Archive for the ‘Natural World’ Category
I was going to begin with the line ‘I’m not a tree-hugger’ as if it were some kind of criticism, but actually, I am, and it isn’t! I am not your classic eco-warrior, protesting about trees being destroyed for roads, although sometimes I wish I had a bit more courage! I do have a ‘thing’ about trees though, and I think always have had. I was a tom-boy when I was younger (a lot younger) and climbing trees was one of my favourite things to do, partly because it was viewed as something slightly daring and ill-advised by my parents, but also because I liked the scuff of bark and branches, and the different perspective that height gave.
We had a huge garden at home, but sadly there were no trees. My mum was, and still is, intimidated by large growing things. I’m not quite sure why, but I think it’s partly a control thing. Like our Victorian forebears, she has a need to control nature, to make it conform to what she needs and wants from it, perhaps because there is so little else she controls in her life.
As a species we have a history of exploiting the natural world for our own gain. Scotland’s barren landscape is testament to that. The ancient forests may have been decimated before warfare took its toll, but the desolation is still manmade. There have been moves in recent decades at restoration, and education, and all to the good. I can’t help feeling that having more of a love of our natural world, in general, and trees in particular, might do more good. ‘Project Wild Thing’ is tackling one of the fundamental issues – our lack of connection with the natural world-and is encouraging young people in particular to engage with nature: to get muddy, to climb trees, to look in ponds, to realise that there is much more to life than an illuminated display and keyboard. Simply being outside is good for our health, and conversely, there is a good deal of research that now suggests the disconnect we have with our natural world is actually damaging our health.
I was at a workshop at the weekend, entitled ‘words for health’. Lapidus, the organisation running the event, believes that creative writing promotes mental well-being, and as a writer and artist, I would agree. The weekend workshop was about their new project ‘writing place’ which embraces writing where we are, and has real connections for those of us who live in the stunning scenery of the highlands. A sense of place has always been evident in highland writing, and the landscape informs our creativity in an elemental way. We did a lot of writing this weekend, and much of it was inspired by the stunning venue, Anam Cara, high above Inverness, set on the edge of forest. We were lucky to have a real ‘tree lady’ taking one of the workshops! Mandy Haggith is a writer based in Assynt, in the north-west highlands of Scotland. Her current project is ‘ A-B-Tree’and celebrates the link between trees and writing. It was an interesting and energising day, encouraging us to engage more with ‘outside’ and the words, and health, that being there promotes.
Currently about 13 million hectares of forest are cut down each year 1. Although there is some re-forestation, the net loss is massive, and includes some of the world’s remaining unique and pristine habitats: the five countries with the largest annual net loss of forest area in the period 2000-2005 were Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Myanmar (Burma) and Zambia. These forests cannot be replaced, and the systems they support are likely to be lost.
Even in the UK, the rate of loss is greater than the rate or replanting, and the truth is even we need more trees. We all know intrinsically that trees are good for us. Their leaves improve the air we breathe by trapping particles and releasing oxygen. Their roots help water travel deep into the soil, capturing pollutants and reducing flooding. By planting more trees we can capture more carbon and help species move in response to climate change. The world’s forests have been described as the ‘lungs of the world’, and I think that description aptly conveys their importance to life on earth. Without them we cannot survive long term.
OK, you may not want to go and hug a tree – though personally I would recommend it, it’s a life-affirming experience- but you could certainly plant a tree, or support one of the organisations who are currently engaged in replanting schemes. Wherever you live, your environment will benefit from a tree or two. I would also encourage you to get out there into the outside. Whether you live in a town, city or the countryside, there are green spaces where you can re-engage with your natural environment. Getting out of the office at lunchtime is a lot more beneficial to your well-being than playing Angry Birds, or updating Facebook! If you really can’t spare a few minutes, then make a point of getting out at the weekend with your family and appreciating the natural world. Trees are amazing natural sculptures, and some of them have been around for centuries. I guarantee you will be enriched by your experience.
If you want to be more involved with re-forestry, or need an excuse to get outside, there are lots of organisations who would welcome you as a volunteer. The Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission, and Trees for Life all have schemes you can get involved in.
For more information on Mandy’s project see her website: http://mandyhaggith.worldforests.org/a-b-tree.asp?pageid=336781
If you want to find out more about Lapidus, their website can be found here: http://www.lapidus.org.uk/ look at their ‘regional networks’ section for more information about what’s going on in your local area.
If you want to be inspired by some tree images, take a look at my pinboard: http://www.pinterest.com/drnaturegirl/trees/ and http://onebigphoto.com/worlds-most-beautiful-trees-photography/
Happy Tree hugging!
