the vacant block

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Weeds, open space and two generous mounds of illegally dumped rubble dominate the large vacant block at the end of the street. For over eight years now we've passed through the land, making our way to and from the local shops and beach; transitioning from newly engaged couple to young family. A constant in the backdrop of daily life, the block is generally overlooked or regarded as a dilapidated neighbourhood eyesore.

It quietly cycles through states of condition; for the most part it's left to become over-run with weeds which grow to chest high before a rare work crew arrives to spend a few days cutting down and removing debris. Summer's dry grasses and scorched landscape eventually make way for muddy pools of water cast from winter's heaviest rains. Carpets of vivid green weeds then burst into being, setting a striking contrast against the charcoal skies of late. 

This year's sharp cold winter and an unexpected kindling deficit recently saw the kids and I venture to the block to see what could be foraged for the beginnings of a late afternoon fire. Basket and dog in tow we set out exploring the perimeter, collecting fallen sticks, bark and small pieces of wood. I quickly found myself alone and glancing up saw the reason: a world of natural intrigue had opened for my children. Luxioriously soft blankets of moss had been set down across sections of the land, grand puddles lay hidden away from the informal pathway, rocks peppered the ground and colourful birdlife perched on the branches of the block's dead trees.

As I continued to fill our basket I noticed how freely the kids roamed, conquering the weedy mounds of rubble, running small hands over different species of moss, stomping in puddles, and examining bark carefully prised from the trees. They ran together chasing white cabbage moths, laughing and jumping as the moths descended and ascended just out of their reach. 

In that moment I realised that in the case of the block, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder and - as I have been reminded numerous times of late - what I view as degraded is something all together different through my children's eyes. What spells eyesore to adults can spell adventure, playtime and discovery to the young. In fact this humble block, so readily dismissed, provides endless possibilities for exploration and offers a unique platform for inquisitive minds to develop and understand nature in their busy urban neighbourhood. 

We headed home that afternoon with basket filled and children - and mother - fulfilled. We have since stocked up on store-bought kindling and yet I receive frequent requests to head to the block to "collect sticks". It's a request I'm more than happy to oblige; off to our special block we now go.

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