The carpet of litter to Finsley Gate Wharf is shrouded in vegetation. As artist Stephen Turner said, nature is “reclaiming” the area. Perhaps we should too.
But instead of seeking to control and transcend nature, Stephen’s work with The Exbury Egg and Super Slow Way is reconnecting people to both the area and each other, as well as helping us to find our place beside it as an equal, not a usurper.
Stephen once lived in this egg, floating along the canal.
Now it’s anchored in the old boatyard of Finsley Gate Wharf, set against musty cottages and slabs of concrete. But then there is a froth of green: trees and plants spilling over.
A registered boat, it’s entirely eco-friendly. It has a bed, a shower, a heater and a paraffin stove. Life in this house is governed by nature: having no electricity, Stephen woke and slept according to the rolls of the sun.
It may have been stripped-back but the man’s talent and foresight are anything but. Pieces of wood drifting along the canal have been melded into a chair; ash from the stove amassed into drawing pastels; acorns boiled down into ink; and blackberries have been mushed into dye. In fact, the entire egg is made of recycled material.
“It’s about,” Stephen said, “getting over the idea of ‘waste.’ When you welcome people and help them to feel like a place is theirs, they start to care about it - and they take responsibility.”
Everything is connected, he believes - and equal too.
“There is beauty here,” he said. “It’s a matter of thinking positively.”
Stephen pointed to around 20 plastic bags, which could entangle birds, on the canal.
“No other species has the capacity to harm like we do. And we do it thoughtlessly”.
Believing it vital to understand the role of all things, he’s been teaching residents to fish - even maggots are essential.
“We’re on a level with everything else but the problem is we think we’re above it. We use and abuse for short-term interests but this creates more problems.”
It’s why he hosted a “nature safari” examining the site’s common wildlife.
“Life’s not all about the rare and the special,” Stephen added.
It’s something we can apply to our relationships, to the habit of putting people in “leagues” determined by random things we’re born with like wealth, intelligence and beauty.
“People have shown they care about the area and want to pass information on. They wouldn’t let us cancel our night-watch despite the bad weather.
“Traditions could be made here, creating a cycle of connecting.”
Ruth Shorrock, Community Coordinator for Super Slow Way, said: “Residents know the site’s history. They’re taking their ownership back and setting the seeds of connection.
“And when the families were fishing, youngsters were happy to do it for hours.”
It’s removed from the stereotype of society: people hunched over their mobiles; hours spent surfing the web; families eating in separate rooms.
As Ruth added, “We’re not geared up to live the way we do.”
Lessons in mindfulness
Super Slow Way works to refresh people’s attitude to fast-paced living.
“As a society,” Stephen said, “we want to do everything quickly, have a short attention span and make things shallow.
“We have short-term thinking but if we took things more slowly, we’d be able to understand them better. Thinking ahead is a way to slow down and make things that last”.
“We could then invest them with greater meaning. After I’d made the ink I began writing letters to offer something personal, a one-off. The time spent gives them more presence.”
There’s also the benefits to one’s mental health. The instantaneousness of Facebook connects strangers from all walks of life and technology frees up time for passions; but the “more, more, more” mind-frame that often comes with them can lead to obsessions, dissatisfaction and unhealthy competition.
Life is a matter of balance, taking “the best of the new”, Stephen said, and mixing it “with the best of the old.”
Instant access can boil up addictions: a need to be forever admired, in control or front-running. We care about the glossy print, forgetting the joy of writing our stories.
Nature’s cycles remind us life carries on. It withers and regrows after fruition - yet we limit ourselves by living like the fruit is the be-all-and-end-all.
Nature transcends our control, presenting uncertainty. It teaches us to move with life, not against it; and to see the bigger picture.
“When we connect to it,” Stephen said, “we learn to enjoy the uncertainty of life - it becomes a thrill.”
Tonight: moth-watch, 9pm - midnight; Thursday, 5-30 - 6-30pm: open meeting. Monday, 11am: blackberry pick (meet in the boatyard) to make jam for an auction raising money for Burnley Wood Community Centre. Sunday, October 16th: full-moon viewing with food and haiku-writing; binoculars provided. Daily, 5 - 6pm: egg open to the public.
Book on the moth-watch at Burnley Wood Community Centre. Spaces are limited.
For more details visit www.superslowway.org.uk