A daily bathe in Nature

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.

The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D00374

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.

10 thoughts on “A daily bathe in Nature

  1. Brynna Kaulback April 14, 2020 / 7:52 pm

    Thank you! We live in the City – New York City – on the 32nd floor and have self-isolated since beginning of March. We have a friend who lives in Rhode Island near the ocean and every morning she texts us a picture that she has taken – usually when she walks on the beach with her Irish Setter named Yeats. Often, she sends us a short video so we can see and hear the waves. Not quite the same as being there, but I agree with the research- it is restorative!!

  2. Marion April 14, 2020 / 7:54 pm

    Good for you Jenny, beautiful garden thank you for sharing . Keep well, keep safe

  3. jennymackness April 15, 2020 / 9:49 am

    Thank you for your comment Brynna. What a lovely idea of your friend’s to send you photos and videos of the sea, so that you can hear the waves.

    It reminds me that once, a long time ago, I listened to a man speak on the radio about travelling the world from his armchair. He had read so much about different places that he was extremely knowledgeable about the world and its places, but he was one of those rare people who had never travelled beyond his village. I wonder if, in the future, we will do more of this type of armchair travelling.

    I don’t suppose you have a balcony on the 32nd floor, but I expect you will have plants in your flat, which you probably relate to as closely as I do to my garden. Good to know you are OK. Jenny

  4. jennymackness April 15, 2020 / 9:50 am

    Thank you, Marion, for your comment. You keep well and safe too 🙂

  5. fred6368 April 15, 2020 / 11:34 am

    Nice post Jenny. Last year we made World Heutagogy Day about “How Do We Green Our Learning” as I’ve been trying to do that for 40 years. In fact it was partly why I got into digital technology. I did a Masters thesis on “Green Paths To The Information Society” (inspiring) for City University on my M.Sc in Information Systems and Technology but it was rejected. I spent the next year doing a historical review of business environmental strategies (uninspiring) for a new thesis “Is there a Green Information technology Strategy” I have a green learning blog (Third Placed). Hope this helps… Fred x
    This is the World HeutagogDay Curated Conversation;

  6. thewhole2th April 15, 2020 / 1:07 pm

    Great to connect or re-connect with nature. Thanks for this

  7. jennymackness April 15, 2020 / 6:45 pm

    Thanks Fred for sharing that information and the slide presentation. In the programme I listened to and wrote about above, Sue Stuart Smith talked about forming a relationship with plants which requires a delayed response to their needs. She said we have to tune in to their needs – we do a bit, and then they do a bit. This reminded me that Iain McGilchrist writes about the importance of an embodied, reverberative, reciprocal relationship with the ‘Other’. This might be relevant to your work on Greening Learning and our relationship to Nature.

  8. jennymackness April 15, 2020 / 6:46 pm

    @Thewhole2th – Thank you for taking the time to comment. I agree with you.

  9. Lisa M. Lane (@LisaMLane) April 16, 2020 / 9:06 pm

    The kiss of the sun for pardon,
    The song of the birds for mirth,–
    One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
    Than anywhere else on earth.

    — Dorothy Frances Gurney

  10. jennymackness April 17, 2020 / 7:29 pm

    Thank you Lisa. That’s lovely.

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