How lucky that we’re in Wiltshire, where bits of gorgeous green countryside are never more than a ten minute walk away.
I hadn’t realised, until I spent a year in a second floor flat, just how much I require the outdoors. I’m sure all of us do, but maybe, for those of us that live in the countryside, it’s just a part of our lives enough that we don’t realise how essential it is until it’s gone. Until we’re told to work from home and stay indoors and ration our outdoors time. I don’t know if the lack of a garden last year contributed to the anxiety, but the panic attacks did start three months into my gardenlessness.
Last week when we woke up to a perfect covering of snow, I was conflicted about how best to use my one allocated piece of exercise. Either run out gleefully at first light to get some pictures of the gradual dawn illuminating the pristine whiteness of everything as the snow fell, or wait till later when there would be more snow, maybe even sunlight, but also more footprints spoiling the perfection? Watching the snow tumble silently out of the sky as it got light, I was too excited to wait, and gambled away my apportioned ambulatory adventure at eight am. Heading into town to capture our gorgeous landmarks, my red cheeks and frozen eyelashes beamed in childish glee at the serene beauty, which my camera did its best to capture.
I had to see everything, so did the full route through town – where a snowball was joyfully thrown at me – to the park, where people were rolling huge spheres of the beginnings of snowpeople, then along the river, through the picturesque nature reserve and churchyard back towards home. At which point Iorwerth joined me for his daily bit of exercise, so we did the whole loop again, which by now was much busier, and the park was suddenly populated with around 50 glorious snow-people. It was truly beautiful, to see how many families were out in the snow, full of purpose and productivity in the shared communal expression of the innate instinct to replicate themselves in snow.
What struck me was the sheer amount of love the snow had provided. The beauty, connection and creativity afforded by frosted precipitation was an immediately shared community experience, a novel adventure to take our minds off the many usual worries, joining all of us who were out in it together for those few hours.
By the time I got back, with soaked feet, straggly hair and smiling face, I had managed to stretch my one bit of exercise to four hours, which I understand is allowed. My Covid conscience was happy, and my entire being was glowing with the delight and beauty of a perfect snow day.
The sense of calm and love in my veins was due to a mixture of the obvious beauty of it all, the smiling connections to strangers and friends, and the simple healthy exercise of a hefty snow walk.
Even without snow, the power of being in nature is well documented and obvious. We feel good when we’re outside. Anxiety and stress dissolve a bit as a sort of clarity clears the brain.
I’m sure we have all experienced this, as adults, and very obviously as children. Whining and tantrums are reduced with a good play outside, along with the equivalent irritability and stress of their adults. Having made it through the bleakest months, we are just at the point of seeing gorgeous bits of spring pushing though the cold ground. The defiant leaves of daffodils thrust up through mud in the park, and snowdrops have started bobbing their gorgeous little heads in the grass. On my (slightly less frequent) visits to the allotment, I apologise to my plants for being away so long, and praise the little shoots of narcissisi that have started. Of the two packs of snowdrop bulbs I planted there is one single flower for now, and this tiny little beginning is a happy promise of Spring, and of sunnier days to come.
In The Natural Health Service, which I still haven’t finished reading, Isabel Hardman describes her fifteen minute ‘nature fix’ that she fits into even the busiest, most urban days (page 62), finding beauty in leaves, flowers and weeds in the pavements.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have a nearby outdoors that is brimming with lush green gorgeousness, but as Isabel Hardman says, even in the most grey of urban cities, there are always plants, trees, window boxes, weeds. She makes a practice of stopping to identify and appreciate each precious plant on her city walks, showing that nature can be found pretty much anywhere.
We have been watching Misfits, a series about young offenders with superpowers, and much as I love the clever scenarios and the deepening relationships, I just realised how the show achieves its incredibly bleak backdrop. There is nothing green. It is set in a realistically grim concrete cityscape full of brutal grey buildings with blunt angles and metal railings. The only colour is the bright orange of their community service jumpsuits which glow in their comparatively drab surroundings. And it works to make you feel uneasy, unhappy and morose, because there is not a tree, flower or pot plant in sight. I find myself scanning the scenes for green, and because the show doesn’t want me to feel comfort, there is very little.
Isabel Hardman’s book is full of lovely chapters on the benefits of being outdoors, and as my friend Milly pointed out, it is actually infuriating that the book even needs to be written, because surely this stuff is obvious? Do we need someone to tell us to go for a walk and look at the leaves? We’ll I guess some of us do, because her book is popular.
For me, it is a helpful reminder to make time outdoors a priority, even in winter, even when it’s just a quick wander round the streets before work, even when I’m cold and tired. Because I know that warm buzzy flow of happiness in my veins will improve my whole day, and is one of the wonderful things that has been successfully keeping the anxiety away.