Since we started hearing the awful news from Italy, it started to dawn on many people that we were also headed to a lockdown. And many people started finding their way out into nature. No wonder, as the internet is blasting out messages of how if one is not feeling sick, they should be getting out to nature because nature is good for you. And of course, they – the internets – are right. During these days, weeks and let´s face it, months of unusual situation, we should find our way out to nature daily.
Simple movement in nature – walking, biking, jogging – gets our blood circulating, warms up our stiff muscles and body on the whole. Walking in a greenery lets us relax our minds as we pay attention to the green around us and the fractal patterns of nature. Our minds relax, we let go of the nagging thoughts that bother us and our moods lift. The sky starts to show up a bit more pink after all. We start walking home, home to ourselves.
When we breathe in the healing and fortifying fumes breathed out by the plants and trees, our cells are strengthened. The forest soil reminds our internal microbial environment about the good and the bad guys trying to enter our bodies and trains our system to work optimally.
The flooding of humans to the nature domains and forests more than ever before is a worldwide phenomenon – my colleagues report the same from the United States and Japan. That is easy to understand – where before one´s energy was spent at work, commuting to work and picking up the children, many are finding their homes just a bit too confining. Not enough energy is burnt, and more and more messages on the endless stream of corona news starts to build a heavy weight on the mind too.
On top of getting rid of energy, we humans have a need to experience the wildness of nature and the sheer power of nature. Being able to follow a nesting bird, the first wood anemone or observing butterflies over blooming flowers is nature in action which gives us hope and a feeling that life goes on. That is a very important notion in these strange times when we are looking for answers and a way forward.
Nature domains are perfect places for this as one is able to get a feeling of untouched nature (minus the paved walking paths, signage and facilities. And the café at the parking). However, during this crisis, the domains are getting overly used. Green spaces in Flanders are scarce. If this housebound situation persist, the government will have no other choice than to start liming our access to these spaces, in the fear that we will be getting too close to each other on the forest paths.
So I´ve collected here some tips and hints on where to find your daily dose of green when the forest paths get too crowded. Remember, these should be found in your nearby environment or not further than a bikeride away:
- Check out your neighbourhood: now that there are less cars outside, even the busiest of neighbourhoods are bound to be more liveable. Take a walk in your neighbourhood, and even if where you live is not particularly green, pay attention to the colour of the sky, the way the sun makes different surfaces look; how on a sunny day you can feel the summer making its way to Belgium, regardless of corona. Pay attention to the birds in the city, the trees that are there. And take a moment to greet a tree in your neighbourhood. Imagine, if you will, all the services the tree is offering you in this city: it produces fresh oxygen without which you would seize to exist. On a sunny day it offers you shade, if you let it grow to become big enough where its shade can fit more humans underneath it. Using up some of the water and transpiring it into the air so that when we get heavy rains, it helps us to get rid excess water that would otherwise flood the paved city ground. And did I mention the phytoncides? They are out there, wherever there are plants growing. And who says you cannot walk after hours in your neighbourhood. Just remember your reflecting jacket!
- Try the slow streets in the countryside that offer nice and romantic sceneries of the Flemish countryside. Next to vitamin D that you will need to again boost your immunity and sunlight to regulate your sleeping patterns, there will be trees to look at, fields that are starting to push some green and more birds to pay attention to. Take a look at the willows that have been cut in the traditional way. These trees can hold so much biodiversity as they are often hollow from inside. Imagine how much life an old willow can keep within it, and still keep growing! That´s the beauty of nature right there. Visit the horses or cows you see on the pasture. Take a moment to observe their way of being. How has their life changed since you were ordered housebound? Pay also attention the countryside houses and the signs of the olden days that are often visible. Reflect on how life has changed from the times of your grandparents… I dare to say, life on planetary level has improved tremendously, regardless of Corona.
- Take a walk in the green neighbourhoods: in your city there are bound to be one or two neighbourhoods that are spectacularly green, with beautiful big, old trees surrounding the big villas. Most of the time, the soundscape in these environments is also pleasant as there are no busy highways in the vicinity. The air is again cleaner and your friends, the phytoncides, will be floating around that airspace too.
- If you live on the seaside or at a reasonable distance from the sea; the sea has a calming effect on the human, due to, some say, the fact that we came from the ocean and because water has always played an important part in any landscape we find especially soothing and pleasing (of course, for people who have experienced trauma in relation to water, this might not be the case). The sounds of the waves work wonders on our brain and help us to relax. A walk at the seaside with the sea gulls screaming above you and the smells and sounds can catapult you to a memory and holiday feel instantly. That itself is enough to give you a healing, relaxing experience.
- A garden: your own or a city garden. Though smaller in size, you can get the same feeling of wild nature when paying attention to a detail of a young shoot pushing from the ground. Take some mulch in your hands and smell it. There is something comforting about the smell too. What signs of spring are already visible? Can you remember or imagine what this space will look like after a few months when everything is in full bloom?
- How about planting some seeds? Some of the grocery stores sell seeds of tomatoes, cucumbers etc. and even bags of soil. Why not try to grow your own vegetable patch, in your yard or on the balcony or windowsill on small scale. Observing the start of new life and tending to baby plants can be a healing experience on its own. Plus, it gives you something else to do and think about.
- Just putting this out there: imagine if the private forest owners would make their private forests available to people, even if just on some mornings or some days of the week, with the same rules in place as on public forests, and visitors fully accepting own responsibility, we could make more green space available in Flanders. Just a thought…
My advice is to alternate between the places you visit so you won´t contribute to the crowds and you keep it interesting for yourself. There is no point in driving further than your neck of the woods. Nature is all around us. It is just a matter of noticing it.