In this time of almost global lockdown, there has been renewed recognition of the importance of Nature to mental health. The Earth is a source of life, and in a crisis people turn back to it.
Here in the UK, the public (excluding the vulnerable and those with underlying health issues) have been encouraged to leave their houses once a day, to exercise, to walk, or to cycle for a short time, in the vicinity of their homes. City dwellers have been astonished by the traffic-free streets, which now means they can hear the birds. Animals, such as deer, are beginning to wander the traffic-free streets of some towns. The decrease in pollution has led to clear skies and clean air. Spring has been experienced more vividly than usual, particularly since the UK has been bathed in glorious sunshine for about a week now. We have been reminded that the birds, trees, and plants, are completely unperturbed by what is going on.
I live in a very rural area, so the glory of Spring comes as no surprise, but I recognise that my relationship with nature and my garden has grown in recent years, more so since I retired, which has given me more time to work or sit in my garden, to keep watch over it, to become sensitive to its needs. But I think I understand the wonder that some are feeling this year at the beauty of Spring. I remember about 20 years ago getting a new job which required me to travel all over Cumbria, the particularly beautiful county I live in. Before this I had been working flat out as a schoolteacher, going to the same classroom every day for eight in the morning, and rushing home in the evening to my growing family. I scarcely lifted my head. I still remember clearly when I got my new job, which started in the autumn, and was driving all over the county; I was bowled over by the beauty of the countryside. I realised that I hadn’t seen the autumn colours for years. It was an eye-opener. In this current crisis the splendour of Nature is proving to be an eye opener for many.
In this week’s ‘Start the Week’ radio 4 programme, Andrew Marr discusses the hopefulness and beauty of nature with his guests Sue Stuart Smith, author of The Well-Gardened Mind: rediscovering Nature in the Modern World and Jonathan Bate, author of Radical Wordsworth: The Poet who Changed the World. It was Wordsworth who said that a daily bathe in Nature was necessary to his health; he recognised that his health had suffered after prolonged periods of city life. Wordsworth’s famous poem Tintern Abbey emphasises how important this relationship with Nature was to him, and how profoundly stabilising the memory of a place in nature can be. It restores the human spirit.
Both Sue Stuart Smith and Jonathan Bate realised that despite their belief in the benefits of developing a relationship with Nature, particularly at this time of COVID-19 lockdown, many people will not have access to open spaces, or gardens. From her research Sue Stuart Smith suggested that even just listening to the sounds of nature, birdsong, or running water, or being able to smell damp earth, or particular plants such as lavender or rosemary, can have deeply calming physical effects on us. A lot of people can probably testify to this from tending their window boxes or balcony plants.
And failing this, Jonathan Bate suggested that we can read our way into Nature. Wordsworth’s poetry can transport us into Nature.
(For the full poem see The Poetry Foundation website)
I have now not left my house/garden for more than four weeks. We fall into the category of people who the Government has advised to self-isolate for 12 weeks. Although I have always loved my garden, I have never been so grateful for it as this year.