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

 

What can we learn from the fog?

I went to the coast last week.  It was a bitterly cold day, icy rain slicing into you and wind that cut straight through you.  On the way home, we spent a while driving through thick fog, unable to see more than a few metres in front of the car.

Whilst I was sitting in the passenger seat, straining to see ahead, a question popped into my head: What can we learn from the fog?

This is partly because a book I’m reading talks about nature in a similar way.  It’s about listening to nature and learning from it.

Dear Fog,

A lot of people see you as scary, a nuisance, a problem. They fight your veil, pushing through and straining and fighting against you. They see you as something to overcome. But I think you are there to slow us down. In our fast paced life, a reminder, or even having no choice, is sometimes necessary.

People don’t like the lack of clarity that comes with you. It’s part of our society – we want to see where we’re going – literally and metaphorically.  We rely heavily on the sense of sight, we are a very visual culture.  People have life plans and their careers and their journeys all mapped out. And you add an uncertainty to that. You take away our main sense and we can no longer see the path in front of us. We know it’s there but we can’t see it and that makes us question and doubt; we do not trust that the path will appear.  But you teach us that it will, when it’s time.

You can confuse us. You can alter our perceptions. Drivers feel like they are going slower and sound travels differently in fog*. Things look different in fog; close trees stand like black skeletons against your presence and paler plants disappear.

You are not like other weather, you are much harder to pin down – you can see the rain, hear the wind through trees, feel the warmth of the sun but you, you are a lack of sight, you have no sound, no taste, there is nothing there to touch or feel. And that perplexes people who are so used to tangible things. Who want to grasp hold of things, control them. Rain can be tempered with an umbrella, the cold with layers, the warmth without layers but you, there is nothing we can do to manage your involvement in our life. Except slow down.

You are different depending on where we are. From the outside, you’re a nebulous cloud, inside you’re a veil across our eyes, towards the edges you just seem to dissipate. Perhaps the same is true for life or projects. When we take are starting out we can look at the whole picture and we can form a vague sense of what we want to achieve, when we’re in the midst of it, it can be really hard to see the next few steps or even know if we’re heading in the right direction, it can be hard to trust that we’ll ever reach our destination and then once we’re almost at our goal, the clarity returns.

Thank you for teaching us that the unknown does not automatically leap to dangerous, to something being hidden from us, the unknown can be a magical mystery as much as it can be fearfilled one. How we approach you will depend on how we interpret what we sense. Head in with anxiety and every movement will be danger.

Thank you fog, for teaching us to trust in our journey, to trust in all our senses to guide us.

Thank you for slowing us down so we can see things differently.

Thank you for teaching us that everything we need is still there even when we can’t see it.

Helen


*”Much of how our brains judge speed is by the contrast in our surroundings such as trees or buildings flashing past in our peripheral vision. But in foggy conditions, contrast is greatly reduced giving the impression you are driving slower than you actually are – many drivers actually increase their speed as a result” – Met Office

Connecting with nature when you have limited mobility

Ok, so I’ve covered connecting with nature when you’re stuck in your house, what about those of us who can sometimes leave the house but have limited mobility?

As much as I want to go tramping through wild woods and paddle in streams and hike up hills, it’s never going to happen.

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Wet and windy Scarborough, from the car where we had our picnic

So what can I do instead?

