February has done its usual trick of flying by at incredible speed. It’s hard to believe that not so long ago there was all this snow lying on the ground and people skating on the canals. It’s even more mind-blowing that one short week later we were experiencing warm spring temperatures of 18 degrees and indulging in the first ice-creams of the season. As I take my daily walks, I’m grateful to witness nature preparing for spring to burst forth. The days are getting slightly longer and we get to enjoy the blissful rays of sunlight just a little bit longer. Crocusses add a gorgeous touch of purple and yellow to the grass. Small bright green leaves are appearing on branches.
A colony of starlings has chosen to settle in the conifers outside my window. Most evenings they come, swooping down in groups and filling the branches. I love listening to them chatter all at once deep into the night, oblivious of their pigeon neighbours who were used to having the trees to themselves. When a sound startles them the starlings fly off all at once, their wings making this magical whooshing noise as they fill the sky with a ballet of their dark silhouettes.
Thanks to the beautiful autumn we’ve been having, I’ve had the chance to go walking in lots of different parts of Amsterdam lately. I vary my destination based on which friend I am meeting up with, how long I have until the next predicted rain shower or if I am in another neighbourhood for some errand, and I usually try to loop through a park if possible.
The other day I needed to pick up second hand gum-boots that I’d found via Marktplaats in Sloten, an area of Amsterdam where I rarely go. While planning my route on Google maps I spotted a small green area and decided to take a look on my way back.
At first I thought I couldn’t enter the park and that it was just a green wetland for birds as there were many coots and geese pecking around in the grass undisturbed. But I cycled around the perimeter until I found an entrance and a plaque with the name Natuurpark Vrije Geer.
The sky was grey as I walked along the path. The park had recently undergone maintenance as lots of reeds and grasses had been cut around the remaining shrubs and trees. It was quiet, with birds flitting here are there among the willows, tall reeds, ferns and autumn colours…
I also came across trees laden with funny fruit that look like a small brown apple with tentacles. Some light googling later on led me to the Dutch name mispel (or medlar in English) which is a plant that has been cultivated since the Roman times and carries fruit into the winter. Apparently you eat the medlar when it is overripe and has become sweet like apple sauce. I’m curious to try it!
Back home I read up about the history of the park. I found out that in the 90s the city of Amsterdam was rapidly transforming meadows and nature in the area into constructible zones and also threatened to run the tram line through this space. There were protests against this, which led to a local referendum in which over 200 000 people voted. Luckily 90% voted against housing construction and that’s how the park is a thriving ecosystem to this day. I found it interesting to read that the municipality was surprised that so many people showed up to vote for keeping a piece of land barely anyone was aware of before. To me this is an important reminder of how vital it is to involve citizens in decisions that impact their environment.
For my birthday, I received a book of poetry from my Mum, called Two green parrots by Australian poet Anne M Carson. It’s a lovely gift, which my Mum took the time to dedicate to me, that short handwritten note in biro at the front making it so much more personal.
I really enjoy picking it this small volume and reading one or two poems here and there, little stories that draw me back Down Under for a few minutes as I visualise the scene from my memories with sight, smells and sounds.
I especially like her poems about birds. For me the sound of waking up in Australia is amazing, the birds are so much louder than here in Europe and their cries are completely different. Just hearing them in a movie will bring me right back to where I grew up as a child. Here is a little extract to give you a sense of how beautifully the poet expresses it:
“Wattle birds wake up raucous.
They don’t murmur their way into day
or carol the growing light.
They ram their voices into the first chink
that opens between dark and dawn, staking claims.
Voice as a lever, they wrench morning open for themselves.”
The Indian summer we are enjoying in Amsterdam at the moment is amazing. I’ve been taking long healing walks through the Amsterdamse Bos, just listening to the breeze rustling through the leaves of the majestic trees which are turning all shades of orange and yellow, quietly observing the ducks, moorhens, herons and other birds go about their business undisturbed on the water, journalling as the sun warms my skin. I am so grateful to have what feels like an unexpected extra shot of summer to charge up on fresh air and invigorating sunshine.
Last weekend, though it was freezing cold, I couldn’t resist the beautiful sunshine so I took a long walk to get some fresh air and vitamin D. I headed to my favorite place by the water, an area in my neighbourhood which I appreciate no matter the season (I’ve written about it here and here :).
This time I was enchanted by this intriguing sight. I absolutely love how this flock of seagulls seem to have each chosen their own post and then faced the sun at the exactly the same angle, standing very still and basking in the light in such an orderly manner. Birds will never cease to amaze me!
My balcony overlooks a lovely patchwork of gardens and sheds, belonging to the owners of the appartments on the ground flour. The walls of the building form a large rectangle around the gardens, enclosing this wonderful ecosystem in which birds are the main protagonists, seemingly oblivious to us humans as they go about their business.
Fat turtledoves fly heavily from the railing of one balcony to another, groups of green parrots (who have taken root in Amsterdam) come by from time to time sqwaking loudly, tiny blue tits flit amongst the branches and there’s even a beautiful lone woodpecker who appears from time to time, tapping for bugs in the bark its favorite tree…
I love how the view on the gardens is constantly changing with the seasons. Today heavy snow flakes were swirling around in the wind, giving the gardens an enchanted look. The birds took shelter as they could, while the snow gently covered the ground and the branches and it was quieter than usual. So beautiful!