With the recent easing of restrictions on movement across Wales this week, a photographer friend came to join me for what were the first few days of leave I’ve taken since the start of the lockdown. Working as a care support worker outside of my role with Green Minds, I’ve continued to be busy over the past few months, and watched as one by one all my original travel plans across the summer were cancelled, and work became the primary focus for the foreseeable.
Its been interesting times for everyone, and I’m sure I’ve not been alone in experiencing a mix of feelings with the easing of the lockdown. In one respect pleased at seeing more friends and family again, but in another sensing a heavy heart at the increase in activity amongst our streets and skies, with noise levels up and the subtle sounds of nature being dampened down once again. That said, returning to Green Minds, albeit on a smaller more socially distanced scale has been lovely, and I’ve enjoyed seeing our group members again, old and new, as we’ve regained a sense of team spirit and purpose, gardening in the cathedral grounds and walking amongst the beeches and oaks of neighbouring Priory Groves.
What’s also been noticeable this past week is the increase in holiday makers returning to the area. The once quiet canal, fields and woodlands around me have suddenly begun filling with campervans, boats and bodies as many take their first tentative steps away from home, in an understandable attempt to manage some sort of summer holiday before the remainder of the warm weather draws to a close, and the chill of autumn comes knocking once again. This too, whilst nice to see the activity and happy smiley faces of people coming to enjoy this beautiful region, has brought up a pang of sadness at the loss of peacefulness and quietude we’ve come to enjoy these last few months.
Despite the difficult situations for many affected by this pandemic, I can’t help but feel grateful for the opportunity the lockdown brought us, to slow down our pace a life a little and to quietly engage with nature again, enjoying all that she has to offer without the full thrust of busy human activity we’ve grown so used to as the ‘norm’. So in a bid to try to extend some of that quiet time in nature, I set off with my friend, to seek out some of the more peaceful spots still to be found (if you know where to look) tucked away off the well-trodden trails! As a visitor himself, it was fun trying to find the right balance of showing him some of the beautiful sights on offer in this part of the world, without finding ourselves caught up in the increasing tourist melee filling the area as the days progressed. From a tiny track leading us to stupendous views of the Black Mountains, to a quiet moorland tucked above the epic Pen y Fan range, we gently pootled our way around the back roads and sunny lanes on his trusty motorbike, taking in waterfalls, woodlands and reservoirs bathed in the shifting summer sunshine, whilst also enjoying cups of tea and welsh cakes parked up in shady glades and by waters edges.
Those few days, although short and fleeting, reminded me again how precious our natural environment continues to be to our wellbeing. How lucky we are to have this scenery on our doorsteps, these beautiful wild untamed places available to us whenever we choose to engage, constantly singing to our hearts, inspiring our minds and bringing a sense of awe and wonder back into our lives. Although the lockdown may have lifted, and the people and traffic have returned in their droves, there still remains the opportunity to find stillness and peace wherever you may be, and enjoy all that mother nature has to offer, whether it be from a simple window view, to a garden or further afield, our reciprocal relationship with the natural world continues and never needs to feel lost.
Em 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 :-)
Thank you to Rachel at Brecon & District Mind for this weeks blog post, sharing her experiences of gardening during the lockdown....
My name is Rachel Williams and I have worked as an Office Assistant at Brecon and District Mind since 2016. I have had mental health problems on and off for several years but partly due to my job I try to see it as experience, more than an illness or mental health condition, as psychology as a subject, intrigues me, although it can be severe at times. I came to Brecon and District Mind in 2014 and they have given me a lot of support over the last few years whether it has simply been a shoulder to cry on or like when they took me on as an employee for which I owe them a lot of thanks.
Due to suffering from mental health problems I had kind of lost interest in my garden when I lived in Crickhowell. But thanks to the fact I was feeling better due to attending Brecon and District Mind here I was in 2015 embarking on a new journey or path in changing and developing a garden in Llanfrynach, a quiet village on outskirts of Brecon. A new start.