  • Bird watching/photography from the car was the theme of an article in the latest Disabled Photographers Society magazine.  There is a perception that to birdwatch, it’s necessary to trek miles of cliff paths or scrub.  However, with sensitivity, the car can be a great location to spot birds from.
  • If you have a wheelchair, that will help a bit – some reserves/forests etc have specific wheelchair routes but from experience (being pushed in a manual wheelchair), they can be hard work to wheel over.  Some places hire out all terrain wheelchairs which look fantastic.  You can also get wheelchairs for going on the sand eg at Whitby and other east coast beaches.
  • Even if you don’t use a wheelchair, information on wheelchair routes can be helpful: Accessible Countryside for Everyone, Walks With Wheelchairs, The Bimblers and Access The Dales are just a few of the websites which can help you.  I’ve found that a number of nature reserves are fairly wheelchair friendly so maybe have a look at those as well.  They have the advantage of sometimes having facilities such as blue badge parking and disabled toilets.
  • Look into wheelchair routes but don’t limit yourself to them.  For example, if I was going off the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust website, I’d possibly not have bothered to visit Moorlands and the path there was better than the advertised wheelchair path in Dalby Forest.  Euan’s Guide is one way to find out what other disabled people thought.
  • If you don’t have a wheelchair, can’t hire one and have limited mobility, just going for a drive through the countryside can be a great option.
  • But don’t overlook what’s on your doorstep.  Perhaps you have a garden?  If so, could you or a friend create a wild area, put up a birdbox or set up some chairs or a shed so you can watch and listen to the wildlife that is right there in your back yard.  The same goes for the stars.  Although light pollution can limit things, you can still see some spectacular sights from your door.
  • Try your hand at gardening.  Some people struggle because it’s hard to bend down, if this is the case maybe think about pots or raised beds.
  • Maybe look into local parks.  Although they tend to be more managed that The Great Outdoors, you can still find lots and lots of interesting plants and animals hanging out.
  • If you can, walking barefoot on sand, grass or the earth is a great feeling and really helps me feel connected to nature.
  • Get to know a tree – spend time with it, return to it at different times of the year, see how it changes.  This can be any tree and most people will have a tree reasonably close by or one they see regularly on the way to work or hospital appointments.
  • Take up photography.  It can really change the way you see things: “…carrying a camera trains you to scout out beauty in unexpected places” (Oh Comely).  Similarly, taking an identification book with you helps you look more closely at trees, plants and animals.
  • And try some of the things I mentioned in my previous post.

Please use the comments to share any other ideas!

Connecting with nature when you’re stuck in the house

I love nature.  But I am limited to wheelchair friendly parts of it.  And only when it’s not raining.  And my pain levels and energy levels further restrict things.  And if I want to see nature that’s not in my immediate neighbourhood, I am reliant on friends and carers and my manual wheelchair.  Which all feels very limiting and stifling.

There are some great places to get into nature with the wheelchair.  York has a number of nice parks, a riverside path etc.  There is a nature reserve just north of the city (Moorlands), St Nicks Fields (I’ve not been yet) and within an hour there is Potteric Carr (I don’t think I’ve blogged about that yet but my review is over on Euan’s Guide).

However, if you can let go of the idea of what “being in nature” looks like, you can experience it from home, or even your bed.

For me, for a long time, being in nature meant being outside, being away from people, being in uncultivated, un-manicured space.  It meant sitting for a while breathing in fresh air.  It meant walking and getting off the beaten track.

I’m starting to adjust that idea.  In line with my word of the year, I am trying to notice the little things and that includes nature.  I do think you have to attune yourself to notice things, train yourself almost.

“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

But surely you need to be able to get out of bed?

Not necessarily.

Think about where your bed is in relation to the window.  I  miss my old flat for one reason only – from the bed, at night, I could see the stars and the moon through the cracks in the blinds.  My current bedroom doesn’t allow that but the bed is opposite the window so if I’m in bed with the curtains open, I can see a slither of sky, a few tree branches and the sky (and birds and clouds) reflected in the windows of the drs surgery.  Sure, it’s not the same as being outside, but seeing a flock of birds head over is still a great moment.

Could a bird table be placed outside your bedroom window?  It’s not always an option but if you can, it would be great for encouraging nature to come to you.  Or plants placed strategically so you can see them from your bed?

Think similarly if you have a chair you spend a lot of time in.  When I’m not in bed, most of my day is spent in my rise recliner chair.  It’s angled towards the tv, but also towards the window so movement outside can catch me eye.  Just yesterday morning, I looked out my window and a wagtail flew onto the road, pecked around and flew off with some food in it’s beak.  I didn’t even have to leave my chair.  I’ve just glanced out the window and there’s a beautiful golden winter light catching the bricks of houses with it’s glow.

Other ideas

A gentle and effortless connectedness to nature helps give meaningful purpose to our lives, improves well being and allows reflection.  Establishing this connection can be facilitated by taking time to appreciate ordinary things and to engage more fully with nature.  Life is now rapid and we rarely pause to appreciate the moment.

Miles Richardson

Obviously what you are able to do will be different to me, and I can’t do everything I’m suggesting but I wanted to collate a collection of different ways you can connect to nature whilst being unable to go outside.

