When you frequent the green places and the edge-lands, you notice the things that people leave behind. I am fascinated by those leavings that jar the senses because they don’t seem to belong. Not the thoughtless litter that blights the landscape, but those objects that once had purpose but have now been forgotten.
Walking through the dene, I have a sense of something that shouldn’t be there. Something dangles within the branches of a small tree. I look closer and find a golden duck swinging among the leaves. Not the kind of duck I usually see here, but a tiny cartoon duck with huge eyes and a wide smile. Lost property? A whimsical decoration? Or an offering? I smile at the incongruous duck and walk on. Further in, on a rock by the pond, someone has propped a pair of flip flops. There is no sign of their owner, as though he or she waded into the pond and was swallowed up, though the water is far too shallow for that. How is it possible to leave a pair of shoes behind? Was their owner abducted by water sprites, or did they simply want to feel the rustle of autumn leaves between their toes?
Some things are lost and unlikely ever to be reclaimed. The upended umbrella on the railway embankment, the woollen glove ground into mud, the rubber glove with cracked fingers on the beach. These lost things become part of the landscape. I have watched the umbrella brim with leaves in autumn and gather snow in winter for two years now. It has become so deeply buried into the land that only its curved handle remains visible. It is no longer an umbrella, it is an extension of the earth. I have watched the offerings made to the shoe tree in the park reproduce over the years, until they are hued green and crusted with lichen, like strange fruit born of the tree itself.
Some objects have uncertain provenance. The child’s dinosaur in a rock pool that may have been dropped on the beach or may have arrived with the tide from some far off land. Some speak of mischief or malice, like the shopping trolley in the burn or the empty bottles displayed on the rocks like the flutes of a church organ. Some speak of helpful strangers – odd gloves propped on the spikes of the railings in the square in the hope that their owners will find them. Some are left with purpose, like the dozens of knitted angels that appeared like magic all over town one Christmas, so unexpectedly that we smiled and talked of nothing else for hours.
If ever there was an object that seems destined to be left behind, it is the hapless glove. I have seen so many lost gloves that I have begun to feel sorry for them. I wonder how many are left in unexpected places. How many are left to rot in the earth, or to be pulled apart by tiny beaks and teeth to add warmth to dens and nests. And how many of their partners languish in drawers, never to be reunited. How many gloves lie in landfill, little woollen hands waving among the rubbish, perhaps finding their way to other lost gloves to form a mismatched pair. If animals wore clothes, I expect there would be tiny, paw-shaped gloves discarded all over the landscape.
The things we leave behind us always tell a story. It may be as simple as a glove dropped carelessly while walking. It may be that the glove was dropped because that person had something very specific on their mind. There is the real story of why the item was lost and then there is the story imagined by its finder. No matter how lightly we tread upon the earth, we can’t help but leave things behind. We are part of the landscape as much as the trees and the birds, and while they leave feathers and twigs and tracks in the mud, we leave parts of ourselves too, in the objects that once had use or meaning for us. There are things we leave behind deliberately – the heirlooms and trinkets that fill attics and cabinets – but I wonder if it is the things we give up without meaning to that tell our most intriguing stories.