Nature and writing, the start

As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to properly or officially start this project at the new moon, which also happens to be an eclipse.  It aligns neatly with both my planned start and the tarot reading I did.

Whilst I am starting now, August will be a gentle lead in, looking at planning and preparation.  I’m doing a stained glass course this month which is great but also taking a lot out of me so I’m being cautious about how much I can get done in terms of nature and writing.

So, I have booked onto some future learn courses and some local one day courses. I have recapped a couple of relevant future learn courses which I still have access to.  I have vaguely laid out a curriculum, for want of a better word, for the next few months.  I have started gathering resources and ideas for exercises.  I have been collecting words and phrases and facts and thoughts*.  This, fittingly for the time of year, is me harvesting and collecting seeds for the future.

I have also rediscovered OpenLearn with it’s hundreds of free online courses.  As a nice starter course, I have completed the 1 hour course, Neighbourhood Nature, which looks at trees and woodland.  I’ve looked at what they have to say about nature in the UK in August and am planning to start each month the same way.

*Glossaries are a really fun way of collecting words

Nature and writing, the prep

On the full moon in August I did a tarot reading to shine some light on my nature and writing project. The eight of pentacles came up which, astrologically, corresponds to the sun in Virgo. Which just happens to be about the time I was planning on diving in. It feels like a nice reassurance that I am following my path.

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I also selected a crystal I was drawn to to help me hold my intention around this project. I’ve talked before about this (although I can’t find the post) but essentially by doing this, the crystal (in this case rose quartz) acts as a reminder, a touchstone, an inspiration and something to turn to if I need help.

I also recently got a message from the lovely Crystal Cornwall UK saying they were having a summer sale and was instantly drawn to labradorite and ended up buying three stones as well as some other lovely crystals.  They have amazing names, are fascinating to look at and are a beautiful part of geology. Different parts of the world are home to different gemstones. For example, Whitby is well known for its jet.

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Other preparations I’m making include writing up a month by month vague curriculum as well as creating a poetry jar as words call to me.  It’s a great way to warm up if you’re going to write but also little gems come straight from the jar without too much polishing.

Winter magic
twists sun beams
to night

In terms of my plans (which are entirely flexible and reactive to both my health and what I find along the journey), I am currently thinking of the following:

  • September
    • Starting the Future Learn: William Wordsworth – Poetry, People and Place course.
    • Starting the Future Learn: Learn about weather course
    • Hopefully a day trip
    • Focus on: What is nature writing?  Why do we read and write it? How has it changed? And what makes good nature writing?  Looking at all genres.
  • October
    • Future Learn: Environmental challenges – rights and values in ecosystem services course
    • Local one day course – From Ovid to Oz: A Brief Cultural History of Werewolves
    • Marking Samhain, or Halloween, 31st October
    • Focus on animals in (human) society – their roles in our lives, our roles in their lives, how we interact, how we complement each other and how we see animals?  And then honing in on animals (living, extinct or supernatural) as scapegoats.
  • November
    • Future Learn: Environmental challenges – human impact in the natural environment
    • Local one day course on the human history of York
    • Focus more on plants and/or geology this month.  It may be winter and cold and dark and it may feel like everything is closing up and going into hibernation but what are plants up to and which plants are in the spotlight?
  • December
    • Local seasonal traditions
    • Mark the winter solstice
    • Focus on weather
  • January
    • Poetry focus – reading, analysing, looking for themes, writing it…
  • February
    • Focus on rewilding.  It keeps crossing my path so I’m gathering reading and links and videos as they find me.

As always, I’d love to get to links and references and suggestions and opinions and ideas!

Writing and nature, part 2

For an introduction to my project, check out the intro post.

Having decided I want to do a longish project around nature and writing, my first step was to narrow that down.  There are so many ways it could branch out and take shape and I have lots of exciting ideas but I know that I need to have some sort of focus.  Looking specifically at Yorkshire is one way I am doing this.  I am also collecting articles and videos which sound interesting and naturally themes are starting to emerge.

However, all of this is getting ahead of myself.  First, perhaps I need to ask what is nature writing.  And then why do we write about nature or read about nature.  Quickly followed by this I hope to look at how has nature writing changed over time.  This will probably look at style, content, intent, audience, who is doing the writing… Has there been a recent resurgence and if so, why?

At this stage, I’ll probably just be skimming the surface of these topics so that I can go broad and shallow to start with and get a sense of what works for me and what is of most interest.

