Last week I met up with some friends for a day's paddle on the Wye. It felt like the perfect way to meet up with others since the beginning of lockdown, at a distance. As we greeted one another with star jumps instead of hugs it felt like a huge relief to see friends again, but at the same time I suddenly found myself totally thrown off-kilter, unsure if I was quite ready to step out into the world again.
When I speak to others about their experiences during the lockdown we all agree 'it's been up & down'. I have been very lucky to be living here in Wales and have been able to enjoy the many aspects of a quieter, slower pace of life. But like many of us living rurally I have empathised with those who have struggled to find spaces in nature for solitude during this time. I wish shared and accessible green space for everyone, we have been reminded of just how essential it is, that's what is most important for me as my role working in Ecotherapy.
The past thirteen weeks have been a time of reflection and a chance to connect with nature and myself again at a deeper level, a chance to meet with all that has been lost and gained during this time and over the last year. Being back in a boat on the water was a reminder of where I was last year, it was the summer of losing my Dad to Cancer, such a tough word to write that one. I was in a Kayak and it was about four days before he died. I thought it would be a chance to take some time out and build some inner strength. But Instead of finding distraction I found myself wrought with guilt and panic. It was not plain sailing. I was a complete novice at Kayaking to say the least and I managed to spin myself 360 degrees all the way from Hay to Bredwardine, hitting shallows and getting stuck on rocks along the way. I was a total mess inside and out. Claimed by the rapids.
Paddling in a canoe this time and in much calmer waters, I wondered between then and now, had I even given myself the time to begin my grieving for him?. With life as it was being so full and so busy, I just threw the grief on my back and carried it along for the ride. When I think about it, the last year has sort of propelled me towards something else, a bit like being pinged off the end of an elastic band and into a sense of quickening and urgency to honour those things that are important and sacred in life. And maybe that's it, in death and loss there is life and resurgence again. I miss him and I know he would have had a lot to say about my Kayaking misadventures.
With the time and space during lockdown I have come to love the silence and widen my sense of inner landscape for reflection. As Wendell Berry writes in his poem:
"I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."
And I make a promise to myself that I will save a space for stillness, for presence and for putting down all that feels too heavy to hold. No matter how busy life might get.
I will remember being in that red canoe, how quiet the river was that day in June as lockdown began to ease, how few people there were on the water. Just the river and us. The wilderness, the Reed Warblers, the Cormorant perched, drying his wings and the Cuckoo. And I'll remember to pause and catch my breath again.
And as we re-emerge into a world that will be forever changed by the pandemic there will be many stories and insights to share with one another, whether we have been able to enjoy this great pause or not. There will be those that can't wait to get back out there and those harbouring fear and trepidation about re-entering into a society that will look and feel very different, and many of us will be living in some state of limbo for a while yet. How can we prepare ourselves for what comes next? Can we hold a space for stillness and presence within whilst beginning our next turn in the water?
The poem Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda has always held a special place in my heart and it holds particular resonance at this time. The poem ends with:
"Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive."
For me the poem speaks of hope found through adversity. As I begin to imagine what might come next, it is clear to see how this time of inactivity has brought me closer to the natural world, and how nature has been my greatest ally during the up's and down's of lockdown.
I feel grateful for the pause and purpose that has been found, for the shift in attention to what is really important. Whatever that has become clear for you during this time, with a renewed sense of importance, things you don't want to lose, I hope that you are able to hold on to them. As we take time to stand at the waters edge let us reflect on the route we wish to navigate next.
As Pablo writes, perhaps we may pay closer attention to what the earth can teach us about connection and of hope, even when things feel uncertain and we find ourselves a little lost.
The full poem Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda can be read here:
Best wishes to you,
Jess at Green Minds.
If you are local to Brecon and the surrounding areas and would like to share your reflections on nature and wellbeing during the lockdown please get in touch :-)
Thanks to Green Minds Co-facilitator Em Charles for this weeks blog post exploring life in all it's beauty & intricacy....
“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain”
Henry David Thoreau
A few weeks ago a small parcel landed on my doormat. I’d finally invested in a handheld magnifying lens. A couple of summers back I attended a weekend foraging course with the lovely Robin Harford of Eat Weeds www.eatweeds.co.uk down on the beautiful Dorset coastline. Over two days Robin opened up a whole new world to me, both in the wonderful abundance of wild food that was so surprisingly available right under my nose, but also in exploring the microcosm of hedgerow, field and woodland, by equipping us with small magnifying lenses.
Over those two days not only did I experience the strange new tastes of wild plants, from plantain buds to lime tree leaves, but as a veritable giant I became nose to grass with a tiny world of wonder beneath my feet. When we look through our human eyes, as fantastic an organ as they are, we are often only seeing a very superficial level of detail in our day to day navigations. Wandering through the countryside, whilst on a whole we may appreciate a beautiful scene, how often do we really make the time to stop and take a much closer look at the detailed infinite world that encompasses us?
With my new pocket magnifier in hand I set off, eager to explore my usual route, but now with slightly different eyes. What did a dew dropped feather look like, the seed pod of a large poppy, the bark of an oak tree, or the head of a dandelion? Sharing a few intimate minutes with these varying aspects of our landscape, suddenly completely changes your perspective. The fluffy dandelion head for example, often and unfairly labelled a weed, in minute detail becomes a thing of delicate, complex and intricate beauty. Tightly packed miniscule stems burst from a tiny balled center displaying something similar to hundreds of miniature feathers, perhaps like you’d see protruding from a beautiful native American headdress.
The poppy seed head, beyond its already lovely red petals displays a detailed spectrum of colours, an array of electric blues, deep mauves and magentas, a whorl of multiple anthers with the lined crown of the seed pod center stage, its design resembling sugar coated strips of candy you’d more likely find in an oldskool sweetshop. And then there’s the multiple tiny creatures and insects inhabiting everywhere from the woodland floor and flower meadow to the deep furrowed grooves of ageing tree trunks. A few still minutes and a little patience and before you know it, all sorts of activity comes to life beneath your lens, busying away in abundant miniature scale. Our tiny wild neighbours going about their daily duties clearing, eating, carrying, connecting, delightful mini communities doing what they need to do as part of their vital role in the mysterious and intricate cycles of life.
A small magnifier can be found online for as little as £10, mine is set at 40x25mm magnification and I wouldn’t suggest buying anything less than this, it’s a great investment that can easily go in your pocket or hang around your neck. So next time you’re out, seek out those flowers and plants you most admire, those gnarly bits of tree trunk or pretty fallen leaves or feathers, and spend some time exploring their intricate detail, or kneel down close to the ground in a space of your choosing and then wait and quietly watch, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed…small is indeed beautiful