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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Amy-Jane Beer

Country diary: Flowers growing in ancient ground is my idea of belonging

A view from near Huttons Ambo in North Yorkshire.
A view from near Huttons Ambo, in North Yorkshire. Photograph: Amy-Jane Beer

Star Carr is an unprepossessing flatscape today, drained by a ruler-straight ditch that is no longer recognisable as a river. Eleven thousand years ago, it was a wetland of extraordinary productivity, teeming with fish and fowl, deer and aurochs, beavers and wildcats.

It was also a home to people, and the site place of their communion with nature. Last week I visited a new exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum displaying artefacts from the site – among the most extraordinary insights into Mesolithic life anywhere in the world. The Star Carr community had no metal, no livestock, no pottery, but seeing their digging sticks and bows, their harpoons and flint knives, their carpentry and decoration, they don’t seem distant at all. Most captivating of all are the antler headdresses, hinting at a spirituality inseparable from the wildlife with which they shared a home. Such belongingness feels revelatory in an age of disconnection and faux dominion.

Our predecessors are never far from my thoughts. Today I walked the dog 20 miles downstream of Star Carr near the village of Huttons Ambo, a place I love for the enigmatic gorse-covered hummocks that tell of a 12th-century manor and a curving holloway – a negative relief of lives that knew this place more intimately than I ever will. A tumbled wall becomes a bank, now bisected by the railway, running across the flood plain where water lingers in dips that were once manorial fish ponds. Perfect for skating when they freeze, though this latest winter only brought wet. One receding flood stranded a pike, another species much in evidence at Star Carr. Its stink lingered long in the dog’s ruff after an ecstatic roll in the carcass.

The holloways are at peak loveliness now, with bluebells, primrose, ramsons, yellow archangel and lesser celandine all busy hauling nitrate and minerals from a humic archive of old nows, and carbon dioxide from this one. Their vigour lends ardency to my own sense of what it is to belong, as if by sticking my fingers in the soil, I might tap into mycelial gossip, take root, sprout antlers. We’re still capable of feeling this. And in feeling it, recognising and reciprocating it, perhaps we can earn a new kind of belonging.

• Country diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

• Amy is co-author of Wild Service: Why Nature Needs You published on 24 April

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