I started in 2015 by clearing all the borders and added a bit of art by creating a chess board patio with paving slabs. I have always been keen on colour and straight away started by adding some daffodil bulbs to the soil in between paving slabs in order to provide colour in the spring. Then according to time of year, I made sure there was something eg. Lobelia or diacias in summer and cyclamen in autumn.
As I progressed year by year, I realised that the garden at front of the house was a big hot spot in the summer. So I couldn’t put things that needed to be cool like sweet peas. So I planted things such as aubretia that tolerated hot weather. Last year – 2019, I added more colour and comfort to the garden by painting the fence with trailing wisteria mediterranean blue and placed a bench in front of patio creating a peaceful area to sit in.
I also had to remove two peach trees which were not happy in their position in the back garden. I replaced them in February this year – 2020 with apple trees in each corner and clematis along back fence.
Whilst on holiday in February I discussed the possibility of making raised beds and growing my own vegetables, which until now I had never done, with my dad , as I had an empty area or free space at the back of house. So, when lock down happened in March it was an ideal opportunity. I started by painting my fences Mediterranean blue like at the front, then went on to create the raised beds.
The raised beds were actually made from a recycled wooden compost bin which split into 6 sections. I then painted each section blue which was easy with the hot weather and put them together as 3 raised beds. I then filled them with a mixture of manure and compost. Then I planted 6 lettuce plants in one, 2 courgette plants in another and a few sweet pea plants in another.
I have already had two complete rounds of lettuce leaves and one courgette. Obviously at beginning of lock down we were not sure about garden centres etc. But fortunately the garden centre in Three Cocks was taking orders so I was able to order some bedding plants, for my chess board patio, for this summer. I also planted some beetroot and radishes.
My next projects are firstly a green house, to replace my potting shed which is prone to getting damp and in order to grow more vegetables and fruit such as autumn raspberries which I like with my porridge for breakfast , then a new back fence to protect the clematis which gets nibbled by sheep. I will probably paint the fence blue like the benches and raised beds. Since moving to Llanfrynach I now love working in the garden and sitting on benches in the sun with cups of tea, which I have done a lot during lock down thanks to lovely weather. It really brings a good sense of satisfaction and pleasure to see what I have achieved.
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
Thank you Nic Peate for this weeks blog post :-) Nic works for Brecon & District Mind as a Recovery Support Worker & My Generation Facilitator. Nic also runs the Wednesday allotment group in Brecon and is a Gardener herself....
Spring this year has been particularly special, with all its promise, renewal and beauty. For me, the buds, bulbs and seeds containing the blueprint for new life are very sustaining and fill me with hope... The new growth keeps happening despite all the difficulties. This year the silver lining to our cloud has been that many of us have really enjoyed the weather and tuned in to things close to home like the bird song. We have focused on things that have not had our attention for a while.
Near to where I live there is piece of woodland owned by a neighbour that I am helping to regenerate. Much of it was replanted about 20 years ago. Some of the trees were becoming completely swamped by brambles and other plants such as the invasive Himalayan balsam. It has to be said that we grow a particularly fine bramble around these parts! & they definitely have their place however, some trees were being killed off by them. So I embarked on clearing paths, removing some of the brambles, checking very carefully first for any nesting birds.
I uncovered some beech, birch, wild cherry, oak, ash & mountain ash trees giving them more space & light. In the spaces I planted some more trees. Underneath some of the bigger trees were some grassy glades with beautiful bluebells, ferns & other wildflowers, one day it will be a fantastic woodland. So this strange year of 2020 I will remember, not just as the year of the terrible Coronavirus but also as the year that I had the opportunity to enjoy & enrich a little bit of our local environment.