To inform my planning I have been looking at courses about nature writing and their outlines for inspiration and directions which I might not have come to organically.  For me, part of learning is other people’s thoughts and views and areas of interest and that is something that I know I will find hard to replicate.  One of these outlines set aside time to look at what makes good nature writing and that is certainly something I want to consider.

I’m thinking I will alternate reflective essay or blog post style writing with creative writing and theory with practical.  So perhaps one month a piece of factual writing about rewilding followed by a month about poetry, a month getting outside and submerging myself in the environment and a month that is more computer or reading based.

I’m trying hard not to dive straight in now and try and do everything at once.  It’s tempting but August is busy and I know that that approach will lead to me being flat out exhausted and burnt out.  This is the key reason I want a bit of a curriculum, probably a rough outline focusing me each month.  That way instead of feeling I need to read something as soon as I find it, I can jot down the details for the relevant time.

To hold myself back for now, I have been engaging in some gentle, sort of related reading and watching:

  • Walking through History: Bronte Country
  • Tree of the year – 4OD
  • Charlotte’s web (the film which is on Amazon Prime at the moment)
  • Extinct
  • Bridge To Terabithia – technically not a nature film but it is great for stimulating the imagination and is on Netflix
  • Again, not exactly nature writing but this series about fairytales from Jen Campbell is interesting and I want to look at how nature is portrayed in fairytales and what that reveals about the natural world and our relationship to it.  As an example, think about the role that forests often play in fairy tales.
  • A Yorkshire Miscellany – useful for titbits and language and ideas for exploration at a later date
  • Yorkshire Rock: A Journey Through Time – this promises to be a really interesting book which is aimed at children and thus is very accessible and talks about the geology of Yorkshire and how it varies and how it was all formed

As per my previous post I would love suggestions of reading, viewing, resources and people or ideas to look into.

Writing and nature

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I was looking online at an amazing sounding poetry and nature course.  It was really energising and inspiring and I was nearly at the point of signing up when I remembered that I don’t keep up well with that sort of thing… I can do the reading mostly but it’s the thinking and having enough energy to be creative and poetic that I know I would struggle with.  And that then gets into a vicious circle which ends in me being sad.

So, I have decided, from September, I shall be following my own, self guided version.  I have various books I want to read, talks I want to listen to, exercises I want to try and things I want to ponder.

To narrow down the focus a bit, I am thinking local for my “assignments” and global for my reading.

I am hoping to challenge my own ideas and find new ways of thinking and I know that this is going to be the hard part.  As such, if you have any articles, comments, questions, books etc that you feel may be relevant, please pass them my way.  The internet is wonderful but it does have a tendency to be an echo chamber.

Alongside my own planned stuff (which is still very vague), there are a few one day courses locally which I want to do and some free online courses which complement my current direction.  In particular, I’m thinking Learn About Weather and William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place.

I am also pulling together a list of day trips ranging from nature reserves to local natural history museums.  I want to get to know not just the area as it is today but how it has been shaped and transformed and changed by time, by climate and by humanity.  I hope to be able to identify more birds, more animals and more plants by the end of this project.  Right now I don’t know how long I’m thinking this’ll be.  But it ties into some bits of work I’ve already been doing since I retired.  2016 was the year I focused on trees in my art, this year is butterflies.  I have written my animal and plant posts and reflected on what fog has to teach me.  And I have pondered ways of bringing nature into my life despite the wheelchair/sometimes housebound thing.

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I’m hoping to use my blog to help me unravel ideas and thoughts and opinions and to share resources and articles and my writing.

Whilst I’m trying to not throw myself in too fast and too this month (August is busy by my standards), there are a few bits and pieces I want to share.  I haven’t read the articles critically but I have bookmarked them to return to.

In terms of books, I’m trying to start with those I already have (but I do love an excuse to buy books…) which includes:

  • World Enough and Time by Christian McEwen
  • Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane
  • If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie
  • The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
  • Speaking With Nature by
  • Whispers From the Earth by Taz Thornton
  • The English Year by Steve Roud (about local traditions)
  • The Seasons: A Celebration of the English Year by Nick Groom

And there are some youtube videos that give a glimpse into some of what I want to dig deeper into (all except the first are less than ten mins).

I would love to hear any ideas anyone has for exercises or things to read or watch or do.  I am hoping to return soon with a post which narrows down my focus a bit more, or at least provides a jumping off point.

#30dayswild

I wrote an introduction to #30dayswild at the beginning of June which explains the challenge and how I’m approaching it.  As we’ve reached the end I want to share some of my highlights.

