A lot of people seem to want to experience better “nature connection”, perhaps in order to feel a little less stressed or insane, or because they are worried about climate catastrophe. Quite right; this is a good urge. But it’s just as usual to be too busy to act on it much; efforts get nipped in the bud. Such is life. Here is a hack though, especially designed for winter use.
I am often delighted at how fascinated people can get in identifying trees. It seems that below the surface there is a simmering desire to better understand the things that accompany us every day. But other priorities soon take over, and these ubiquitous plants, deeply woven into the fabric of our lives and culture, remain strangers.
If life seems monotonous, it can often be because, shut away in rooms or cars and looking at screens or the back of people’s heads, we don’t notice trees, or how the seasons change. Stuck indoors, the face does not feel the natural elements playing across it. The month of May can be experienced as no different to September.
If disconnected from the seasons, it’d also be natural to feel disconnected from climate change, and therefore unable to care, or respond in any meaningful way.
Would it make a difference if making a few nature observations could become part of a daily routine? What if we could sharpen our senses a bit, and be less isolated from our environment? Notice the changes, understand the interactions?
If we are walking past trees anyway, why not stop for a moment and take a closer peek? This is generally an extremely advisable philosophy for life (unless you are a window cleaner). And right now, in the middle of winter, rookie naturalists who want to deepen their relationship with nature will be in for a nice surprise: it’s actually easier to identify trees in winter than it is in summer.
Low hanging fruit (or, to be more precise, buds) for fast-track friendship with trees are right there before your eyes, if you stop and take that peek.
Buds of different trees are vastly diverse, and even easier to tell apart than leaves. Stop and look! Don’t worry about what tree it might be. Just get to know the buds. Give them your own names:
Eventually you’ll get to know them as ash (the gateway bud to tree appreciation), sycamore, willow and hazel, but at first it’s best to just nod and say hello as you pass; you can learn everything about each other as your friendship blossoms over time. You’ll also notice how the bark differs, how the twigs grow, and how the buds begin to swell deliciously when the sap rises. You’re probably too late to tap the sap when you see the bud stir for the first time, but maybe you’ll make a note of when it happens and try harvesting some sap a little earlier next year.
Now people will think you are a pro, shockingly unfamiliar as we tend to be with trees. But all you did was say hello to the buds as you passed by. That’s how friendships are made, after all. That’s how connections happen, and how people start to give a shit.
Looking at buds, huh? Maybe there are more pressing concerns.
Or maybe it’s one of the most important things you can do right now.
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In 2020 you’ll find me running a number of programmes and events; click the links for further details:
- Wolf Pack: mentoring and adventuring programme for 13-16 year-olds
- Odyssey: mentoring and pioneering programme for 16-19 year-olds
- Feral Fathers: wild woodland weekends for fathers and sons, and fathers and daughters
- Green Men: monthly woodland gathering of fathers and sons aged 10-14
- Firecraft workshops at the Brighton Science Festival in February