  • Connect with the seasons:
    • seasonal eating
    • seasonal creative projects – i am taking photos of the same tree each season for a year
    • seasonal celebrations – think harvest, think may day, hot cross buns in spring
  • Indoor gardening
  • Read magazines etc about nature and wildlife.  I like Wildlife magazine and National Geographic.  These have the advantage of being relevant to the season you’re in.
  • Read books.  There’s been a boom in nature books in the last few years so you’ve got plenty to choose from.  I’ve just bought Needwood by Miles Richardson.  Amazon describes it as “a celebration of the joy that can be extracted from ordinary things in the natural world”.  It is split into sections of time and my plan is to read it slowly over the year, in line with when he wrote each section.
  • Keep a book to hand to help you identify the birds etc that you see.
  • Watch things online or dvds about nature – there are plenty of David Attenborough programmes out there!  For epic wildlife, I like the Yellowstone series.  But perhaps more in-keeping with the theme of this post would be something looking at a more microscopic world, eg the secret life of plants.  For close to home (in the UK), maybe springwatch and its seasonal relatives?
  • Webcams can give you a view of the world that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise.  As well as zoos, places like national parks etc often have cameras you can access from their websites.  Apparently webcams are available specifically for avid bird watchers so you could use one to enjoy what goes on in your own garden.
  • Listen to recordings of bird song or rain or the ocean.
  • Enlist the help of others.  Although it can feel like you’re missing out, asking friends and family to take photos and bring in twigs, flowers, leaves, stones, shells, feathers etc can help you to feel more surrounded by nature.  Pay close attention to the objects – what do they smell like, feel like, look like.  Get to know the pebble, notice it’s intricate details, it’s subtle colours etc.
  • Notice the changing weather and how the light changes in your room, maybe even hang a crystal so you get rainbows dancing on your walls.
  • Cloudspotting is something I want to try again.  If you can, maybe take photos of clouds?
  • If, like me, you’re often awake in the early hours, listen out for birds waking up.  Can you identify any bird calls?
  • Follow nature accounts on social media.
  • Open your window so you can feel the breeze and smell the rain.
  • Surround your home with pictures of nature.
  • Creative projects about nature – photography, writing etc.
  • Decorate your room with pebbles, shells, driftwood, bowls of fircones etc.
  • Use incense or candles to create the smell of your favourite flowers.
  • Maybe get a fish tank.
  • If you can get to your front door, look out at the stars, breath in the air, feel the rain on your skin.
  • If you go out for appointments, look out for nature then.

I’d love to hear what other ideas people have for bringing nature inside.

Projects for 2016

I like projects.  I like having a focus and working with limits such as theme or colour can be helpful at getting the creativity flowing.  I’ve got a few projects in mind for this year…

Trees: a year long study

This is essentially what it says.  I want to spend the year using art, photography and other mediums to explore the topic of trees.  A key reason for choosing trees is that they are common.  I can lean out my window and see one.  When I move, I am sure I will be able to see a tree.  When I’m out and about, I will see trees.  I don’t have to go out my way to get inspiration and to take photographs etc.  Given my physical limitations, this was really important.  If I went for something more specific such as… bridges… I’d not be able to do as much ‘in the field’ work.  Keep this in mind if you’re thinking of your own long term project – if it’s accessible, it’s harder to make excuses.  I knew I was going with trees from the start but other possibilities that I might pick up in the future include streetlamps, doors, windows, letter boxes…

At the moment, this project consists of a sketchbook which is being filled with pages, each focusing on different parts of the theme eg colour, texture, uses for trees, types of trees, the little bits of a tree which make up the whole.  Once a theme or an idea starts to form from that I will then work towards a piece of art/photography/other that captures that.  In an ideal world, I’d like to make one piece per season to reflect the changes throughout the year but at this stage I can’t say because I don’t know what my direction will be (although I am quite interested in the use of trees in language and mythology…).  And I love that the centre of the tree trunk is called heartwood.  Do you have any interesting tree facts?!

Blue

On a day without internet (eek), I passed the time by making a journal.  It has eight pages (at present, I may add more) and is made from cardboard from amazon packaging.  The theme of the journal will be blue.  I’ve wanted to do this for a while – complete a journal using one colour set.  So I’ve got my book, I’ve started collecting and keeping an eye out for blue things for the pages and when it feels like the right time, I’ll get it out start putting it together.  This is partly an exercise in restraint.  I feel like everything is so instant that you don’t get the satisfaction and excitement of waiting very much.  So I’m waiting.

blue

Nature

Probably as a result of being stuck in the house for a week, I have a longing to reconnect with nature.  And I was thinking that creating mandalas from natural material would be a deeper way to do this.  It would bring me more peace and focus and connection than just standing and admiring.  It would make me look at things differently, and that is what I love about creating; looking at things differently.

 

and I want to get back into writing… but this is on the back burner for now.  If/when I give up work, I may look for a writing class to replace that social interaction, routine and focus.

 

Do you have any projects for the year ahead?