1 United Nations Environment Programme ‘Forests’ http://www.unep.org/forests/
I have an insane fear of fluff. Not any old fluff you understand, just the sort of fluff that gets left on the carpet, mostly of the sock variety. Thankfully most of my floors are covered in vinyl and laminate, rather than carpet, so it’s not reached the peak of ‘phobia’ just yet. It’s the fear of the ‘unknown’, I think; dark uncertain objects lurking on -or worse in- my carpet. It could be anything! Not anything hideous or harmful, but some unspecified ‘creepy-crawly’ : slaters, silver fish, carpet beetles, larder beetles, fur beetles, biscuit beetles, mutant bed bugs, all marvellously innocuous sounding. The point is, they are creatures from ‘out there’ and should not, to my mind, be ‘in here’!
I’m not arachnaphobic – if it’s a spider I’m very happy. I like spiders. Spiders kill flies (I HATE flies). Spiders may require relocating from the bedroom carpet, but they’re fine elsewhere, doing their spidery stuff. Other unspecified creatures I don’t have as much truck with. They need to go. They don’t have to have their life extinguished for the benefit of my irrational dislike of their choice of habitat, but they do need to be somewhere other than my boudoir floor; the space under my feet where I can tread on them at night, when I can’t see what I’m treading on…
Mostly I’m pleased to say, the unspecified objects are indeed sock fluff: dark threads, sinister blobs and bubbles masquerading as the dreaded arthropods. It can look amazingly life-like, animated even, by the light of a 15 watt energy-saving bulb at 10pm, believe me!
Of course the definition of a phobia is an irrational fear. Our caveman selves probably had very rational fears of what was ‘out there’ – the things that they had to share their lives with that they understood and feared because they might actually get them!
We are still sharing our lives with all manner of things, albeit less and less variety of creatures each year, and very few in this country likely to get us. We are still competing for food and territory, although we have a better understanding of our fragile eco-system, our necessarily shared resources. Or do we, protected as we are by manmade constructs, with only bugs on the carpet to fear? And there’s always that hoover in the cupboard…
I work in a sector where the colder days and dark nights are a cause of dread. If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or depression of any sort, the cold gloomy days ahead can seem interminable, and the fact that we’ve had a good summer this year seems to make it worse, by highlighting the contrast.
I’m the last person who would trivialise peoples’ anxiety about winter, especially those who have mental health issues, but I’m one of those people who are lucky enough not to suffer from SAD, and can see the benefits that the cooler days bring.
For a start, I love the autumn colour: Glen Affric in the autumn is a delight, particularly if you get one of those cold bright days, which we sometimes do. Who doesn’t like crunching about in autumn leaves and collecting conkers?
Admittedly I don’t like the cold – not one bit- so living in the northern most part of the British mainland may seem like an odd choice, but as Billy Connelly said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing’, so as long as I can wrap up and keep warm I’m happy to engage with the colder weather on my own terms! I love putting on my winter woollies, which my mum knits, and walking on a deserted beach; I actually really like seeing the first snow fall on the mountains, and watching Ben Wyvis, which I can see from my utility room, turn white at the summit. I even love crunching the white stuff underfoot and building snowmen (well, snow pigs in my case, but the point is the same). Also, I am in love with my wood burner. There I’ve said it! I will be delighted with the new opportunities this season presents to stoke up the fire. There’s something magical about being toastie-warm in front of a real fire, whilst it’s blowing a gale outside.
There are many other seasonal benefits to be had – the darker night skies provide much better opportunities for stargazing, and if like me, you’re lucky enough to live in a ‘dark sky’ environment you’ll appreciate the clear night skies at this time of year. The northern lights (Aurora Borealis) are also only really visible in the autumn and winter months, and although I’ve not yet had the privilege of seeing them, the north is one of the best spots in the UK to do so.
Food is always a pet subject of mine, and at this time of year there are plenty of seasonal delights from blackberries and other hedgerow food, to chestnuts, game and stews. Gone are the summer salads, in is hearty, wholesome, warming grub in extra big portions to give me energy for keeping warm: steaming piles of fluffy creamed potatoes, soups of every kind, stodgy puddings, and back on board are the lovely shellfish too.
I enjoy getting out and about, but the cold short days are also a good excuse to curl up on the sofa, in front of the fire, with a good book, or a good film, and not feel guilty. I do miss the exercise I get in the summer from gardening, but I can sit inside smug in the knowledge that all the tending has been done and my sprouts are doing their thing in time for Christmas.
I said the ‘C’ word. I’m aware it’s not something that sets everyone’s heart alight, but I do love Christmas and all the traditions associated with it: Candlelit carols, wrapping presents, sending cards, visiting friends and family, and all the food sights and smells that go with this time of year –the Christmas cakes, pickles, hams, cheeses, mulled wine, and all the Christmas spices. And let’s not forget the start of the citrus season too!
There are lots of things to enjoy as we move towards cooler weather, and of course, there’s always the spring to look forward too! Would we appreciate it as much, do you think if we didn’t have autumn and winter?