By Rebecca Robinson
During lockdown, most of us have spent more time cooped up at home than ever before. But with so much time spent indoors, the craving to be outside – to breathe in a deep lungful of forest air and to walk barefoot in the sand – has grown ever stronger.
Whilst the pandemic has raged and #stayhome has trended, enjoying nature responsibly has been vital to supporting our physical and mental health.
But what can we do when we crave the wild, but can’t stray too far from our own front door?For me, it has been about being creative and embracing the little things.
For many of us, we may have noticed that the birds have been singing louder as the noise of our traffic has lessened – so we have turned our heads skyward, binoculars in hand, and taken up birdwatching.
At the start of lockdown, I pulled out my old Usborne Minis book, Birds to Spot – with stickers! – and spent many a happy hour sitting in the window, watching the birds flit by with their gentle lives of feather and flight.
Utterly enchanted, I caught wild glimpses of blackbirds, blue tits, and woodpeckers, to tawny owls, treecreepers, and the tiniest Jenny Wren – and as my sticker collection steadily grew, so too did my happiness.
I have taken, too, long walks in my local park and woodland, stomping about in my favourite haunts – and as I walk, I like to use my senses to really eke out the mindfulness benefits of being in nature. When we tune into our five senses, rather than rushing through life, we expand our sense of time and tap into the rejuvenating power of the present moment.
Going for a walk in our local green spaces is always better when we slow down. My walks are always enhanced whenever I take the time to be mindful, to stop and stare.
So next time you wrap up warm and head into the great outdoors, set the intention to notice, to truly look at the rainbow-coloured flowers growing right next to you, to stop and smell the roses. Observe the different shades of tree bark, from the most ethereal silver birch to the cinnamon-red bark of the maple. Run your hands across it and feel its texture. Is it gnarled and rough, or smooth and silken? Listen to the wind as it whispers through the trees and hear the river rushing by. Taste the freshness of the air. Anchor yourself in the here and now and let nature gently bring you back to yourself.
Mindfulness in nature, though, does not always need to be deeply contemplative, serious, or meditative. It can – and should! – be fun.
I have lost count of the number of times I have played ‘Nature Detective’ when out and about, armed with my trusty D.K book, What’s that Tree?
With bobble hat on and hot chocolate in hand, I will happily splash in puddles and play I Spy with my husband. At 34 years of age, I am still not too old to play – and nature is my playground.
In those moments when we simply can’t get outside at all, though, I have turned to paper – consuming books on nature like cups of strong coffee. Everything from Tristan Gooley’s The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs – a Sunday Times Top 10 Bestseller and BBC Countryfile Book of the Year, to The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood by John Lewis-Stempel – a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, written by the twice winner of the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing.
Whenever nature has been off limits to me, I have craved more of it between the pages of books, even training as a Herbalist during lockdown, with many an hour spent poring the pages of my Mum’s battered and well-thumbed copy of Culpeper’s Herbal.
If we are lucky enough to have our own garden, some of us may have sought solace by tending to the plants and herbs growing outside our window. But even if we do not have a garden, there are ways for us to bring the outdoors in with a simple window box or an indoor herb garden. Basil, coriander, and dill are a few herbs that usually grow well throughout the year, and growing herbs on my windowsill, watching them thrive with barely any involvement from me, has been another simple pleasure. A moment to simply breathe and press pause on the busyness of day-to-day life.
A garden – even a tiny indoor one, contained in a pot – reminds us that there is a whole world outside our window that we are intimately connected to.
Another way that I have connected with nature during lockdown is through writing poetry – my usual go-to form of nature writing – but in addition, I have taken to sketching and journaling.
There is something simultaneously soothing and rejuvenating about noting down our impressions of the places we have witnessed that day – and when we do this, we commit those moments of wild mindfulness to memory and truly maximise nature’s rejuvenating wellbeing benefits.