We are still unpacking into our new home. And have just got to the box of pictures to put on the walls. As we started to unwrap the bubble wrap new eyes saw something we hadn’t realised before. Every family picture, indeed every image, took place in the outdoors. 40 images. All outdoors.
Do we never spend time in the house? Well, yes we do, and some wonderful memories there. And tucked away in boxes are the very lovely photo studio creations. But the ones that we chose to put on the walls were of beaches, mountains, hills and water. In part these are the happiest family memories and in part – like the pagan rituals of winter – we realised we were bringing the outdoors in.
And it prompted a debate. I have always been clear on the role that the outdoors has played in saving my life. Without it I have no doubt that my depression and anxiety would have overwhelmed. I know the evidence of the impact of outdoor learning and outdoor activity. But for me what exactly makes the difference?
A relationship with the outdoors is in many ways a deeply personal thing so this short piece on what it means to me might not speak to the love others have. But I hope that it might prompt others to reflect on their engagement with the outdoors and in doing so to develop further their partnership with the natural environment.
The outdoors – a love story
Because when you first look at a night sky it is dark. Deep darkness that can match the mood. But as your eyes adjust – one by one - tiny points of brilliance lift the gloom. Until you can see beauty above you and the world around you in a new and different light.
And those stars form shapes and the shapes come from stories. A girl from the estate doesn’t do the Classics – but Cassiopaea and Orion opened up a whole different world of reading.
And the science – oh the physics of it all. The creative minds of those who looked at the stars and thought ‘how’ led to a life-long love of wormholes and quarks.
Because when you plant seeds it is a statement of intent. A promise to be here when they grow. A leap of faith that you will survive your worst moments and smell the flowers again.
And those plants require you to nurture and care for them – and through them for yourself. And to understand that sometimes cutting things back – dead heading – is necessary not just for plants but for relationships and negative people (and Lord the satisfaction of clearing out the weeds…..)
And the art – oh the history of it all. Monet, Van Gough, Morris – not introduced through an art gallery but through the garden. Those Victorian scientists whose botanical drawings now cover my walls brought into my life through the allotment not the art class.
Because there are people who understand the answer ‘because it’s there’ when asked why they climb a mountain. And while my legs are weary and my weight is much the joy still of achieving the challenge – reaching the top if now only of the Downs not McKinley – still makes my heart pump (and not just in a heart attack way.)
And the feeling of air on the face, watching the trees bend in the wind, watching the sun set on the horizon – that they have all been there before and will all be there again. It’s peace.
And the numbers – oh the cleverness of it all. Grid references excite the data geek. And snails and flowers on the journey – was there ever more proof of some divine presence than Fibonacci.
And long before ecotherapy or mindfulness became ‘must haves’ didn’t we know that to smell the air after rain; to feel the wind on our face; to taste salt at the sea; to see the sunset and to hear the bubble of the river was to root us in the moment. Nature engaged our senses to push out yesterday’s memories and to crowd out tomorrow’s anxieties.
Because to engage with nature is both to know our power – to see the impact we can have and to know the responsibility we have to protect this great love of ours. But also to know our powerlessness. Canute tried and failed to stop waves. It reminds us that not all is our fault. Not all can be fixed. And yet life goes on.
Because to live the outdoors is to have a life filled with awe. To have awe is to have a strength to draw on when all other strength has faded.
Because I get that where you go changes who you become; I understand the quest for adventure; I know the peace of wild things. Because the outdoors is where I have learnt – about me, about people, about the world.
Because Oscar Wilde was right. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.