Winter: ‘tis the season!

 In Nature & wellbeing, Volunteering

“The feeling that is pretty general among people of the average sort is the country at this season is a place to be avoided: empty, dull, without any interest. All the pretty little flowers and butterflies have disappeared; the birds are silent; the trees are bare poles and the woods are damp and gloomy. This is the accepted notion: but whenever you have the chance…go forth and prove to yourself how absurd it all is. We must not expect to find snowdrops in October or blackberries in spring. Everything has its season for display; and we cannot learn the story of the year if we read only eight or nine of its twelve chapters.” – Edward Step, 1930

I think this sums up what winter has felt like in the past for me. It’s is a hard time for many – often bleak and oppressive – it is hard to see the end in sight of the dark and cold days. But, having begun this year volunteering with Blackdown Hills AONB, my attitudes and approach seem to have changed much more in line with Edward’s proposal. Being amongst nature in all weathers and through the carrying seasons, you begin to glean what unique quality each season brings. This is new for me – a renewed hope from the confidence and optimism nature sets as an example. Simply walking outside, amongst the woods and the trees, you find all signs of life; lichen, fungi, buds, ivy, mistletoe, Robin’s, grey wagtails, tree creepers are among the few examples on my recent wanderings.

It is through time volunteering with the AONB that I have discovered a love and passion for the healing qualities of our beautiful landscape and the desire to want to share the experience with others. Something we all deserve is the right to access freely and enjoy our local greenspace and natural environment.

Through the excellent work of the AONB’s volunteer coordinator and Nature and Wellbeing project officer, more and more people have come to experience positive health and wellbeing. This year has seen a number of projects build momentum. Spending  time with families from the Halcon estate during school holidays, for example, has brought with it plans in the new year with the Forestry Commission: ‘Wild Days’ will spend time at Culm Davy in February half-term, and there are more plans to follow in the rest of 2018. It has been a great privilege to participate with the project.

It has been great to see families coming together to play – with no expectation or boundaries as to what they can do – and, in doing so, learning how to interact with the environment around them. I have observed and shared in laughter and a sense of creativity. There is a hope that this love and energy for the outdoors will grow as barriers slowly fall away – building new links for future generations.

I was also privileged to attend a ‘Wacky Wednesday’ event with the Wellington1 team during the summer holidays. Despite the groggy and wet weather (and yes this was summer!) there was a brilliant turn out – a small bus full of eager families to learn and be inspired by a range of projects/activities. Kristen (our Nature and Wellbeing project officer), Fern (here on a work placement) and I delivered a nature-inspired activity making homemade bird feeders. It was a messy business but it was worth it. One great thing was seeing what one young boy found simply by going off the beaten track. The intention being to see what nature he could find from our spot sheet, only to return with a lizard in his hands.

That is what being in nature is all about and what I have learnt from the families we have worked with. It’s about forgetting the rules; simply playing and learning, making it up as we go along, reconnecting with our young selves and rediscovering imagination. For the parents, they have said how it allows them to ‘be’ for a while as well, away from home life and pressures.

So, if you have a hope or goal for the new year make it to be inspired by nature and get out there and explore – maybe even sign up to volunteer if you can.

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