The first principle of Permaculture, an approach applied to design, utilise, manage and improve opportunities for a sustainable future, is to “Observe  and interact”. It’s been a few weeks since the Nature As Co-therapist course which was held at Keele University and it seems that that is exactly what I have been doing.

Yes, I have been insanely busy, and feeling bad that I hadn’t “done my homework”. What I didn’t realise was that the entire time, I had been doing it just in a different way.

I LOVE spending time in nature, as do many people, but when I think back to my childhood, I realise how differently I feel about nature in general now to the way I did back then.

As a child, I had an obsession with water. Any water – bath-time, swimming (Dad: “Come on Kate, it’s time to go.”, Me: “Oh but Daaaadd! Just 5 more minutes!!!”), walking by a canal, lake, pond, marinas and of course the seaside. Any kind of water. I loved being submerged in water and only later realised that this is the only time in life, other than when we are in the womb, that our entire body is in contact with something you can physically feel. Every inch is touched. Such a soothing sensation. Most would probably say that this indeed does link back to the time we spent in the womb. Perhaps it is. “Why” is unimportant. The fact that it provides such a soothing, calm and peaceful sensation is what matters.

And so my observation links to this childhood obsession with water, in that we have had so very little water this past year. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t do well when it rains. I find it depressing and will be the first to complain if it is grey miserable and wet (my obsession with water, stops at going out in the rain!). However, I have indeed noticed, with a heavy heart, how lacking in rain we have been and I can’t help but think how much nature as a whole is struggling as a result of this.

Over the last 10 years or so, I have observed and subconsciously (I suppose) noticed the often small and sometimes more noticeable changes in climate, nature, growing patterns, reproductive cycle of animals and seasons. This is the first year that I have had a truly heavy heart, with worry, that we are steadily reaching the “point of no return” with regards to our impact on the earth and climate change in general. Yes, many people do not necessarily believe in global warming and think that it is scare mongering or the like, but through my own observations, I can quite evidently see that things are changing and not necessarily for the better.

I’m not the only one. A growing number of people are being recognised as suffering from what has now been termed, by professionals as “Eco-Anxiety“. Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, tells of how initial work with clients can demonstrate a shockingly minimal amount of spending time in and around nature, revealed through “nature journals”.  “Some patients find they spend less than 15 to 30 minutes a day outside, other than walking to and from their cars,“,  “Eco-Therapy for Environmental Depression“, B. Walsh (2009) TIME Health.

Whilst this might seem a simple ‘fix’ consider the increasing research which supports the benefits and value of spending time in nature be that through gardening, walking, hiking, swimming (yes even wild swimming!) or a picnic, it all helps.

When going on the Nature as Co-therapist course at Keele, we went on a lovely nature walk around the grounds of Keele. Keele Unviersity is set on the top of a rise with splendid views that on a clear day, allow you to see much of Staffordshire.  We took in the sites of Keele, as I had done a fair few times before, and soaked in what Nature had to offer us.

More recently, I did something quite similar although… more extreme, if you like. We went with Flossie to the Malvern Hills, where we walked up a very muddy, stoney and uneven incline. We soon came to an old quarry where, (I’m assuming due to a lack of waves…) Flossie promptly got into the water. Quite a surprise for me, not to mention shock, due to the dangerous nature of the quarry bank which is very unsteady. After a brief, icy dip, we then proceeded uphill, not without emphatic and audible puffing and panting on my part, where we met a fair few fellow canines and their humans.

All the while I couldn’t help but notice the odd defined branch on the ground and the various wonderfully shaped leaves and their stunning warm, gold and red colours. It’s at times like that that I wish I had another pair of eyes to take in everything that was around me! So much to see!

At the top we were blessed with clear skies and a very clear view which stretched as far as the eye could see. Fellow ramblers, complete with rucksacks, hiking boots and other professional bits’n pieces, passed us and ‘rambled’ on, with determined strides. Ramblers on a mission!

We decided to veer right and erm… see where that took us. I suppose the intentions were pure enough… nature, the lie of the land and whoever put those damned fence-posts in, had other ideas and we soon ended up quite er… lost. At one point we saw a landrover bouncing (literally) along what could be described as a road but we were on the other side of the fence. It was only thanks to some adventurous gymnastics, that both of us managed to get over the fence, unharmed and without harming the fence and then my partner lifted the fence with superhuman strength allowing Flossie to come through.

The adventure was NOT over! Trying to find our way back to somewhere recogniseable led us eventually to a house and another landrover where we could ask for directions (“Phew!”), head back with the thought of a warm pub and a well-deserved pint of ale on our minds! En route, Flossie decided that it was time for a drink… in a landrover track that had filled with a lot of what once had been water but resembled watery clay and promptly sat down in it. So nearing the quarry, she ended up with a second dip although this time with her lead on. (The ball she had lost in the quarry on the way up was also rescued by my partner so Flossie loved him even more… “BALL! BALL! BALL! BALL! He saved my ball!!!! Hero!!!”.

And so, a leisurely stroll in the Malverns turned into a hiking adventure which we survived although the bramble scratches (Ouch!) have helped to tell the tale too! A comment my partner made has stayed with me… “Where’s the nature loving girl gone?”. Good question. Whilst such an adventure, hike or even outdoor experience would have been completely out of the question when I was a child, I’m more than happy to give it a go now. As they say “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” and that stretches to bad clothing for certain circumstances… Note to self: Cotton trousers are NOT good for wading through brambles! Next time, I will be MUCH better prepared!! I suppose I will be honest and say that I was more annoyed with myself for not being better prepared for such an adventure! Sorry!

Over the past few days, nearing the next part of our course, I did something I’ve never done before. I thought poetically about nature and this came to me (I’m sure everybody will have their own version of such thoughts):

Nature is…

Wading in streams,

wiggling your toes and burying your feet in the sand,

catching snowflakes on your tongue,

kicking leaves,

watching raindrops slip down the window,

walking the dog,

dipping your toes in a lake,

standing on the shoreline, feeling the waves brush your legs,

running your hand along a bush as you go past it,

watching a rockpool with the excited eyes of a child!