Day one: I saw a huge bee exploring my bird feeder which was exciting because no birds have been by… It’s been up for a few months now and I think it’s just a bad location but I don’t have a better one for it. I had the window open so despite being stuck in bed, I was able to hear the birds. I also emailed various organisations about disability and nature (I’ve been meaning to for a while) to ask for their suggestions, recommendations and to see if they could share my blog posts.  And I wrote up some long overdue reviews on euans guide:

And my copy of BBC wildlife magazine arrived!

Day two: Using the magic of the internet, I identified a blackbird from its song that wafted through the open window.  As I said above, I don’t really know any bird calls and I’d love to learn more.

Day three: My 30 days wild pack arrived and I wrote about snails and ladybirds.  I scattered wild flower seeds in my yard and made butterflies from clay as its butterfly education and awareness day.  This was a good day but I was in a state health wise at the end of it.

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Day four: Day three was a bit much for me so day four has been a bit of a washout.  Basically mostly spending it in bed watching netflix and reading about the seasons:

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Day five: I felt worse than day four so very little done at all and not really even up to reading.  I did however get a great response from one of the emails I sent on day 1 about access to nature when you have limited mobility.

I feel like this entire year is just passing me by as I bounce from one phase of illness to another…

Reads: As I lay ill, inside, trapped by my body, the seasons turn and turn and turn
Reads: As I lay ill, inside, trapped by my body, the seasons turn and turn and turn

Day six: There was supposed to be a walk but there was also exceptionally heavy rain so we postponed.  I did get out to go to the not very wild supermarket where I bought a couple of nature focused magazines.  I also, amongst other things, saw a happy little snail on the pavement outside my flat.  Whilst not a plant, it put me in mind of the following quote:

Reads: I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It's so fuckin' heroic - George Carlin
Reads: I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so fuckin’ heroic – George Carlin

Day seven: Resting up for a day out on 9th.  The sun is dancing with the clouds, alternating my bedroom between light and dark in a matter of seconds.

Day eight: Awake at 3.30am but being serenaded by a blackbird calling in the day.

Day nine: A day trip!  We went to The Deep in Hull which was very accessible and has very detailed information about access on their website.  I was impressed.  As we drove over the weather was a bit patchy, sun and clouds.  And then the heavens opened.  It was like giants were pouring buckets of water over us.  The window wipers couldn’t keep up, the drains couldn’t keep up, we could barely see the car in front.  And then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped.  It turned out to be a very strange day for weather.  When we stopped for lunch at Hornsea, it was really cold.  Once we’d eaten though, it was glorious sunshine and lovely and warm.  But after a short walk, the sky turned black once more. The weather was certainly wild!

I realise that #30dayswild is more about plants and animals and such but the weather is an important part of nature for me.  One day I will learn more about it. But for now, how about some pictures from The Deep?!  It was hard to capture them because you can’t use your flash and it’s quite dark and the animals move around a lot!

From here on out though, things got a bit patchy. My health went squiffier than normal and I’m not committing to any more thing a day challenges because they always seem to coincide with me feeling rubbish…

Day 10: Woken by a woodpigeon in the early hours and the day finished with a musky, golden sky.

Day 12: A little walk.

Day 18: Went to the park.  Saw ducklings and also baby blackbirds which I’ve never seen before!

Day 19: A really hot looking pigeon glared at me from my garden fence.

Day 20: I did some drawing, including a picture of dandelions:

dandelion

Day 21: More art, the summer solstice and a post about sunflowers.

Day 22: Saw a starling in a car park with a huge beakful of food, looking very pleased with itself.  And crows or ravens ruling the roost on the top of the butchers.

Day 28: Two little blackbirds hopped around outside my bedroom window making me smile.

Day 30: The woodpigeon, in all his plump and puffed up glory, returned to tightrope walking along my fence.

As I said above, I’ve not done well because of health and even though these all seem like little things, they bring a smile to my face when I notice them.  Having learnt the sound of a blackbird calling at the beginning of the month, I now pay more attention to his song.  It is more meaningful to me because I know which bird is calling.

#30dayswild

This month is the 30 Days Wild challenge.  The idea being that you do something wild every day throughout June.

What is a Random Act of Wildness?

A Random Act of Wildness is about making time to connect with nature around you, or doing something small yourself to help nature. Random Acts of Wildness are all about experiencing, learning about and helping your local wildlife. They can be simple, small, fun and exciting too.

The Wildlife Trusts running the challenge have their suggestions about ways you can be wild and are tweeting about it.  I love the idea of it and a couple of years ago I tried to challenge myself to notice three nature related things each day.  I liked the concept and I like the awareness but when you spend most of your life in your flat, it can get tricky to find new things.

