Five simple ways to reconnect with the wild outside...
"A real sense of wild is engendered by awareness, a sense of connection and a deep understanding of any landscape. A real sense of wild can come from relearning the keys to accessing that deeper sense in any landscape. The pavement of any city side street wriggles with enough life to terrify and delight us if we choose to immerse ourselves in it.
- Tristan Gooley, Wild Signs and Star Paths: The Keys to Our Lost Sixth Sense
Whether we realise it or not, we all have a deep physiological and psychological connection with the natural world. We just don't tap into it very often. Busy lives lead to little time for noticing the wild outside.
For many of us, lockdown changed that. When the edges of our usual routines were yanked tightly back towards home, those tiny - and not so tiny - lives that shared our now much smaller sphere of existence - started to interest us again. We started to reconnect with the natural world. An hour's exercise turned into time best spent taking note of how the flowers had grown, where the birds had built their nests and which way the wind blew that day.
We need to nurture this newfound awareness and connection with life outside, and guard against losing that sense of rhythm and understanding of patterns and cycles that we've spent the last year relearning.
I often use the term 'rewilding' in my writing and work. It is a term that was first used in wildlife conservation - referring to the restoration of land to a wild, uncultivated state, and including the reintroduction of native plant and animal species. What I'm keen to focus on here though is this beautiful rewilding of ourselves that's taking place - the gentle reintegration we are all experiencing as we rebuild our awareness and appreciation of the wild world.
Here's what I have found helpful in my quest to reconnect with nature. Why don't you give some a go?
1. Learn to ID your trees: a number of years ago, I set myself the challenge the learn how to identify trees quickly and easily in winter. Not an easy task when it's all about bare twigs and there's a total lack of leaves! There's several things I did to help myself along the way though: a) Research the area where you are walking - you'll find that most parks, woods and areas in the local countryside have websites that teach you the history of the landscape. If it's been coppiced then you'll expect to find Hazel, Ash and Lime, if it's been designed and created by the Victorians you'll often find Plane and Chestnuts trees! It helps to narrow down the contenders when you first start guessing! b) Free apps like that of the Woodland Trust and Flora Incognita are really helpful and simple to use. c) Collect evidence from the area - leaves beneath, twigs, bud shape, bud arrangement, overall profile of tree, sucker growth, shape of boughs...before long you'll be keyed right in and people will be looking at you wondering what's so interesting! I now greet my local trees like old friends - it feels great to have worked so hard to get to know them, and there are plenty of secrets still to learn.
2. Connect the trees, plants and creatures you encounter with stories. There are several ways to do this. I love listening to podcasts and I usually go for something like the lovely 'History and Folklore' or Icy Sedgewick's 'Fabulous Folklore'. Often, these brilliant little podcasts run episodes that focus on aspects of the natural world and it's here that you can find some fantastic little nuggets of story-orientated info that will help you memory tag / remember the names of particular plants, trees or creatures. My 'Fairytrails' page on the website can also help with this!
3. Read books that draw together stories and outdoors. I really recommend having the following on the book shelf: Jo Woolf's 'Britains Trees: A Treasury of Traditions, Superstitions, Remedies and Literature', Sara Maitland's 'Gossip from the Forest', Lisa Shneidau's 'Botanical Folktales' and 'Woodland Folktales', Robert MacFarlane's The Lost Words' and The Lost Spells', Lia Leendertz's 'A Seasonal Guide to 2021' and the Treadwell Book of 'Plant Magic'. Before long, you'll find yourself sharing all sorts of interesting titbits with whoever happens to be out on a walk alongside you! All great for helping you remember the plant/tree and understanding our connection with it!
4. Get practical with natural materials. I loved learning how to whittle a spoon, make natural cordage and weave baskets, bowls and mats. To get really good at each of the above takes time and the guidance of experts, but even just having a go and learning to process natural materials at a basic level is exciting and enjoyable. On our She Can Do Wild retreats, we show the women who join us how to sustainably harvest natural materials, how to make nettle and bramble cordage, how to weave sedge mats for our fire-baked bread, and how to have a go at shaping their first spoon. It's wonderful to watch how this hands-on interaction with nature relaxes and inspires us all. So, when you are next out with the family...how about telling them the tale of the Swan Princess and then harvesting some nettles to make string together (a shirt might be a bit ambitious?!) There's lots online to help guide you.
5. Learn to forage for wild food - safely! There are some fantastic foraging courses out there and I really recommend taking some time out to enjoy one. Even if you don't feel confident enough to get cooking yourself, it's a wonderful way to learn about how plants used to be used (and still are in many cases) in both medicine and food, and it's a great way to remember the trees and plants we often encounter each day. Did you know that you can eat the whole of the dandelion plant? Or that lime tree leaves taste lovely in a salad? How about that one single leaf of a nettle is like popping an entire Greek salad into your mouth - with all the flavours you'd expect in attendance! We talk about wild food on our retreats and enjoy freshly foraged teas and ingredients throughout the weekend. But remember - foraging is definitely something to do when you are confident you will get it right - there a plenty of plants out there that need respecting and avoiding.
It doesn't take much to reconnect with nature and the result is that we often discover that this rekindled relationship can help us navigate our busy, modern lives. It's often not even that this knowledge wasn't there in the first place, most of us have just forgotten how to get in touch with it. Rewilding is a path toward remembering. We can all - definitely - do wild!