See you outside – the benefits of spending time in nature
I’m writing this in a busy café in north London; through the tall Georgian window, the sky is blue and the sun shines. I want to go and play outside, Mum!
Every winter it’s the same – every year I’m crawling the walls by early January, desperate for some Vitamin D and higher light-levels and yet, the answer is in my own hands. Not more extra spending on a possibly-effective illuminating SAD device, but to get my butt moving; wrap up, shape up and get out of doors. And not to Savers, Sainsbury’s or another ‘indoors’ but really OUT, OUT. Whatever the weather.
As a child I found such happiness spending whole days outside – looking after the cows on a dairy farm, searching for shells on the beach, roaming the fields on our allotment. All places where I could escape into my imagination, undisturbed by my parents or siblings and very happy on my own. Now, I want a life more in walking boots and waterproofs and less in make-up and outfits socially acceptable for city-living. I want mud, I want to feel my heart race as I climb a hill or mountain and my spirits soar as I reach the summit and gasp at the landscape before me.
The power of the natural landscape to heal and inspire me is something I need to remember in the dark, indoors days of winter in the Northern hemisphere. Plus nowadays, there’s digital help at our fingertips. I’ve joined an international Whatsapp group called ‘Nature Therapy Counsel’ which encourages participants to share their photos of the great outdoors in celebration of wild landscapes, flora and fauna and healthy pursuits such as woodcraft, foraging for seaweed and making camps on Scottish beaches in winter. Looking at the pictures produces 10-second daydreaming pauses that help me relax my shoulders, breathe more deeply and remake resolutions to get out the door. There’s also the website Spirit of Trees which ‘provides poetry, folk tales, myths for tree lovers’ and as I write, I have my headphones plugged into a Youtube tape of 12 Hours of Tranquil Birdsong.
Author Matt Haig was quoted in the Guardian Review recently in relation to his experience of depression, ‘I know I’ll be all right in April. ’ And he’s right, so will I, and in May I return to work in the wooded landscape of the Sierra De Aracena national park in Andalucia, but in the meantime, I must take more advantage of the myriad of London parks and wild spaces for my mental health, whatever the weather.
Now that the sweet-scented Christmas tree has gone to the bins and all the decorations are packed away, I must reconnect with the plane trees and green, open spaces of my neighbourhood.
This poem by the American author and poet Wendell Berry is my New Year gift to you:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
© Wendell Berry. This poem is excerpted from “The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry”
Elaine Kingett runs writing workshops in London and writing, walking and meditation holidays in Spain, at Write It Down.
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