We had a wonderful walk this morning, Stan, Gwen and I. Through the lanes and across the fields, walking from our doorstep into a haven of nature. Cow parsley lined the hedgerows and Birdsong filled the air , it was the loudest noise we could hear and quite an orchestra. Surely it was ‘song’ that I have heard many times before but not quite so clearly and not as loud as I am hearing it now, in this time of lockdown. .
Definitely blackbird tunes, and maybe blue-tit? I wasn’t sure and it’s made me want to learn the different birdsong so I can recognise them. Just like I recognise a voice that I hear coming up the street, or in someone’s garden , I hear it and I know who it is and that makes me feel connected to that person. I need to feel the same about knowing my birds and their unique song as they communicate their breakfast news to one another . This is a great example of ‘Vitamin N’ (Louv, 2011).
What is causing this effect? Why is my thinking stimulated so intensely on this subject? I’ve always needed nature around me so why now? I’m researching the effects of Covid-19 on people’s relationship to nature and now I feel the need to ‘nature journal’ and work through these transitions for myself.
These experiences it seems are part of being connected to nature – listening, but really hearing ,…it’s different. Russell et al (2013) determined ‘4 channels of human interactions with ecosystems’ to be ‘knowing, perceiving, interacting and living within’. My recent experiences fall within ‘perceiving’ , that is having a visual perspective of nature , seeing it and noticing it ; as well as ‘interacting’, that is to be having a direct experience with nature , often multi sensory ,e.g. hearing the birdsong. These are ‘somethings’ that I do daily in and around nature, so these repetitive, pervasive experiences are part of ‘living within’ a natural ecosystem and together the inter-relatedness of these ‘channels’ fine tunes me to my surroundings, connecting me to nature, giving me a sense of place ,…. as a part of it and not different to it. This ‘interaction’ is more noticeable at this current time of Covid-19 than I have noticed before. As a lover of nature, I always thought I noticed and interacted with it , but now there is a different feeling , a sense of reverence and ‘equality’. We are the same. We are important. We need to be cared for. We are no different, nature and I.
Human needs are perhaps no better known and defined than by Maslow (1943) and they have been foundational in exploring many aspects of human well being. These taxonomies have been expanded by many and Russell et al (2013) offer 10 constituents of well being that attempt to synthesise human well being and nature. These are:
1. Physical health
2. Mental health
4. Certainty and sense of control and security
6. Inspiration/fulfillment of imagination
7. Sense of place
10. Subjective (overall) well-being
So how do my experiences fit with this framework ?
In my noticing and interacting with nature on a daily basis I certainly experience positive effects on physical, mental and spiritual health. My stress level is reduced, my heart rate slows, my mindset is ‘grateful’ and I accept the fragility of the planet and human well being as concepts that are inter-dependent. One needs the other, being as one (Kumar, 2017). Humans are nature.
Sense of control could be negative in these times, sense of safety is jeopardised by Covid- 19 and so uncertainty pervades being part of a safe place, yet ironically when ‘in’ nature, a calmness can override the current climate.
Following time spent within nature, perceiving and interacting with it , creativity is certainly ignited. My thoughts are stimulated to developing areas of research on this topic to enhance my own learning, even to journal the thoughts about it – meta-cognition, and I am inspired by the ways nature changes my views, even to the ways I accessorize my home and my shed! 🌾🐝🌈
My ‘sense of place’ is heightened if I interact with nature; it seems we become ‘attached’ and this emotional connection lures us into caring for that ‘ place’, what lives there and why we need to protect it. This may not be as strong, if ‘nature’ is just thought about (knowing ) or just seen from a distance (perceived), but once there is direct engagement it is felt strongly and can link to our identity and purpose , who we are and what underpins our values. Being in my local natural environment gives me a sense of place and belonging and a responsibility to care for it . Sense of place and identity can be attuned sometimes to working for organisations or being part of voluntary groups that care for the environment and steward the planet, or perhaps simply nurturing your garden or plants on a balcony. Your sense of place, calm and purpose. How we connect can be different for everyone, I just think its important that we do.
Many researchers (Louv, 2008; Kudryavtsev et al, 2011) believe that engaging children in various outdoor experiences will facilitate relationships and develop a sense of place, in turn developing attachment to local environments and their communities. So this would seem a fairly critical point in time to be endorsing this approach and encouraging children to get outdoors and interacting with nature so that their well being is sustainable.
So, subjectively, my overall well being is enhanced by my daily interaction with nature, I’m inspired to think bigger and more positively, with ‘can do’ attitudes. I am gently guided by an inner calm to be more patient and tolerant of the foibles of life and I notice more, …. and I humbly respect that I am a small part of nature itself.
What a blessing to live where I do and to have access to the outdoors, I have a deep gratefulness to the depths of my being for that, because I know my relationship with Nature affects my well being and in turn my relationships with people and with God.
Kudryavtsev, A., Stedman, R.C. and Krasny M.E. (2011). Sense of place in environmental education. Environmental Education Research, 18 pp. 229–50
Louv R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin
Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychology Review, 50, pp. 370–96
Russell, R., Guerry, A., Balvanera, P., Gould, R., Basurto, X ., Chan, K.M.A., Klain, S., Levine, J. And Tam, J. (2013). The Annual Review of Environment and Resources . 38, pp473- 502. Available online at : http://environ.annualreviews.org. Doi: 10.1146/annurev-environ-012312-110838 (accessed 30th May 2020).