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A fairy good way to learn about nature


We basked in rainshine dripping through leaves, then bathed in streams of sunlight - from the delicious squelch of mud to the dazzle of dawn dew, Britain’s ever-changing weather wove its glorious magic around the Fairy Fair this year.

Walking among the enchanting woodlands at Holt Hall in Norfolk and blessed by raindrops slipping through the canopy of greens, I found my soul-feet again on the sacred path of feeling alive... step by awakening step.

Nature loves to be touched, body and soul, and it is by caressing her with each footstep, each breath, each fingertip on bark, that we find ourselves back in intimate touch with the inmost part of ourselves - the space where possibilities dwell, the well of inspiration and deep connection.

Many years ago, I would camp in a field with about 100 fellow rat race escapees for a few days free from TV, radio and other electronic interference. We would dig our own toilet, gather and chop wood to cook over a campfire, collect water, explore the woods, enjoy the company of some of the most spiritually beautiful people I have ever known, share mud baths, sing, tell stories, dance and play music beneath the stars.

It was at one of these liberating camps that I first walked barefoot on hot coals. Firewalking is an exhilarating experience which I have since drawn upon to learn better how to engage in the seemingly more mundane act of earthwalking (an activity we too often take for granted, dashing past meaningful moments as we pound from A to B). My son and I have been learning to earthwalk together, taking one mindful step at a time, heel to toe, feeling that each step is different, no step the same, each curve in the ground, each tickle of grass. Cares soon fall away.

In my youth, I would head off across the fields near home with Sam, my faithful companion - a black labrador with the patience of a saint and the beauty of spirit of an enlightened being. It was especially on these walks that I bonded with nature. Such early experiences can sow the seeds that grow into a love of the natural world. And when we love someone, we want to protect them from harm.

This is why events like the Fairy Fair are so important for our survival as a species and as humane beings in touch with ourselves and the earth. They encourage conservation by helping children to appreciate the magic of nature and, maybe even to love her. Such love is her, and their, best chance for survival.

The Fairyland Trust runs this weekend of good, old-fashioned, natural fun where the youngsters (and young at heart) can explore the wonderful woodland and lakeside, build dens out of sticks and leaves, learn about trees, and take part in workshops where they give free rein to their creativity using mostly recycled and natural materials. In the years that we have been, children have made “wizard shields” from willow withies and decorated with symbols of native animals – stoat, owl, badger and hare – while learning about them; “magic wands” where children learned about trees; and “magic potions” (healing plants). These and similar workshops engage the children in fun, hands-on activities while they discover the natural world around them. There are also walks around the woods, with signs highlighting trees and flowers and bearing a few words of natural history or folklore – just enough to water the seeds of their interest without swamping them with facts. And there was a garden where you could smell, touch and taste some of the plants. My son and his friend loved it.

Learning about the environment in a classroom or from a book has a role, but you can’t beat getting out among the trees and flowers and undergrowth, beneath the wide open sky, to open children’s (and re-open adults’!) eyes to life’s natural magic.

Earlier this year, the organisers behind the creation of a community orchard near us had a wonderful idea: each family in the village planted a “family tree”, trees which will grow as the children grow who helped to plant them. Over the years, as they tend to their trees, it is hoped that they will feel a deepening connection both with their family roots and their natural ones.

Conservation is a matter of life or death for the human race – it is not an optional extra, but essential for our survival.

It is important to draw people’s attention to the challenges of climate change, the destruction of the rainforests, loss of meadows and woodland, pollution of the oceans, extinction of species and many other environmental crises that face us and the planet we have borrowed from our children.

But, more than anything else, our future lies in our ability to awaken in young people an appreciation of the wonders of the natural world – so they value it for its own sake, physically, intellectually, spiritually and, perhaps even more importantly, from their hearts. Because, if you love something, you are more likely to care for it. And by developing a relationship with the natural world, maybe the earth’s future custodians will see her less as a source of raw materials and more as a living being worthy of love and respect.

The priceless experiences of my youth planted in me an acorn of respectful gratitude towards the earth and all her children - animal, vegetable and mineral - which has grown with each passing season. I hope a similar acorn was planted in the hearts and minds of the children of the Fairy Fair (and the community woodland) which will grow into a lifelong, life-affirming love of nature’s magic, inside and out.

My son put it beautifully one day while he was helping me to water the plants in our garden. He held up his hand and with a beaming smile said: “High-five for nature!” If every child becomes so excited about the natural world and keeps that love alive into adulthood, then humanity may after all have a future.

To find out more about the Fairyland Trust, visit www.fairylandtrust.org.




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