Transcend #1: Spring Trees
Last weekend I spent four, five, six, seven hours a day rambling in the Peak District. It’s the perfect isolation activity. Solitary, wondrous: an easy way to free yourself from the invisible bonds that are tying you down.
Staggering down from Bamford Moor, I stumbled into a shady grove of stripped oaks, clad in living moss. I climbed over a crumbled drystone wall and sat with my back to the rocks and listened carefully for the sound of carbon-based lifeforms.
Back in Bournemouth, I’ve been breaking the isolation with walks along the seafront, watching the ceaseless, sleepless tide, in-out, ti-de.
I always make sure to ramble through the copse that stands on the clifftops and, invariably, my footsteps slow and I’m drawn upwards, climbing up through the stepladder branches that spiral a pine or holm oak.
My companion on these climbs is Jack Cooke, author of The Tree Climber’s Guide:
Trees anchor us in nature’s cycle; lining our pavements and filling our parks, they remind us of another kind of time-keeping, a vegetable clock that keeps ticking to an alternative rhythm.
In this strange alternative reality, trees are a comfort. All is not rosie in the garden: trees wrestle with their own diseases, of course, but they are a warm embrace when another warm embrace could be infectious.
The awakening buds and the loud birdsong remind us that life is still growing strong. It’s easy to spend my time in front of screens, refreshing, counting time until recovery. But the trees give me a reason to trust in time.
Space and time
Are not the mathematics that your will
Imposes, but a green calendar
Your heart observes
~ R.S. Thomas, Green Categories
I don’t know what’s happening and I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that there’s a tree’s roots growing underneath me and that its branches reach up above me. That some people believe me and some people love me.
While I was away, I read a review of nature-based interventions for mental health care published by Natural England in 2016.
The mental health benefits from nature-based activities like gardening, conservation and farming are impressive:
- Psychological restoration and increased general mental wellbeing
- Reduction in depression, anxiety and stress related symptoms
- Improvement in dementia-related symptoms
- Improved self-esteem, confidence and mood
- Increased attentional capacity and cognition
- Improved happiness, satisfaction and quality of life
- Sense of peace, calm or relaxation
- Feelings of safety and security
- Increased social contact, inclusion and sense of belonging (okay, maybe not so much right now…)
- Increase in work skills, meaningful activity and personal achievement
There is good news outdoors.
The National Trust are closing their indoor attractions, but intend to keep the larger gardens, parks and forests open to the public, for free — even waiving car parking charges.
Close to home on the south coast, Purbeck nature sanctuary has recently tripled in size, creating the largest lowland heath in England at a site already renowned for its wildlife diversity. Life is still growing strong.
Transcend #2: Dark Skies
My last night in the Peak District was fresh and bright. I strode away from the acid lights of the youth hostel, found a sheep-cropped clearing, and looked up. The milky clouds rushed overhead, pulling back like a curtain on a light show for the rapture.
Seeing more stars than I had done for a long time, I stretched my power of imagination and learned a few nice things.
- We are all poorer for our light pollution. The night sky outdoes any of our tawdry displays — but only when you can see the constellations that come alive in the dark. This is a map of the UK at night, with light pollution marked in colour from green through to yellow and red in our cities. Aim for the blackness: the Dark Sky Reserves.
- The famous Plough is actually a small part — an asterism — of Ursa Major, the hind quarters of a much bigger beast that rears menacingly over the night. A mother protecting her cub, but only in the darkness. In most of our skies, the fearsome monster is reduced to an outmoded piece of farmyard machinery.
- I connected the dots and found Leo for the first time. Leo is not a difficult beast to conjure, but if you don’t know where to look… He follows the Plough in the sky, facing the wrong way, with a question mark head and an isosceles rump. It’s really more spectacular than I make it sound.
- In times like these, we can seek refuge in the infinite universe and feel the love come down.