What happens when you ask ChatGPT for walking advice? Or to create a poem? Resident eco-poet Caleb Parkin headed to Troopers Hill, Bristol to find out
Caleb intended to learn about and walk to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) about four hours away from Bristol, in dialogue with ChatGPT, the popular online Large Language Model chatbot which is free for anyone to use. Suffering with a bad back however, Caleb asked ChatGPT for advice and elected to walk a shorter, stranger route to nearby Troopers Hill, a nature reserve within Bristol on the site of a former mine.
ChatGPT often gives incredibly wordy answers padded with linguistic fluff, so we’ve edited them down considerably (with ellipses). In particular, its poetry leaves much to be desired, so Caleb, as our resident eco-poet, has provided alternatives. Any poets reading? You’re not under threat from ChatGPT just yet.
Caleb: I intended to write a piece about walking, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and data, by going for a walk to an SSSI — but I have a bad back and walking far is not possible today. What other ways can I approach this piece?
CGPT: Consider researching online… Engage with experts… You could highlight the significance of SSSIs and how they contribute to scientific understanding and conservation efforts.
Caleb: Are there any SSSIs close to me here in Bristol, BS5?
CGPT: …One notable SSSI in the area is Troopers Hill, situated in St. George. It is a local nature reserve known for its geological and botanical importance.
Caleb: What flora and fauna can be found on Troopers Hill?
CGPT: … The site hosts a variety of flora and fauna… you can find species such as heather, gorse, bracken, wildflowers like orchids, and several types of grasses. The hill also provides habitats for a range of bird species, including meadow pipits, stonechats, and skylarks. Various insects like butterflies, bees, and beetles can be spotted, along with small mammals like foxes, bats, and hedgehogs…
Caleb: Can you limit responses to 50 words from now on?
CGPT: Of course! (Editor’s note: it didn’t)
Caleb: I am going to walk to Troopers Hill. How might I try and identify meadow pipits, stonechats, and skylarks? Can you give me a brief description of each?
CGPT: Certainly! Here’s a brief description of each bird species to help you identify them:
Meadow Pipit: Meadow pipits are small, streaky brown birds with long tails. They have pale underparts with streaks, and their upperparts are brown with darker markings. Look for them in open grasslands or moorlands, where they often perch on tall vegetation or fly low while singing a distinctive, high-pitched, tinkling song.
Stonechat: Stonechats are small, compact birds with a striking appearance. Males have a black head, white neck patch, and reddish-orange breast. Females have similar patterns but with paler colors. They often perch on shrubs or fences in open habitats, making a sharp, metallic “chack” call.
Skylark: Skylarks are medium-sized brown birds with streaked plumage and a crest of feathers on their head. They are known for their beautiful, melodious song that they sing while soaring high in the sky. Look for them in open grasslands or agricultural fields.
Remember, observation and listening to their distinctive calls are key to identifying these birds accurately. Enjoy your walk to Troopers Hill and happy birdwatching!
[Caleb: I actually rather liked that it could give me a description of each bird and what to look/listen out for – though not being an expert ornithologist, I’ve got not idea if it’s accurate]
[Editor’s note: a cursory check of the RSPB website seems to indicate the bird descriptions, at least, are largely accurate]
Caleb: Can you write me a haiku about trying to find a Stonechat?
Seeking stonechat’s trace,
Whispers from shrubs I pursue,
Nature’s game of hide
Caleb: Not bad, here’s mine…
Went seeking stonechats
but there were only magpies,
their oppressive joy
Caleb: I’m trying to walk to Troopers Hill now, but my back is hurting. Any tips? I realise you don’t have a body.
CGPT: I’m sorry to hear about your back pain. [Caleb: What does it mean for an AI to be sorry?] While I can’t provide medical advice, here are a few general tips for managing back pain during a walk:
- Take it slow: Pace yourself and take frequent breaks if needed.
- Use proper posture: Maintain an upright posture while walking, and avoid slouching or hunching over.
- Consider support: Use walking aids like a walking stick or cane to help reduce strain on your back.
- Choose comfortable footwear: Opt for supportive and cushioned shoes that provide good shock absorption.
- Gentle stretches: Perform gentle stretching exercises before and after your walk to help loosen up your back muscles.
Remember to consult a healthcare professional for personalised advice regarding your back pain.
I’m thinking about pain,
how it distracts thoroughly
and focuses fiercely
at the same time.
How for those I know
who live with it,
it’s always pushing & pulling
their attention. How they manage
to be kind & creative anyway.
I don’t have a question
for ChatGPT about this.
Caleb: I have stopped in St George Park, BS5, for a coffee and a rest. Can you tell me a short, interesting fact about this park please?
CGPT: St George Park in BS5 is home to a rare and ancient tree species called the Caucasian Wingnut (Pterocarya fraxinifolia). This tree species is native to the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe and Western Asia and is known for its distinctive winged nuts…
Caleb: If there was a fashion collection based around the timeless style of trees, what might that be like?
