about the lives of each. With no litter-picking sticks, we improvised with branches we found lying on the ground; a very particular kind of magic wand, created and used with intention.
Walking with this kind of purpose gave me license to explore more widely and look more carefully than I might have done otherwise. The park is famously landscaped, but it still preserves something of the old, wild landscape of the birch-wooded headland that became Birkenhead: football pitches are always threatening to revert to marshland, and the wildflower meadows are anchored with marsh grass (which I have just realised I can’t identify by name: I remember it well, from the wetter fields of the Teifi valley, and I know that the insides of its dark, fleshy spikes are filled with a white spongy substance and that it has dry brown flower-heads in the summer; so this is my landscape homework for the day, I suppose).
Further inside the park, where the land begins to rise towards the sandstone ridge that runs down the spine of the peninsula, a natural spring has given rise to a small pond sheltered by mature yew trees – a wonderful place for small, private rituals, especially given that the park is open all hours. I would never have discovered it, if not for my fellow volunteers. They have spent all their lives on the Wirral, and know it intimately. Although they would never describe themselves as pagans, their love and reverence for this landscape is something any pagan would understand. I often clear litter, as an act of honour and reverence for place, but there was something particularly powerful and uplifting about doing it with others.
Oh – and we were all given a full English breakfast at the volunteer lodge afterwards :)
Now, having spent yesterday up close and personal with the rich, muddy sandstone spirits of the land, I am off for a coastal cycle to revel in the wide-skied freedom of the spirits of the shore. In case it wasn’t obvious already, I love this place.