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Annette

Right now, when an aspect of nature is causing so much fear and uncertainty, I still find myself turning to nature to feel a sense of calm, connection and perspective.

Lately, I have found myself thinking about this very humble plant that used to grow in the fields next to the house where I grew up. It’s probably one of the most common plants in the UK, but you have probably never heard of it, nor ever stopped to look at it closely. It’s not obviously colourful or exotic, it doesn’t have a beautiful scent and unlike Wordsworth’s daffodils, I doubt anyone is ever going to write poems about it. But it’s something I really love - and it’s called Yorkshire Fog.

Unless you’re a farmer or, like me, someone with a past career caring for wildflower meadows, you might not know that Yorkshire Fog is a type of grass. Unlike the coarse, razor sharp blades of marram grass I remember from the sand dunes of my childhood; Yorkshire Fog is covered in tiny, downy hairs making it very soft to the touch, lending it another common name, velvet grass.

Like many grasses, it also flowers. When opening to the sun, the crowns of flowering spikelets are reminiscent of a field of oats. Each stem is like a plush chord of grey-green velvet, ornamented with soft purple tassels, tickly to the touch.

If you were to ask me what I first remember about being in nature, I would say the feel of Yorkshire Fog as I run it through my fingers. It’s a feeling so familiar and comforting to me that whenever I glimpse it, I instinctively touch it. Then there I am - in the sunshine, playing freely in the fields near my childhood home; and I’m smiling.

All that comfort from a simple blade of grass.

Like the touch of Yorkshire Fog, it’s our senses - what we see, hear, smell, feel or (with caution) taste when in nature - that can turn an ordinary stroll outdoors into a restorative escape. The cushion of moss that springs beneath my feet; the deep, rough ridges of tree bark; the scent of wild garlic; or the pattern on a pebble that catches my eye. Absorbing myself in my surroundings, I can forget my troubles, at least for a while.

Nature, with its ability to capture my attention, is a plentiful source of contentment and curiosity in my life - and also provides endless opportunities for connection.

For instance, my fondness for Yorkshire Fog led to me discover its charming nick-name -  “striped pyjamas” - owing to its distinctive purple and white striped roots; and “Lanatus” (part of the scientific name Holcus Lanatus) means “wooly”. Amusing facts like these I can’t help but share with others.

Yet I don’t need to talk about nature to feel a sense of belonging. Just watching it reminds me that I’m surrounded by life of all kinds and I feel instantly uplifted.

I know I’m not the only one who has fond memories of nature; or feels better for having spent time in it. It’s something many of us instinctively do to relax and unwind. Indeed, research has proven that spending time in nature can indeed make us feel healthier and happier.

I imagine your own experiences are evidence enough.

At a time when a walk outside is one of the few freedoms we can still enjoy, I wonder what favourite memory of nature you will revisit? Or have yet to create? Nature can be found in even the most urban of environments, if you’re paying attention.

I wonder, what can you see when you really look?

What can you feel?

What can you smell?

What can you hear?

What can you discover that you didn’t know before?

Who can you share it with?

Perhaps you can go on a scavenger hunt like the one suggested here?

Or decide before you go out what 5 things you are going to find e.g. a twig covered in moss, a spikey leaf, a spring blossom, an insect, a songbird.

Perhaps set yourself a challenge to learn the names of 5 plants; or how about learning some bird song like the ones in this video

If going outside isn’t possible for you, there are still ways to connect with nature from inside your home. Here are some ideas:

  • If you have garden, spend time in it pottering or just sitting. Or perhaps put flowers where you can see them from a window.
  • Can you feed the birds or put out some water for them? The RSPB has some advice on bird feeding here.
  • Can you day dream out of a window and see the clouds in the sky? What shapes are they making?
  • Do you have a house plant you can tend to? Try looking at it from different angles and notice what patterns you can see.
  • Perhaps you can open a window and hear bird song outside? Or why not listen to the RSPB’s Bird Song radio, here?
  • Save a picture of nature as wall paper  on your desk top or take a virtual tour of the National Parks in America from the comfort of your sofa from this link.

Why not take a photo and tell us what you have found or share your tips? You can share them on our social media or by emailing us at contactus@health-in-mind.org.uk

In this uncertain time, rest in the certainties that nature offers. Nature will always provide opportunities to engage our senses, awaken our curiosity and create fond memories. And winter is always followed by Spring.

This blog was written by Annette Murray, Personal Tutor at our Wellbeing College in the Scottish Borders. 

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