OPINION Susan Richardson

NWR Issue 101

On the Wild Side

Snow is avalanching over the top of my boots. The scribble of elm trees has been Tippexed. In fact, every landmark’s been blanked by the blizzard, as has the horizon itself. I pause, try to allow myself to experience what this high level of disorientation feels like, kid myself into believing I’m featuring in one of the accounts of polar exploration I’ve always relished, slogging across earth’s last great wilderness, harnessed to a sledge, lugging food rations and a tent which must urgently be pitched so I can shelter and wait for the whiteout to pass.

I’m nowhere near Antarctica, of course. I’m in the centre of Cardiff, in the wedge of parkland that extends for several miles along both the east and west banks of the Taff, incorporating the castle, an arboretum, a caravan park, allotments, sports pitches, a riding school, and, more recently, an education centre and several outdoor cafés. I’m lured through this succession of green open spaces at least once daily, to walk my dog, to gain a quick nature fix, to stride out on a concrete-free path, and most essential of all, to ferret out hints of the wild, whatever the weather, whatever the season.

Dawn, on the morning following the epic snowstorm, is no exception. Two young women, in parkas over pyjamas, have ventured out too, to photograph both the Scotch pancake sun rising above the city skyline and their own blue shadows. A man on ‘touring skis, suitable for both downhill and cross-country’ monologues about their merits, oblivious to the fact that my sighs have become visible, icing the strands of hair escaping from beneath my woolly hat.

I’m smitten by the vividness of all other colours against the white – fluorescent canine urine stains sprayed down the bellies of snowmen or frozen in footprints like stained glass, a Bassett’s bloodshot eyes as it struggles mournfully along, discarded tangerine peel, lichen on the bark of the elms, a red net suspended from a branch, already emptied of peanuts by hungry birds. There are also the orange and purple bibs, colour-coded according to fitness levels, of the ten or so participants of an outdoor exercise session. A man in full combat gear, the khaki camouflage pattern entirely redundant against the snow, intersperses yelled instructions and insults with blasts on his whistle. ‘Down in the snow now! On yer backs! I want fifty sit-ups! Come on – enjoy it! Put some effort in – that’s rubbish!...’

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