"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” - John Muir
I don’t know about you, but getting outside has now become one of the biggest aims of my day. Perhaps it’s from having to isolate for a long period over Christmas, or maybe it’s just the general effect of lockdown, but the desire to get out for a change of scenery and to breathe in fresh air is strong.
This is new for me… I’ve generally lived in towns or cities and don’t own a dog, so going for a walk for no reason isn’t something I’ve particularly wanted to do. In any case, there were always too many things to fit in and rush around doing, especially with the children, so there was no need (or time) for random walks!
This is now no longer the case, and I try to get outside each day with one or both children, or the whole family, when work, home school and life align. It doesn’t need to be for long (and often isn’t) but it can make a world of difference.
Walking along the same roads, past the same houses, through the same park and round the same field sounds a bit dull, and my husband (who loves proper rucksack and Kendal mint cake walking), would love to go further, but I’ve been surprised that each time we go out it has been interesting. We’ve talked about different things and noticed different things. We’ve walked in the rain and in the dark, through icy wind and bright winter sunshine, and the kids, who haven’t had wellies for some years, were genuinely excited when the order of two new pairs arrived and they could squelch through the muddy puddles in the field behind our house.
Earlier this week, as we were walking back from a PE lesson/stomp around the park, a little boy, probably around six years old, was walking towards us with his Mum. He was peering up at her through round wire rimmed glasses, “I think,” he said to her earnestly, “That was the best EVER pine cone!” She smiled down at him as we passed… “Well, if it’s still there when we come back,” she said, “you can take it home.” I glanced round in time to catch his satisfied look of pleasure.
It was a gem of a moment. I love that something about this pine cone meant so much to him - a true appreciation of something in nature that most of us would have walked right by. My children are considerably older than the little boy but I can see that they also enjoy the things they notice on our walks, pointing out strange patterns on the bark of a tree or bright red berries under some holly leaves. My son who is nearly 14 now, was absolutely delighted this week to see thick green shoots pushing up through the ground from bulbs he planted in the field with his sister last year.
I asked my daughter what she liked about going outside. She said that she loved the sound, which wasn’t what I expected. “It’s so wide and open,” she explained, “not like being indoors and closed in”. She’s right, hearing things far away in the distance gives us a sense of a wider space and freedom which in times like these, is priceless!
Now when we are out, I take more time to notice nature, and when you start looking properly, there’s so much to see. This week we spotted a tiny snowdrop and flew some helicopter sycamore seeds, we crunched through thick frost that made the long grass look hairy,. We marvelled at the clear water trapped beneath ice on the big muddy puddles in the field (before walking on them to split the ice and let the mud ooze out) and we noticed clusters of little pink flowers on a shrub that weren’t there when we last walked by… and there lies the beauty of going along the same roads, past the same houses, through the same park and round the same field. Nature is the one constant, but it is always changing, always giving us something new to look at.
Research shows that being out in nature decreases levels of anxiety, stress and depression (and if you are near water, then the effects are even stronger), but even along a roadside or in a housing estate it’s surprising what you can see.
We may not always find our best ever pine cone, but we can gain a lot from being outdoors and each time will be different… so go outside, look at nature and feel uplifted.
And there’s something else too…
Walking is great for talking.
There’s something about moving along side by side, at the same pace, falling into the same rhythm, that lends itself to natural and easy talk. I’ve chatted about all kinds of things with the children that I might not otherwise have done, and it’s a nice relaxed way to check in with them without it seeming like an interrogation!
Going for a walk is also one of the only things we can do at the moment with a friend - just one of course, but one is better than none. “Let’s go for a coffee” has become “Let’s go for a walk,” although if you are lucky, and can swing by a cafe for a take away, you can still get the coffee (or my preference… a hot chocolate!).
Walking with a friend is quite different to talking on the phone or on a screen. When you walk and talk, you can pause comfortably because other things are happening, you are looking around, sharing the experience, you can comment on things going on around you, and there seems to be a flow and a freedom to it.
I also like that companionable silence which is impossible on the phone because the other person thinks you’ve hung up, and difficult on screen when no matter how well you know the other person you end up awkwardly speaking up just as they do, stopping abruptly and apologising just as they are.
Of course eye contact is harder when you are side by side, and you can’t “read” facial expressions, but it becomes more about listening… and I wonder whether I am actually a better listener when I am walking?
I often walk for longer with a friend than I would normally so there’s a health benefit there too… although less so if a hot chocolate is involved!
So… grab your coat, get out there and find your best ever …. whatever…!
Deborah Stephenson, Ollie Coach trainee
I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far.
To get in contact with Deborah, email firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to https://www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com/pages/about-us