‘When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.’
I always dreamed of finding a way to work outside in nature, and after a long and circuitous route I found myself becoming a Forest School Leader. It incorporates many of my passions: the outdoors, nature, working with children and making time and space for stillness, awareness and nature connection. The stillness may be brief, but it is perfect in that moment, and I love to see young children happily engage in stopping and being, rather than rushing and doing. The ability to pause and be is innate in all of us, but it is in conflict with our culture that promotes busyness and accomplishment, and often people feel they must be doing something if they are to have any worth or contribute to society.
So how can we promote this notion of slowing down?
Since moving my work to the outdoors I now find it difficult to be inside for too long a period of time. I carefully choose where those indoor spaces are. I find shopping centres impossible, or any large building that does not have immediate access to the outside and fresh air. Hospitals prove challenging, not only for the heat and the crowding but also the inevitable radio or TV that is playing loudly to entertain those who will spend far too long waiting there. Corporate settings are anathema to me, the pace at which people are expected to perform seems contrary to our nature. And while I love to share food and drink with friends, many cafes’ noise levels are at decibels that would be more becoming of a rock concert.
So I return to the trees, to an environment where my senses are engaged, not assaulted. Where the scent of wild garlic reaches my nose before I even see the wide green leaves and their white blossoms, knowing their bitter taste is of the earth. Where the crunch of dry leaves beneath my feet or the susurration of new leaves communing with the wind, calms rather than enerves me. Where the touch of the breeze on my skin, the prick of the hawthorn, the softness of new growth holly, bring me back to my body. Where everywhere I cast a glance some new delight entrances me, the colour that spring brings, the sun shining though the trees or the flicker of a woodland creature who moves faster than the eye can focus.
Here, I can be still and I can wonder. I can let myself be, without worry or justification. I can be present, I can be open, I can be hopeful, I can be…
‘Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”‘
from “When I am among the trees” by Mary Oliver