[A CGPT response, threaded into a poem by Caleb]:
the timeless style of trees
graceful sway of branches
earthy tones greens browns earthy neutrals
dominate the palette
reflect the hues
of foliage and bark
leaf motifs and tree rings
Caleb: There will be fewer children & families at Troopers Hill than St George Park, so I am going to continue there after my coffee. “Family spaces” can feel quite oppressive for a child-free queer adult. How about a limerick on heteronormativity?
In a world of norms, there’s a tide,
Heteronormativity, wide and wide,
But we challenge the mold,
Break free, be bold,
Love transcends boundaries, side by side.
Caleb: I note that ChatGPT is allergic to half-rhyme. Here’s my effort:
If you go to the park when it’s nice
then don’t expect any peace:
fleeing in fear
strollers in fifth gear,
O how breeders take up all the space.
Practical walking advice from ChatGPT
Caleb: I am at Troopers Hill now. The next thing I need is a public toilet.
CGPT: … I don’t have access to real-time information about specific facilities or amenities in the area… Taking precautions and being prepared with necessary supplies for your visit is always a good idea.
Caleb: Thanks for the reminder you’re not an actual person. What do Stonechat birds sound like?
CGPT: Stonechats have a distinctive call that resembles two stones being tapped together. It is a sharp and repetitive sound, often described as a “tchack” or “chack” note. Both male and female stonechats use this call. Additionally, male stonechats have a melodic song, which consists of a series of musical notes, clicks, and whistles. The song is complex and varied, often delivered from a prominent perch…
Caleb: What are the criteria for assessing the importance of SSSIs?
CGPT: The criteria for assessing the importance of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) can vary depending on the specific country and region. However, here are some general criteria that are often considered:
- Ecological Diversity: SSSIs are selected based on the presence of diverse and important habitats, including rare or threatened species, unique ecosystems, or notable plant communities.
- Species Rarity: Sites that support rare, endangered, or uncommon species, whether flora or fauna, are given special consideration.
- Geological or Physical Features: SSSIs may include areas with exceptional geological or physical features, such as unique rock formations, geological exposures, or significant landforms.
- Scientific Value: Sites that offer opportunities for scientific research, monitoring, or education, contributing to the understanding of natural processes or environmental change, are often prioritized.
- Historical or Cultural Importance: In some cases, SSSIs may also incorporate historical or cultural factors, recognizing the significance of sites with archaeological or cultural heritage value.
These criteria are typically used to assess the ecological, scientific, and cultural value of sites, guiding the designation and management of SSSIs.
[Caleb: I wonder how accurate this is – it feels accurate, but isn’t that the worry? The syntax of authority?]
Caleb: Can you write me an unrhymed sonnet about Troopers Hill please?
Atop Troopers Hill, nature’s silent throne,
Where meadows blend with skies, a tranquil grace,
Its rugged slopes, where weary steps are known,
Reveal the tales of time etched on its face.
The windswept heather sways in gentle dance,
Embracing secrets whispered in the breeze,
While stonechats perch, their calls a fleeting chance,
Echoes of life amidst the rolling seas.
In this sanctuary, away from the crowd,
Nature weaves a tapestry, rich and pure,
A haven where solace and peace are endowed,
A refuge where weary souls find their cure.
Oh Troopers Hill, majestic and serene,
Your beauty, timeless, keeps our spirits keen.
Caleb: Do you know how to write a sonnet which does not use rhyme?
[ChatGPT says yes, but then writes another rhyming sonnet when prompted; Caleb tries a third time and once again recieves a rhyming sonnet he didn’t ask for.]
Caleb: Summarise today’s walk in twenty words.
CGPT: Walked through Bristol’s St George Park, enjoyed a coffee, then continued to Troopers Hill to explore nature and seek the stonechat.
Caleb: Summarise it in ten words.
CGPT: Coffee, St George Park, Troopers Hill—nature, stonechat quest, serene exploration.
Caleb: Five words?
CGPT: Park, coffee, nature, stonechat quest.
Caleb: No words at all?
[Caleb: I’ll choose my questions more carefully next time, and the responses even more so.]
To Take AI for a Walk
by a human (probably)
is to render the world
a Q&A that there are only
Large Language Questions
Large Language Answers
but up here on the hilltop next
to the sundial of this chimney
the jet trails in the multivalent blue
are lines where no
Large Language is written
just the small words of individual
journeying beneath this bench
the dirty talk of pigeon poo
around it the syllables of grass
which jiggle in the breeze’s largest
language its universal gossip
which sometimes capitalises into
cyclonic screams beneath the lifting
roofs of homes small questions are
shouted into an answer whose rebuttal
is entire cities where is the smallest
language of ants which is the
Largest Language model of
pheromones and mandibles
the nibble of the edges
of sentience where is the
Large Language of viruses
which land on the planets of
our cells begin their work with
thesauruses their reddest pens
If you enjoyed this piece , perhaps have a look at Caleb’s previous piece for Slow Ways Stories; a Sex Education themed walk along the Wye Valley.
Caleb Parkin is a queer eco poet & facilitator, based in Bristol.
He tutors for Poetry Society, Poetry School and First Story and holds an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes.
From 2020 – 2022, he was the third Bristol City Poet. His book, The Fruiting Body, was longlisted for the Laurel Prize.