The Urban Forager’s Oasis
The word foraging, conjures up images of pristine wilderness, vast forests, mountain ranges… a distant dream to the urban dweller. The truth is, I have foraged in the most unexpected places. Hidden between rows of buildings and streets, are slices of urban neglected space- undeveloped, forgotten by all but plants, insects and graffiti taggers… the terrain vague.
The term translates to “undisclosed or vague terrain”, a space void of traffic, advertisement, construction – a rare thing in any cityscape. Growing up in Lyon city centre, luck had it that my family lived with one such space- at a hop over our garden wall. I craved this overgrown and peaceful little place, I came to find solace, creativity, imagination and life…. In those instances, i felt like i could be in the middle of a large luscious ecosystem and forget the city for a while. I’d bring all my friends here who came after school, it was magical. Likewise, the sudden jolt back in the city streets was a reviving change. Since then I have loved merging these two worlds.
Many of the plants thriving in this wasteland oasis are labelled as weeds, or plantes squatteuses; seen as almost illegally squatting the land- growing ‘where they should not be’. I could relate to this as a skateboarder and graffiti tagger, (and later squatter), we were constantly reminded ‘that this was not our playground’. We would read the signs, “no skateboarding”, “interdiction”, “no loitering”… a term that I found difficult to comprehend, considering there is nothing more natural than for people (especially kids and teenagers!) to congregate. Nevertheless we trespassed…
Through skateboarding and graffiti, our perspective on the architecture of the city was able to morph and adapt to our curiosity and playfulness. It was the act of pursuing places to graffiti, that led me to trespass beyond more forbidden walls. Alongside the trash “we played in vague terrain, amongst leaves, washing machines, plants, aluminiums and greens…”* – this abundance of plant life, attracting all sorts of insects, creatures and neighbourhood cats. A meaningful relationship to place began to form. I got to know the fragrance of buddleia, the sting of nettle, the sticky seeds of cleaver… all before I ever learned the Latin or common names, or nutritional properties. Firstly, the plant shapes and forms began to influence the style in my graffiti alphabet. This is where my foraging story begins.
“we played in vague terrain, amongst leaves, washing machines, plants, aluminiums and greens…”
* lyric from song Avocado Baby, written and performed by Samyel (Samuel Arnold Keane)
Just as the skateboarder reimagines harsh concrete architecture into playful flow, the urban forager sees the bounty in the terrain vague.
Samuel Arnold Keane is a forager, an illustrator, a musician… merging various art forms to tell the stories of the seaweeds, coasts and streets, he gathers, wades and walks. Samuel guides foraging events with an emphasis on marrying ancestral skill within the modern landscape. Finding story alongside practical knowledge. Just as the skateboarder reimagines harsh concrete architecture into playful flow, the urban forager sees the bounty in neglected ‘waste land’.
“Foraging fosters an intimate relationship with our environment. We tap into an ancestral activity. We become part of the flow rather than spectators of the outdoors. We begin to truly care for our environment – the beach we comb, the forest we walk, the derelict land we trespass into, the small slices of wilderness that remain. We start to stand up for it. This is where I believe environmental action truly begins.”