Six lockdown walks with Alys and John


There's much to enjoy in this correspondence between writer Alys Fowler (who you may know from her memoir Hidden Nature kayaking Birmingham's canals) and artist John Newling (whose exhibition Dear Nature was on at Ikon before lockdown). It takes the form of six letters with photographs over April and May.

You can read them on Ikon's website or download a PDF.

As a taste, in the second letter Alys talks about finding a lost pigeon, which her dog scares away before she can persuade it to live with her.

For a good hour, I mourn not having that pigeon as a friend. I look for her the next day, but she is nowhere. I hope that, refuelled on my chicken corn, she has gone home. That or she met another pigeon and now is living a wild life along the rail tracks.

I’m very interested in pigeons. I am fascinated in how they transcend so many different spaces for us. They are feral and domesticated, prized, fattened (a fancy pigeon eats a very refined diet) and despised. They have raced, travelled over boundaries as spies carrying messages, won medals at fairs for their plumage, been food for working families, a source of manure, psychological test subjects and even taught to recognise breast cancer. They can apparently spot it as accurately as any oncologist.   

Meeting the pigeon sent me back to reread the multispecies feminist writer Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble, Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016). Do you know it? It is about how we must find new way ways to reconfigure our relationship to the earth and its inhabitants in the midst of spiralling ecological devastation. She writes of pigeons;

“Everywhere they go, these cosmopolitical pigeons occupy cities with gusto, where they incite human love and hatred in equal measures. Called ‘rats with wings’ feral pigeons are subject of vituperation and extermination, but they also become cherished opportunistic companions who are fed and watched avidly the world over.”

Haraway is interested in species that are boundary crossers for us: occupying more than one place in our minds and thus are able to cross over and create threads of stories of how we, as multispecies, as kin, might get on better together.

Alys Fowler. Letter 2/6 Monday 9 April.

I picked this out because one of the walks we were hoping to run before lockdown scotched them all was a guide to Stirchley's pigeon communities with Megan Henebury. When I first discovered Megan's obsession with the noble pigeon it seemed odd, in a good way. Now it appears I've been living a sheltered life. We must run that pigeon walk and soon.

I could have excerpted any number of bits from these letters though. Wonderful stuff. Thanks Ikon!

Photo at top by Alys Fowler.