Connecting to nature is a core concept in paganism. Cities, seem a lousy place to do this. Nature is, surely, somewhere else? Not so. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look. Cities create heat islands, there’s always noise and light, plants and wildlife aren’t so obvious. But nature is all around you. Here’s some tips for connecting.
Make sure you stop outside every day. ‘Outside’ should not just be the dash between car and office, car and shop, car and front door. Or bus, or whatever you use. Stop. Stand still for just a few moments. Look up at whatever sky you can see. Feel the air on your face. This is nature.
There might be light all the time, but if you pay attention to when the streetlights come on and go off, you can become more aware of the patterns of natural light level.
Find some urban trees. Once you start looking, cities are surprisingly green places. Parks, gardens, canals, and urban tree planting all result in green spaces. Urban decay leads to plants moving in. Where there are plants, there are often insects and birds as well. Find out what kinds of trees are growing around you, and keep an eye on them. See when they come into leaf, whether they fruit, what they do in autumn. An urban tree has just as much tree spirit as one in a forest. You can still talk to them, sit under them, or meditate with them.
Find out about urban wildlife. You may be surprised. Foxes and rats are normal, but Birmingham has peregrine falcons, and there have been sightings of wild otters in the canals. Bats thrive in urban environments.
Think about the tarmac. In reality, it’s only a few inches thick. Under the tarmac there is soil, and the energies of earth are still there, even if we have put a lid on them. You can still connect, it just takes a bit more effort.
Spirits of place exist in urban environments just as they do in wilder ones. Spirits seen and unseen, known and unknown. If you believe that every living thing is imbued with spirit, then it surrounds you. Cities teem with life.
Cities are also an excellent place to commune with the spirits of our ancestors. Find out more about the human history of your city. Who founded it? In the UK, cities may date back to the Roman occupation – Gloucester does (along with any other place-name ending ‘cester’) and there are remnants from many centuries of human society. The past is very much with us in cities. We can see it, touch it, be part of it and connect with our ancestors of blood, place and tradition.
Cities feel very much like big human constructions in which we have taken control of every aspect. They seem remote from nature. They aren’t. Nature sneaks in, and works its roots into the cracks. The rain still falls, the sun still bakes us. We still depend on water to drink, and food grown on the land to nourish us.
Take some time out in an urban space, and imagine what it’s like to be a bird, or a plant there. To be a rat, a seed, a tree. Wild things do not perceive cities as we do. To a sparrow or a butterfly, this is just another environment. The cliffs may be weirdly regular, but that’s about it. To a non-human, it’s just another landscape offering potential and risk. Another place to adapt to and seek a niche in. Experiencing nature in the city is very different from encountering it in a more overtly wild place, but no less important. But then, encountering nature on a beach is different from the top of a mountain, or the depths of a forest. This is the environment we have made, but it is still an environment and we are not the only ones living in it.