I grew up in Kent, with parents who didn’t come from that area. Often during school holidays we would return home to where my mum grew up on the Welsh and Shropshire borders. It was evident, even as a young child, that this was where Mum felt was home.
As soon as I could drive, I started to visit cousins and eventually moved up, a couple of years after my mum had moved too. For both of us, it felt like coming home, even though I had never lived here before. There is something about the hills, the spaces, the rabbits on the lanes and the emptiness that felt like this was where I belonged, and where I wanted to raise children, if I ever had them.
During the first lockdown last glorious spring, I started a daily walk, every morning before everyone else was awake, up a hill and round the block. The first section was along a busy road but there I would greet the blackbird and sometimes watch the sunrise. I then went past the little hamlet where I would greet the honeysuckle before entering what I thought of as Owl Wood. Sometimes Owl would be in his/her nesting box, sometimes not. But always entering that world felt like going into a cathedral, there was a gravitas and a quiet. It made me stop and stare, even if he wasn’t there.
When Owl was there, I would stand looking up at him/her, quietly feeling that it was I who was walking through his/her lands, and that it was s/he granting me right passage. Leaving I was thanked him/her for his time and moved on through the leafy lanes, past rabbit holes, looking down over the changing cornfields, where sometimes if I was l lucky, I would catch a fleeting flash of fox.
Descending back into the village, I would greet the cattle, the lambs, the goats, the chestnut tree, and on a good day, the horses. I would sometimes sit for a while on the church bench before re-entering what felt like real time through the village community centre, back down onto the main road and into the house for breakfast.
There is a magic in making the same walk over and over because it is a reminder that no walk is ever the same. Everyday there were different flowers, the leaves a subtle shifts in shades of green, different birds, sometimes frost, sometimes mud, sometimes dust.
I have written before about how the land holds memories and so the conversation with Harriet about her connection with the place and nature really resonated with me. Harriet works intuitively and therapeutically with the land. I have no doubt that our mental well-being is connected with our sense of belonging in the natural world and a lack of mental well-being correlates with our lack of connection to nature.
So often I have conversations with exhausted people in the winter, who tell me they feel like sleeping all the time and don’t know why. We have forgotten we are mammals who are affected by the shortening days, and whose tendency is to sleep more and retreat within, to a quiet cave or den. Instead we push through with artificial light and stimulants and tell ourselves we are wrong, rather than questioning how we live.
When I work with clients, I sometimes ask them what advice the tree would give, or the river, or the bird and they can always find some wisdom, whether imagined or not. We can all ask nature what advice it might have to share. We just have to be still enough to listen.
The part of the conversation with Harriet that really stayed with me was how we need to turn towards the destruction as well as the beauty. I talked to her about some trees in a valley which have been cut down, leading to erosion which has filled in a beautiful river. The first time I saw it I felt sick. I pull over, get out and look, but I didn’t stop to hear what the valley and the trees had to say. To hear what they needed from me. To hear what I had to learn from their decimation.
Harriet taught me to listen for the land and what it needs, not just to the land for what I need. The next time I drive that way I will stop and park and sit. I will feel whatever comes up to me and I will listen in to what the landscape is telling me. It is only through connecting to our most barren and deserted places, that we face the pain of what this world could become unless we take more care.