This weeks blog post is by Ros Sandhu, Brecon & District Mind's new Mums Matter Facilitator. Ros is also a Mindfulness teacher & founder of Brecon Mindfulness. www.breconmindfulness.com
As a new member of the Brecon and District Mind team, I am delighted to have the chance to write a blog for the Green Minds Project’s new website. I am a new Facilitator on the Mums Matter project and I am also a Mindfulness teacher. I was brought up in a city and until recently, I had always chosen to live in urban areas. My family and I moved to Brecon 7 years ago so I’m relatively new to living in the countryside and, for the record, I feel very much a novice ‘Green Mind’. I am, however, very keen to learn, and perhaps equally importantly I am completely captivated by nature’s healing powers and its potential to improve our wellbeing.
The simple idea of mindful walking is that we focus our attention on what it feels like to be walking – the feeling of our feet on the ground, and some of the sights, smells and sounds that are unfolding around us- each step is a moment of arriving in our feet and our bodies. When you think about it, this is very different to our usual habits when walking; we tend to walk with a destination or goal in mind ( e.g I will walk from a to b, or I will walk 30 minutes etc) Mindful walking can be incredibly soothing because it can take us out of our heads and away from thinking and worrying and move us more into our sensing mind when we are listening, seeing and smelling.
One of my favourite places to walk is along the canal. I think it is to do with being near both the still water of the canal and the moving water of the River Usk. Both reflect aspects of human experience – the potential for stillness that is in us all, alongside the ebbing and flowing of life. In certain places the trees’ canopies at this time of year are almost womb-like, in the way that they surround me - the leaves seem to grow thicker and greener by the day. I can allow nature to talk to me and wonder what she is telling me….
As I walk, I feel safe, cocooned, almost held by nature. I am surrounded by reminders that everything is allowed – this is particularly powerful when I focus my attention on the sounds of the birdsong., I am reminded that, as Rumi wrote, “ I want to sing like birds sing, not worrying about who will listen or what they will think’. As far as I know – scientists are not in agreement about why exactly birds sing but I am so glad they do. I can hear the innocent sweet tunes of the Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens and Great Tits, this plays alongside the definitive alto of the woodpigeons and the magpies. Then there is the are assertive songs of the Crows and Jackdaw coupled with the random outburst of the pheasant and finally my favourite noise at the moment, the persistent percussion of the woodpecker. It all sounds beautiful even though it is unplanned, spontaneous and unfolding moment by moment – just like life necessarily is.
Life during a pandemic, is clearly a fertile ground for our thinking to go into overdrive as we all worry about our health and the health of those we love, and as we try and predict the future. For this reason, I have found the time I spend outside each day to be the most helpful thing for me, when trying to live healthily through this period, oh and I have also noticed that birds still sing in the rain :-)
Hello, Jess here at Green Minds. Today I would love to share with you my experiences of listening to the dawn chorus along the River Wye.......I hope the recording will transport you to life at 5am along the river bank, and maybe even inspire you to listen in to the dawn chorus one morning this month :-)
Last week on the 3rd May I made it up and out for the dawn chorus and to join in celebration of International Dawn Chorus Day. An annual event taking place on the first Sunday in May. I slowly wended my way down through a quiet woodland, the bright white of the hawthorn blossom lighting my way, until I reached the river. Under a canopy of oak, ash & sycamore I sat and listened in wonder, absorbing the chorus that surrounded me, watching the sky's gradual fade into light. I find it deeply calming and restorative tuning into bird song. For me, finding stillness in a woodland, or sat quietly at the rivers edge can provide the immersive experience, and an antidote to the challenging times we find ourselves in like no other.
The birds are at their busiest this time of year, the males protecting their territories, singing their hearts out in the hope of attracting a female companion. Many of the birds we see and hear this spring have arrived after long and often perilous journeys back to the UK to breed and I am reminded again how very precious they are. During this time of lockdown, with much less noise and traffic on the roads and in the sky we have a wonderful opportunity to tune in to the natural sounds around us, and we don't have to go very far. Even from our beds or within our immediate outdoor spaces we can hear the birds singing.
