Nature Therapy: Call of the Tame Wild
Since Lockdown a fire has been rekindled in the hearts of many people.
It’s an internal fire which yearns to burst into flame and restore connection to the natural world around us even if we live in “tame” populated areas.
Families have found joy reconnecting with each other on bike rides free from traffic, while others have found solace and contemplation sitting beside rivers and lakes.
This week I was talking to a friend who remarked, “I think many of us need to remember how to be in Nature; we have forgotten what it is like to feel free and wild like a child.”
Yet another friend admitted with a shrug that when she looked at a field she just saw a “dull, brown flat space with nothing in it.”
This remark made me reflect and appreciate my childhood school in rural Suffolk and how, decades later, those early sights, sounds and smells from playing in the woodlands remain with me and bring about a feeling of peace whenever I enter the pine woods today.
Can you recall a special place in nature from childhood? A place where you could feel free to play?
Today, in the old school grounds there is a housing estate; and the main school has been turned into flats. During the 1970s however, the building nestled in a large area of woodland with two play areas: The Little Wood for Autumn and Winter terms, and The Field for Spring and Summer.
As my mind reflects those times, I’d like to invite you to imagine something for a moment….. Imagine being a young child at school with me. And it is play time…
The tall Scots pine trees surround us in The Little Wood. We can hear the sound of birds all around in the branches and the scratching sound of squirrels as they run up the trees.
We make dens among the pine trees and sweep our cottage den floors with pine brushes. The needles being swept away unleash their fragrant scent and clear our heads from the repetitive learning of our times tables.
Pine cones are collected and turned into piles of “food” for our pretend shops; tapping them on the ground to release the seeds which become “money.” The soft silky feel of the inside of a pine cone petal as we gather our “coins” in our 6 year old palms.
Slowly, carefully, pathways are created between neighbouring dens by sweeping up small “banks” of needles with our pine “brooms” to create a smooth passage.
And all around the birds sing in the trees and invoke a sense of safety and freedom. We have no fear. We are allowed to play.
If a child falls over and scratches her knee it is simply a case of washing the graze, applying TCP, a sticking plaster and getting back to play. And then the large bell rings and we scamper back to the classroom leaving our dens and interlinking townships to the squirrels, wind and woodland creatures for the rest of the day.
Sometimes groups of “best friends” create a den together but have an argument. “You’ re not my best friend any more…. I’m going to Penny’s Den!” And so a type of conflict resolution through group dynamics evolves while groups split up, reform and move “house”.
As we grow older, “cat’s cradle” hop scotch, and skipping becomes popular. The Wood becomes the flowing backdrop and we play on the open path in the sunshine leaving the “little ones” to play in the shady dens.
In Spring, when the long grass becomes a succulent, vibrant green, we are allowed to play in The Field which is sloping, overgrown with buttercups, and bumpy with mole hills.
Tall lilac bushes flank the sides, drooping with purple perfumed flowers. Bees buzz and Robin nests can be found hidden in the branches. More hidden dens and a network of well trodden corridors evolve as the Summer weeks drift lazily on. In these dens our currency changes from pine cones to daisies.
The Field has a different smell to The Wood. The deep earthy smells wafting from the woodland floor and the fresh scent of pine now gives way to fresh cut grass, flowers , stinging nettles and Horse manure.
The two horses are kept in a field at the bottom of our playing field, separated by a barbed wire fence.
This fence always fascinates us because tangles of horse hair are attached to the barbs and we carefully, secretly, collect small bundles, pulling off clumps to stroke on our lap or turn into “pony tails” when we return to our desks.
School lessons in these younger classes always include Nature Walks and the poems of Walter De La Mare to be learned by heart or read out in class: and during nesting season in Spring, we march in single file out onto the main school drive. ..Here we learn the difference between the tails of the swallows, house martins and swifts which swoop and dive from the eaves…..and make little drawings in our school exercise books with soft 2B colouring pencils……
As the years move on, so the Springs, Summers, Autumns and Winters of childhood gradually pass…..
So now,….let us leave that time and return to the present moment. Knowing that we can gently rekindle that feeling of innocent wonder, which still slumbers inside all of us. Even if it became deeply buried, it was never lost.
Today the woodlands call again, inviting us to reconnect.
Reconnect to the natural world and reconnect to ourselves.
For only through a deepening reconnection with our innermost selves will we bring about the necessary transformation within. Only through reconnection will we have have the power and emotional stability to restore our relationships, restore healthy communities, restore unity and connectedness with every living thing, however it may appear.
Only reconnection and the awakening deep love of Source inside our hearts has the power to release us from our deep psychological conditioning and the mis-understandings arising from the sense of a separate, isolated identity called “Me.”
Perhaps we can learn more from the trees. As Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author writes in The Hidden Life of Trees.
Scientific research shows that despite appearing as separate “individuals” above ground, trees communicate with each other, evolve as a community, and share a deep interconnectedness with the Forest in which they grow.
In 2017 a scientific study was conducted by the University of Essex into “The health and wellbeing impacts of volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts .“
At the end of the research project, the percentage of participants reporting low wellbeing scores (defined by UK norms) declined from 39% at baseline to only 19% at 12-weeks.
In fact volunteering in Nature had a greater positive impact for 95% people with low wellbeing to start with who reported an improvement at 6-weeks.
That means for those suffering from stress and anxiety just being among trees helps reduce symptoms.
Dominic Higgins, Nature and Wellbeing Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, added “The results of this structured research project make a powerful case for nature having a larger role in people’s every-day lives. The evidence is loud and clear – volunteering in wild places makes people feel better, happier and more connected to other people.”
When I think about it, It’s not Rocket Science, It’s Mother Nature’s Common Sense and Mother Love.
And when Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites are polluting the starry firmament , I know which direction I will choose to focus my attention….
The Woods and Mother Earth.
See you in the Woods!
Further reading from The Smithsonian Institute: Do Trees Talk To Each Other?
MIND Charity for mental Health : How nature benefits mental health