My health is being more rubbish than normal right now so I’m stepping into this challenge very aware that I may not meet it every day and certainly won’t look like people’s idea of being wild in nature.  Part of the process for me is about getting back to basics and looking at what I can do, not just what I wish I could do.

For example, right now there is a woodpigeon cooing and I know it’s a woodpigeon and I love that I can tell it from it’s call (I’m not good at bird identification let alone birdsong identification).

I’ve been really pleased to see others on twitter taking a similar approach.  @porridgebrain tweeted that her “contributions will be very small and ordinary and probably only a few feet from my house.”  She also mentioned the perception of what a nature person should be and how if you aren’t doing x, y or z then you aren’t doing it right. And this is something I’ve picked up on as well.  There’s a lot of narrative about how you need to sit still quietly on the top of a hill with binoculars and no electricity pylons in sight before you earn the nature badge.

Jo Southall is another person who is focusing on doorstep nature.  She has some of the same health issues as me and I really admire the way she does get out into the more traditional wild but how she also pays attention to what is right in front of her.

I have written about nature and disability before and would love to get your ideas about ways of connecting with nature when you have limited mobility or can’t leave the house.

Why am I rambling about nature so much?

Connecting with nature when you’re stuck in the house

Connecting with nature when you have limited mobility

My hope is to collate my #30dayswild into a blog post at the end of June as a way of sharing my ideas and showing how I bring nature into my life on a regular basis.

Day one: I saw a huge bee exploring my bird feeder which was exciting because no birds have been by… It’s been up for a few months now and I think it’s just a bad location but I don’t have a better one for it. I had the window open so despite being stuck in bed, I was able to hear the birds. I also emailed various organisations about disability and nature (I’ve been meaning to for a while) to ask for their suggestions, recommendations and to see if they could share my blog posts.  And I wrote up some long overdue reviews on euans guide:

And my copy of BBC wildlife magazine arrived!

Day two: Using the magic of the internet, I identified a blackbird from its song that wafted through the open window.  As I said above, I don’t really know any bird calls and I’d love to learn more.

 

Why am I rambling about nature so much?

Well, partly it has to do with my words of the year which is about noticing the little things, such as this tree reflected in pub window with the golden winter sun:

 

Partly it’s because I like nature.

Partly it’s because I know that connecting with nature is good for my soul.

Nature can be restorative, fascinating, inspiring, thought provoking, pleasurable, calming and even, apparently, immune boosting.

And it’s not just me, there are many people who agree with the benefits of nature.  I know there are also people who claim that all you need to fix depression is a walk in the countryside.  I do not believe this.  I do believe that it can help but mental health is very complicated and an hour of fresh air will not cure it.

Frederick Law Olmsted, in the 1800s, wrote about how being in nature allows your attention to be aroused and the mind occupied without purpose.  This experience of being occupied without purpose is important if the rest of your life is filled with stress, worry, to do lists etc.  It allows your mind to relax and mull and very often come up with solutions or ideas.  In the same way that you’ll be doing a crossword, get stuck and then find the answer comes to you when you’re in the middle of cooking tea.  Your mind is still pondering it but without the intense spotlight on it.

“There is wisdom in the plants and trees and rocks and the Earth below us but we cannot unlock it if we don’t connect and listen” – Rebecca Campbell

Noticing the little things in nature allows you to pause for a moment – really see/hear/smell/taste/feel as appropriate – the flower, tree, rock, river.  And I find that a really powerful thing for my soul.  It makes me stop and I feel a sense of calm, if only for a brief moment.

Nature is filled with metaphors for the human existence and perhaps connecting with nature will help you find reassurance, peace, ways of explaining yourself etc.

Connecting with nature is all about using your senses.  We tend to rely heavily on sight but practice can help you open up a greater awareness of the world around you.

“If you make connecting with nature part of your daily practice, you will awaken your senses” – Rebecca Campbell

Miles Richardson writes about a project which asked people to write down three good things in nature each day for five days and the impact on the health of the participants.

In an interview for the BBC, Richardson talked of the health benefits of nature including reduced hypertension, respiratory tract and cardiovascular illnesses; improved vitality and mood and restored attention capacity and mental fatigue. Further, feeling a part of nature has been shown to significantly correlate with life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, mindfulness, and lower cognitive anxiety.

If you’re interested in nature and health, his blog is a good starting point.

“Nature teaches us about the power that comes from allowing ourselves to grow wild and be passionate” – Sandra Ingerman