It’s inescapable – many more people have been heading for greenspaces during the recent coronavirus crisis. It is reminiscent of the beaches at the first sign of a sunny day in Britain. It got to the point where authorities were having to step in and impose restrictions, because the crowds were making social distancing very difficult. Quite why this surge in interest has occurred is not entirely clear, except perhaps as a response to the possibility of us being stuck indoors for some time, but it does not explain why people have made a beeline for natural beauty hotspots in preference to their own local streets.
From a personal perspective, I have been able to spend much more time in my garden. Perhaps this is the first clue to our new behaviours. Our new daily routines – the working from home with its more flexible timeline, with no commute, the absent school run – help to make downtime in nature much more accessible. We can use the daylight hours to get outdoors.
I have spent some time trying to create a bit more space for wildlife in my garden; really immersing myself in a sense of caring for and nurturing the plants and animal visitors. This has touched on something precious. Away from the endless news cycles and social media, there is a deep peace. It feels as though there is a place to do something positive and helpful – meaningful even. Not that staying at home and slowing the spread of infection is not important work; it just doesn’t feel like much of a contribution – the TV broadcasts tell me I am saving lives, but indoors I feel impotent and no rational thought can shake that feeling of unrest.
In the garden the sense of isolation loosens its grip, moment by moment, until I forget that things are far from normal outside this little bubble. Occasionally I catch myself and a thought arises that there are people who are in very difficult circumstances who are not as lucky as me. These thoughts tell me I should feel guilty for feeling peace and joy, but something protects me from the stinging blows of such self-reproach. A different thought occurs – that I need to stay well and in a good place if I am to help others; that I can help no one if I am paralysed by guilt and anxiety.
I have also spent time just sitting in the garden, sometimes with a journal. How often do we afford ourselves this luxury on our endless to-do lists?
I am amazed by how much energy and creativity I am suddenly finding after months, years even, of seemingly treading water – just living in through the same routine. I am able to sit quietly and feel inspired by the trees and the birdsong. It is as though spring has sprung within me, my own bustle of activity mirroring the sudden bursting into life of the nature around me. The scientist in me looks for an explanation, a source I can cite for to validate my experience. My heart quietly says “just go with it.” Each visit to a sit-spot brings a new revelation. Sometimes it is a new treasure in the garden – the lesser celandine as its own personal sunshine under the shade of the apple tree. Other times I meet myself – a little life lesson lands in my lap, like the feeling of being accepted as part of nature and how this shows me a way that I can come to accept myself as I am, just like the tree at my back, which is exactly as it was meant to be, not striving to be better than it is or with any notion of “not good enough.”
Who of us can know what the future will hold? I have seen many conversations about the “new normal” and what this might mean, but I have found a beauty in the cracks of the present moment and this question takes me away from it. What I do know is that I do not want to lose the key to the door that leads to our garden and the magic I have found within.