Commuter land

Between the train tracks and high rises lies a whole world of secret treasures - if only you could stop, just for a second, to see it.

Words: Alys Fowler

Film: Paul Debois

Here is the cold rush and the quick step of the commute. The coffee spilt and saved, but now dripping down your wrist into your coat sleeve, which will soak it up just enough so that by the return journey it will smell soured.

There’s the hard grey pavement and the harder grey sky, the paper seller’s shout lost as you hasten down the steps into the station’s dungeon, onto the train, into a seat, just. And then you are shunted into the windowpane, where the humid drips of a hundred breaths run into rivulets.

Hidden in these vertical streams is a glimpse into another world by the train track’s sides, into the river’s bend, where no man is supposed to tread. Here, you catch, for just a second, a view that

For a second you glance up at this burst of hope so seemingly fragile that you must crane to follow itjust that bit longer. A burst so small that it might go as unnoticed as the bee that visits it, braving the break in the sky, to find an early meal.

Here is spring, tender and new: those early blooms, the suppleness of stems as they draw life back into themselves, the sheen of swelling buds, the unfurling of promise. In a few weeks it will be lost, the petals strewn and in its place a thousand leaves, at first as delicate, soon dulled.

These wildlings of the wayside grow straggly, unapologetically where they choose. They do not adhere to rules of place or colour or form. They rule the tracks, crowned with plastic bags and sweet wrappers.

For now, they are all for you. You in the seat by the window, you who took the short cut across the park, behind the garages, along the river, through the little woods. You who ventured where the wild things grow.

Spring is cracking open the door, giving you a glimpse before summer opens it wide and lets you free.

Take notice.

Botanical notes

  • Prunus cerasifera, Cherry Plum, is one of the earliest flowering cherries. It is native to Europe and East Asia. From late summer to early autumn the round often cherry pink, butter yellow or tangerine orange are edible, once enough sugar has been added.
  • Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ is a ubiquitous carpark plant chosen because very few would attempt to climb over it. It has glossy, dark green spiky leaves and from December to March long racemes of lemon yellow flowers, heavily scented, like old ladies. The flowers can be used to make a lemonade much the way you would make elderflower cordial. In summer they are followed by dusk purple berries that bleed a dark, grape coloured juice that is excellent when matched in its weight with sugar..
  • Crocus tommasinianus is an Eastern European import. This one is loved because it flowers early and will naturalize. It is possible in a sheltered, sun-warmed spot to catch their gentle scent. This crocus is named in honour of Muzio Giuseppe Spirito de Tommasini from Trieste.