When I worked opposite Southampton’s Little Common, I’d often go for some ‘tree time’. If I was tired or stressed, I knew even a few minutes with trees would revive me. Sometimes I’d eat my lunch there – the only problem was motivating myself to go back into my office!
I have a similar problem when I go to the upper woodland area of Peartree Green. When the pandemic meant working from home, I soon realised I couldn’t go for a quick walk before work, because it never was ‘quick’ – I wanted to linger. It isn’t a big area. It takes 125 paces or 2 minutes for me to walk from the ‘rhinocerous tree’ at one end of the main path to the broken-limbed oak at the other. Not that I often walk straight through like that, as there’s so much of interest to see, listen to, smell and touch. There’s also a side path with the ‘seat-oak’, one of my favourite spots.
It’s amazing what you can find along seat-oak path if you take a moment to notice. In early spring there’s a lovely patch of lesser celandine, and bluebells around the oak. I was thrilled to find Witches Butter fungus in February this year, and we’ve also had Rosy Lilac Bonnet mushrooms. I’ve watched a bumble bee queen going into her nest and seen grey squirrels racing through the trees. But my most memorable encounter so far was the dragonfly that, for ten amazing minutes, zipped to and fro, once or twice almost colliding with my head! Dragonflies are a particular favourite of mine, so I was thrilled.
If you’d like to see a one-minute video of me on this path, talking about how nature helped me during the first lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s on the Friends of Peartree Green Facebook page here. I made it for Team Wilder, part of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.
Of course there’s nothing special about me finding hope and joy in nature. It’s well documented that it can help our mental and physical health, and the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku or forest bathing is becoming popular here in the UK. But you don’t have to be in a forest to get the benefits. Anywhere natural can have the same effect – a park, a garden, one tree – nature offers us the chance to restore ourselves, to escape for a while, what’s been called ‘soft fascination’. Just being in nature without having to ‘do’ anything. (You can listen to Julia Bradbury and Rangan Chatterjee talking about this in a recent podcast). Sometimes nothing in particular happens, it’s simply the experience of being there that makes a difference. At other times, there might be a magical moment.
One morning in late April 2020 on a wander through the woodland, I’d stopped to notice the bracken unfurling when I realised there was an Orange Tip butterfly motionless on one leaf (presumably waiting for the sun to appear). Another very special memory from my wonderful woodland walks.