At this time of year sunrise is around 5.20am, so if you are up about an hour before then you will be able to hear the dawn chorus in all it's glory....(It's an early start, but I guarantee it's worth it!)
The audio recording above is from my dawn chorus walk along the river Wye last Sunday.
I'll sign out with this beautiful poem by Mary Oliver.
Such Singing in the Wild Branches
"It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves –
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness –
and that's when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree –
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing––
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky – all of them
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last
For more than a few moments.
It's one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you've been there,
you're there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away."
- Mary Oliver
The hedgerows and verges are buzzing with life. Birds are busy making their nests among a prickly tangle of hawthorn, beech and bramble, a dense thicket of shrubs and tree species. Carpets of wildflowers adorn the verges and Spring is now in full song. I find that I am noticing the wildflowers far more at the moment, with more time to stop and explore, excited by new discoveries and reacquainting myself with those I've met before, like seeing old friends return again.
Due to the loss of many ancient woodlands, hedgerows are a vital source of food and shelter for many species. Some hedgerows may be lines of former ancient woodland, providing corridors between more fragmented areas of woodland habitat and creating a safe passage along which wildlife can travel.
Now that May is almost here, the verges and roadsides are full of colour and fragrance. Have you noticed any of the verges around your area being left to go a little more wild during the lockdown?. The Dandelions are certainly having their day around Hay & Brecon, which is great to see, and even better for local wildlife.
I have been spotting others too and Ceri Hayes kindly offered to translate into Welsh some of the more common wildflowers and plants that we might all be able to spot along the hedgerows and verges at the moment. Ceri is setting up a new project called ‘Ceffyl’ (the Welsh word for horse). You can find out more about Ceri's work with Brecon & District Mind below.
But for now please enjoy these gorgeous words & wildflowers.....Over to you Ceri!....
Wildflower names yn Gymraeg/in Welsh
There are wonderful, varied and interesting Welsh names for wildflowers as well, but they are disappearing rapidly as we lose the older generation of Welsh speakers for whom they are a familiar part of everyday life. While it is common for garden flowers to be given names borrowed in some way from English, for example ‘lafant’ (pronounced lavant) is the Welsh word for lavender, wildflower names are more obviously Welsh and some have very different meanings to the English names. Why not try learning a few?
Here are the Welsh translations of nine wildflowers to look out for in April and May. To help we have included the pronunciation below each word and also the literal translation of the words into English so you can compare the two meanings. Have fun!
(for a closer view please click on the images)
If you’d like to learn more, the National Botanic Garden of Wales has produced a short guide to wildflowers you can find in hedgerows at this time of year in both English and Welsh, with some helpful colour pictures:
For those who are really keen, they also have a very comprehensive list of all wildflowers in English, Welsh and Latin (but no pictures): botanicgarden.wales/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/List-of-plant-names-for-website.pdf
More about Ceri Hayes & her work with some our members at Brecon & District Mind.
Ponies for People
Just as spending time in nature can help our physical and mental well-being, so too can spending time with animals. Whether it’s being with a pet cat or dog at home, or even just sitting in the park or garden watching the birds, time spent in the company of animals can be a very good way of releasing stress, helping us feel calm and relaxed and, if we’re feeling lonely, making us feel less isolated.
During a period of chronic illness, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time recuperating on a friend’s farm alongside a herd of beautiful Welsh mountain ponies. The experience was incredibly healing and made me realise the power of animals to bring comfort and joy, and to teach us how to be more mindful in our own lives.
I am setting up a new project called ‘Ceffyl’ (the Welsh word for horse) to provide opportunities for others to spend time with these amazing animals, engage in hands-on activities such as tacking up, feeding and leading ponies and learn more about what they can teach us about living ‘in the moment.’
Some Mind members have already benefitted from spending time with the ponies and we hope to expand the project to enable other Mind members to spend time with the ponies. to have this experience later in the year. If you’d like to find out more, then do get in touch via the website.