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One man and his dog - and the healing power of nature

Poppy amid chamomile
She’s staring intently at the ground, eyes fixed, body rigid, ears up, head slightly cocked to one side, the occasional swish of her tail brushing the dust.

I’m looking back towards our small white fluffy terrier-like dog from further up the farm track, having realised she is out of sight - she’s usually well ahead of me, jumping through hedges or grass, or nose hoovering up smells along the path or verges. But not this time. Something has grabbed her attention, and held it, so I wander back slowly to have a look. She doesn’t move. I peer at the spot that seems to have her transfixed. Nothing. What is she staring at? I peer closer and there, hidden beneath the early blades of grass is a tiny, wiggling, furry red bottom poking out of a hole in the earth. It’s our first bee of the year. We both stay watching, transfixed by this miracle of nature - tiny and magnificent.


Common mallow
And this experience sums up the nature (excuse the pun) of the following weeks and months as I use this sudden gift of redundancy to get out into the natural world more, explore, experience, reconnect and heal - one man and his dog, with only the wildflowers, grasses, trees, insects and birds to bear witness to our walks which, for me, are to become a journey to recovery.


Cutza is our rescue dog, though my wife and I agree that we’re not sure who rescued whom. She has breathed new life into both our lives. Dogs have a natural curiosity and acceptance of what is that we humans could learn a lot from. Watching how she interacts with her surroundings, the clear excitement at the smallest thing, has taught me how to appreciate the wonders which we rather self-absorbed humans too often overlook in our too-busy lives.


Bee on clover
Dog walks and 30 Days Wild, a campaign run by the Wildlife Trusts to get people noticing, enjoying and sharing their experiences of nature every day in June (although it actually started budding in May and, because of its popularity, is still blooming) - both have contributed to my healing.


Bramble flower
A story I read many years ago told of a man who went to a counsellor complaining of depression - he found the world boring and lifeless. His counsellor, listening, then said: “Next week I want you to bring me two blades of grass the same.” Puzzled, the man went away, thinking: “Well, that’s easy.” The next week, he returned and, with a big smile, admitted he had failed. The counsellor was delighted.


The man had got through his depression by getting out into nature and observing the world around him - not just in passing, but really getting to know it, building a relationship with life.


Well, I haven’t got on to grasses yet - but my journey through wildflowers, mostly, and insects has reopened eyes, ears, nose, feet, fingers… and spirit to a world full of life I had forgotten existed.


Oxeye daisies and birdsfoot-trefoil.
What was, I think, most beneficial about wildflower hunting - apart from getting out in the fresh air and exercise - has been the degree of mindfulness engendered. Once you start to look, you realise there is simply too much to see, especially with Britain’s seasonal changes. Throughout the spring and summer it has been fascinating to observe the quintessential Englishness of queueing - the fairness of taking your turn - taking place even in nature. The banks, ditches and set-aside strips beside the fields were first full of ground ivy, red dead-nettle, then primroses, daffodils, cowslips, speedwell, stitchwort and early forget-me-not, cow parsley, bluebells… a field full of dandelions giving way a few weeks later to buttercups... and as I write, rosebay willowherb, knapweed and tufted vetch are in abundance. Of course, there are queue jumpers and those flowers which linger after their fellows have given way - nature never obeys boundaries, whether in place or time - she always flows, her rainbow of blooms changing gradually from one to another.


Orange-tip butterfly 
Watching the trees coming into leaf, too, has been a joy: hawthorn then blackthorn (although the latter flowers first), oak then ash - each slowly unfurling, like green bunting decorating the countryside in anticipation of the summer.


Chicory
And I found that as I looked closely at a flower, or a leaf, I’d spot another nearby, or an insect, a butterfly… and so it goes on, an endless walk of discovery. Nothing is taken for granted, everything is wondrous - from a wisp of cloud (probably cirrus) to the intertwining curves of a coppiced hornbeam, to the iridescence of a rosemary beetle. And identifying these wonders is more than just, for example, the colour of the flower - you find you have to consider the shapes and shades of the petals, the stalks, the shapes and arrangements of the leaves - the detail required means you have to be truly present with the flower, to notice the myriad subtle variations that can mean the difference between a hop trefoil or black medick, English or Spanish bluebell, hemlock or hogweed.


Common blue butterfly
And I’ve not even touched on the birds weaving their tapestry of song between the trees, the frog calls rippling across the moonlit pond, or the barn owl swooping soundlessly over my head and up into the canopy of the oak I was resting beneath. There’s such a lot to wonder at. Nature’s calendar is so much more exciting than those square boxes with dates we tend to use to map our days.

Of course, none of this comes as any surprise to Druids - we know the importance of nature. But I think it has only been through the eyes of a dog and with the blessing of time granted by redundancy that I have learned fully to appreciate this gift, awaken from the coma of busy-ness, and, through nature, find the healing that has brought me back to life.

View across the River Waveney from Norfolk to Suffolk


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