At this time of year it can be very easy to just to curl up on the sofa with a box set and hibernate; to hide away from the plunging temperatures, the driving rain and the shortening daylight hours. And there is nothing wrong with that! Believe me, I enjoy a box-set binge as much as anyone. Yet, I always feel a little ‘twitchy,’ a feeling that I should perhaps be making the most of the shorter daylight hours while I can instead of ploughing through another bag of popcorn and building up my fat reserves for winter! And perhaps, I am not alone. TV viewing figures for programmes that have a focus on nature shoot up during the winter months with the likes of Countryfile and Autumnwatch regularly pulling in more than 5 million viewers. It seems that there are a lot of people, like me, needing their weekly/daily fix of Vitamin ‘N.’
Recent weeks have also shown us the worst of the British weather with the terrible flooding that has affected so many communities, ruining properties and businesses across large swathes of the countryside. And yet, amidst this devastation, come stories of communities coming together to support one another, of heroics from our emergency services and local people and our armed forces, environment agencies and utilities companies, working tirelessly to restore some semblance of normality, bringing power and food and security to our beleaguered homes. Nature can be cruel, but it can also be a catalyst for change, bringing out the very best in our natures. Like us, it is resilient too.
The woodland near where I live grows on the former site of an industrial complex. Amongst the hornbeams and beech trees, now burgeoning with buzzards and goldfinches and robins lie the ruins of an old brick works and the detritus of a site long abandoned. Chemicals have polluted the earth, oil drums and plastic containers, steelworks and asbestos lie buried in mounds fenced off from the public. And all around the mess that was left behind, trees grow, roots threading through the soil, cushioning the remnants of industry beneath years of fallen leaves. Fungi sprout in reds and earthy browns amidst the outstretched roots of trees that now tower above the shell of the brick factory. Nature has reclaimed the land despite the wanton exploitation and contamination of industry in its pursuit to make money.
At times in my own life, when I have felt overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness in the face of persisting problems, I often take a walk into these woods to remind myself, firstly, of nature’s beauty but often, during the course of a short twenty-minute stroll, I find myself reflecting on how nature has endured such wanton destruction and found a way to persist, to grow and to flourish. Nature doesn’t offer easy solutions, but it does show me that solutions exist, and that time, persistence and innate wisdom will eventually transform the landscape.
In one part of the woods lies the rusting wreckage of an abandoned car. For years, it has crumbled away, oil and metal contaminating the ground and yet, life has moved on all around it. A tree grows through the remnants of the door, reminding me that the landscape ahead depends upon how I frame it, not upon the acceptance that my problems constrain me. I will find a way to flourish, just as the silver birch that stands proudly above the mouldering wreckage has done.
Nature won’t solve problems. Nature doesn’t actually care about our problems. But seeing it as a separate entity and an irrelevance is to miss something important. You, me, us, we ARE Nature. It persists even in the most challenging of circumstances. It is different from moment to moment. Every day, the sun rises, and the sun sets whether we are conscious of it or not.
Try this exercise exploring the resilience of nature...
During the day, sit yourself by an open window or in an open space and momentarily close your eyes. Breathe gently in through your nose and out through your mouth, then slowly open your eyes again. Let your eyes wander over the scene around you, focusing on things which appear to be dead – leaves, litter, feathers etc. Now close your eyes once again, breathing in and out as before. Did focusing on the things that have died impact you in any way? What did you notice about your reaction? Open your eyes once again, focusing on the life around you – perhaps people, animals, insects. Amidst life is death and death is life, like the sun rising and falling. Life persists. Close your eyes and notice your breathing. Each inhalation is life. Can you see the redness of your eyelids, the blood flowing through your body. What can you hear? Traffic? Birdsong? In the few moments that you have taken to explore the world around you, the sun has moved a few more inches across the sky and you have moved hundreds of miles across the universe.
Perhaps one of the reasons we like to hide ourselves away during the winter is that it reminds us that all things come to an end (that and it can be wet and miserably cold). But perhaps, the way that we frame the picture may need adjusting. Amidst all the decay lie the means for revival. The leaves will leech nutrients into the ground, feeding new growth in the spring. Seeds and berries which have fallen to the earth will germinate, bringing new vitality in the months to come. The sun, low in the sky, will continue its rise and fall, first allowing the earth to rest and then, becoming a call to action in the spring.
Like nature, take your time. Remind yourself that amongst all the things that seem to be holding you back, lie the very elements that will contribute to your own growth, your own resurgence. Like nature you are resilient and you have the capacity to recharge, revitalise and re-frame the world around you.