A Rewilding Journey: City Quitting

Roo foraging wild garlic in Wales

Hello, my name is Roo Williams and this is a journal of a person from the city seeking a deeper connection to nature, and themselves.

Well, not strictly from the city. I came from an ex-steelworking town in the South Wales valleys. A town where people worked in factories, supermarkets or tanning salons and it was hard not to date your friend’s ex.

The home in which I grew up was situated on the outskirts of this town where the sprawl of council housing gave way to grassy undeveloped land. The ambient sounds of summer were a mix of birds chirping, 2 stroke engines ripping around the streets, teenage parents screaming at their kids and the horrible noise a bus shelter makes as a group of bored youths try to smash its windows.
Up the road and over a cattle grid, sheep grazed the open land between rutted paths churned up by off-road motorbikes, ripped bags of fly-tipped rubbish and a forest where a guy was found hanging the winter before. It’s the sort of quaint looking place outsiders at a distance would say looks beautiful but harbours a culture that insidiously works to hold the people that live there back.

Not too far from my house there was a sports field and next to that field lay some undeveloped scrubland. I would go out alone on that land and spend hours playing with newts that had made a home in an old bathtub that had somehow become buried in a bank on the path of a little stream creating a miniature pond. I would crouch down where the bank flattened out and the stream, with no definitive gradient to flow down pooled to create a small wetland and run my hand through the frogspawn there or quietly sit next to the Buddleia bush and watch a non-stop deluge of butterflies dip their curly tongues into its flowers. My fondest memories from growing up in my home town involved being away from the areas of human concern — it was innocence among innocence.

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To make a long story short, at the age of 20 I met my future wife Lydia Pang who encouraged me to go to university in London. I applied and got in. From there we both moved from South Wales to the city. We spent 9 years in London then moved to the concrete jungle that is New York. We both worked hard there for big brands like Refinery29 and Twitter and after an intense 4 years, a job opportunity for Lydia took us to Portland in Oregon. Portland is a city I’d personally long wanted to explore thanks to its DIY ethic, maker spaces and outdoors culture thanks to being situated close to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest however, after just getting settled the Covid-19 pandemic began and efforts to stop the spread meant our opportunities to explore the city were limited.

Thankfully we had the surrounding nature and found solace developing an interest in foraging, kayaking and spending weekends cooking and camping under the stars with friends.

Lydia Pang and our roof tent under a starry sky in Oregon

Towards the end of summer, it got harder to live in America. I wont go into details on the forest fire smoke or what happened to Portland after the murder of George Floyd, but between a growing ambient anxiety, Lydia’s Zoom burnout, me not having a Visa to work in the US and wanting to be around my terminally ill father, after returning to the UK for Xmas we decided we couldn’t go back. We became city quitters.

This St. Valentines day Lydia bought me a bonsai tree. You can’t easily ship a bonsai tree overseas, and so after almost 16 years of moving around this gesture signified a chapter in our lives where we’d begin to put roots down. We have moved into a beautiful old stone house in the rural village of Llanarth, Monmouthshire and we are both happy to be back in Wales, not too far from family and with space and time to reconnect with a non-urban way of living and explore our inner eccentricity. We have both become fascinated by the concept of ‘rewilding’ and we will be renting an acre of workable land providing an arena for us to explore what it means for nature, what it means for humans, and what it means for the connection between both entities.

I also know that between freelancing and business plans, rewilding is my next professional chapter. I have witnessed a decline in wildlife and its habitat even in my lifetime. Sadly, that undeveloped patch of land where I spent so much time connecting with the natural world as a child is now a housing estate (area marked with a dashed line).

As I develop a sustainable way to help reset a little corner of the relationship between humans and nature this journal will serve as a place to document and reflect on the process. I will be publishing a new post every Monday morning, so please follow along if you have any interest in rewilding or humans being more a part of, and less apart from the natural world.

— Roo

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