Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Knowing the territory

Ever since I was a girl I've enjoyed being able to name things in the natural world. Walking the woods and waste grounds of my childhood I would feel a flush of recognition and pride if I came across a tree or a wild flower that I knew. I don't know that there were a huge number that I recognised -  wild garlic in the spring, the oak tree and the bluebell were perhaps the only names that came easily to mind - but even this basic knowledge helped me feel part of that landscape. I felt I knew my neighbours.

There were all the usual special places and secret spots - up in the trees or in tangled dens beneath them - long summers were lived in these semi-wilds. I loved them without thinking and when one little patch of woodland was threatened by someone extending their garden, I was angry and grieved for the lost trees when they were gone.

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv talks about the need for children to be familiar with their own natural neighbourhood and the occupants of it before they can be expected to care about the earth on a grander, more abstract scale. Faced with the entire planet to worry about, we can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. When so much of our natural world faces extinction it makes sense to start with what we know and can name; learning to care about 'the environment' comes as a result of learning to care about our own backyard.

All this feels particularly pertinent in the light of the threat to ash trees. Having read this heartbreaking piece about ash die back, in which the writer gives the bleak view that most people are oblivious to the tragedy happening in our woodlands, this seems more true than ever. If it is the case that 'many people couldn't identify an ash' then what hope is there that they would feel any sadness for its loss? If the general feeling is that one tree is after all much like another, how can we hope to truly be of use to our ailing planet? Diversity is what makes this world go round. The exquisite uniqueness of literally every living thing on or under the surface of this spinning rock is what provides the wonder and magic of our existence.

My naturalist knowledge hasn't improved a massive amount since my early days scrabbling through tatty woods, but I continue to be an earnest learner and I'm trying to encourage a similar curiosity in my children.

This year, as Monty's legs have grown a little longer, we have spent more time walking, looking and gathering than ever before. Eli has become a keen spotter of wild foods and ash saplings and Monty has fully immersed himself in any berry-picking activities he's been involved in. They have become connoisseurs of dramatic skies and Eli often urges me to 'take a picture!' of a lovely view or a striking flower.

Helping them to know and love the play of light in the woodland, the eerie silence and bleak beauty of the moor, the brooding Pennine skies and the capricious moods of our Northern weather is a constant pleasure. Forging a connection with this place is the key to connection with all natural places, helping us to understand that 'the environment' is something immediate and necessary. No need for worksheets, a pair of sturdy shoes is all that's required. Together we map the seasons of our own backyard,


Molly - Mother's Always Right said...

Probably the most beautiful post I've read in a long time. I can almost smell the outside through your words and those photographs are stunning. Going to make a concerted effort to get out and about myself this afternoon to the lakes and woodlands at the end of our back garden. Thank you.

sue said...

Beautiful words and gorgeous photo's :)
Our children are lucky to be growing up surrounded by such raw beauty. x

Selina Gough said...

Thank you so much. It was a very beautiful walk and as I watch those children of mine fall in love with this place I am often moved. Thank you again for your generous comment and happy exploring!

Selina Gough said...

Thanks Sue. We're missing you two at the moment. Hoping you're both feeling well enough to have some adventures soon x

Melanie said...

Such a beautiful post, Selina... filled with that deep-down, magical essence of connection to the earth and to our identity of place. So wonderful to see it take root and unfold in our children isn't it; to see it alight in their eyes. My daughter is fifteen now, and I see it so embedded in who she is and in how she reacts to what's around her - and in how she speaks the names of trees, flowers, birds etc - as words so close to hand, they are like breathing.

I'm trying to catch up with myself a bit today - and returning to and reading your recent blog posts has taken me into a magical breathing space... thank you.

Selina Gough said...

Ah Melanie, thank you. Yours words are so carefully chosen as always. Love this - 'as words so close to hand, they are like breathing'. I really wish this for my boys.

So pleased that you've found some peace here!

Coombe Mill said...

There is something quite magical about the space and freedom of the countryside. Being our children up to enjoy it and respect it is a challenge these days when parents fear for safety, dirty clothes and a loss of interest in nature. Organisations like the National Trust and The forestry commission are doing a great job of reintroducing us to the countryside and all the joy it can bring. Your post is an inspiration and just what Country Kids is all about. thank you for sharing.

sustainablemum said...

Maybe the loss of connection is due in part to the fact that most people live in cities which do have some open spaces but nothing like what we have on our doorstep. What you cannot see, smell and touch is out of sight out of mind. It is sad but if we all lived in the countryside there would be less wide open space for is to enjoy. Thank you for sharing your lovely words.

Selina Gough said...

Thank you. Yes the natural world has much to offer us all and I feel that keeping that connection alive is essential to our collective future well - being.

Selina Gough said...

I don't know that we all do need to live in the countryside to have connection with nature. Even in urban areas there are wild spaces to discover and know. I feel really strongly that all children need to find special places to feel their kinship with the natural world. It is however much harder I think for people to access it when it doesn't surround them. My hope is that we will start to understand this love of nature as fundamental to our well-being and survival and find ways for all children to connect with the wild.

Thanks for your words, they got me thinking!