For many years now, I have suffered with insomnia. According to doctors, it is due to having an overactive brain. This sounds a lot more interesting than it is; the truth of the matter is that when many people are comfortably dreaming at 2am, my brain decides it is the perfect time to try and see if I know all the words to the ‘I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General’ (I don’t, I never have done. I don’t know any more than that line) or pondering Alien Hand Syndrome or whether camel humps will be reduced if they are fed constantly in captivity or if I know all the dance move to the Macarena (I do, thanks very much Moulsham High School disco of 1999).This excessive activity spills over into my waking life too; I am always talking to myself or planning my next move.
I struggle to find that ever needed quiet.
This means I spend a lot of time searching for help to relax my mind. Of course, one of the many things that people recommend is mindfulness and meditation, but what I find so surprising is the amount of people that use a nature substitute to find this peace. If you do a basic search, there are a ridiculous amount of videos and apps which fake nature as a form of relaxation – despite the fact that in fact all you are doing is making the situation worse by staring at a blue screen. Nature is proven to have many benefits to our health; both physical and mental, and for me, this is true. Taking moments in nature is one of the only times that my brain is calm, quiet and the change is palpable.
Today was one of the first really warm days of the year. The sun was shining in a clear sky and there was barely a breath of wind. I was at work all day, so missed a majority of it, but managed to slip out of the office to take a walk around site, sneaking off to my secret undisturbed place for a while, in some woods where the Helford river goes from a stream and flows out into the estuary. I stood down by the rill, listening to the water rushing over the rocks on its march towards the mudflats. In the dappled sun, it was warm, my knees burning through my black jeans. As I stood, my ears tuned in and out of the surrounding sounds and movements and I heard a cacophony of activity; a bumble bee hummed as it went about its daily business, weaving in and out of plants across the woodland floor. The songs of different birds were being performed by individuals scatted around the tree tops, each trying to be louder and more attractive than the other, the songs mixing and jarring, set against the background bass of a woodpecker; the hammering of bark ringing out around the woods.
Despite the warmer weather, the trees were still bare, meaning that it was much easier to pick out each bird amongst the branches. Wrens and tiny willow tits sneaked from place to place, hunting for insects amongst the bark. Blue tits chirruped out to one another from the tree tops, swooping down to gather up nesting materials; moss, bits of feathers and leaves. There was so much activity today, as wildlife prepared for the warmer months ahead. The woodland floor still has many curled, dry leaves scattered, however the bluebells are nearly fully grown; they are yet to sprout flowers, but the plants are lush and green and plentiful. Soon, there will be movement amongst these shrubs. Lots of pygmy shrews will be here, known only because of the movement of the flora and the high-pitched squeaks as they encounter each other whilst snuffling for worms and grubs in the soil, leading to territorial tussles. For now though, the leaves stay motionless. The shrews are elsewhere; although where they go to fight off the winter cold and keep their fat reserves up I am not sure: they need to eat regularly and cannot store enough fat to hibernate so I presume there is somewhere more suitable than here.
When I did finally head back towards the office, I took my time, walking slowly, on the backs of my heels so that each footstep is as soft and quiet as possible. As I walked, the sun illuminated parts of the path as I weaved through the trees. The light glimpsed off undisturbed spider webs, woven between the trunks by an unseen arachnids. I spied two moths, no bigger than a few millimetres flitting around each other. In the distance, a large creamy-yellow butterfly, too far away to identify, floated by, its wings warmed by the rays. I slowed my steps to barely moving as I heard the sound of shuffling and through some brambles I saw a flash of red; my favourite bird. The pheasant eyed me as it took large strides through the undergrowth, elongating each step and stretching its claws with each footstep as though the floor was unpleasant. I watched for a while, it seemingly unperturbed by my presence, until I turned to continue my walk. The movement seemed to frighten it and it took off; like a sudden orchestral crescendo, bursting through the trees and soaring over the river to a nearby field, negating the air in that way that only gamebirds can – both graceful and awkward at the same time.
As I continued out of the woodland and up through the little meadow, everything about me was calm. I had not thought about anything but the moment; the light, the warmth, the colour, the activity. And even though everything around me had a touch of chaos to it, there was order and nothing was more relaxing than that moment.
Nature is restorative, and I know it is to be one of the few things that can change my attitude. At each point I stopped; taking it in, trying to make memories of each feeling my senses were enjoying. So that later, at two in the morning, when my mind would explodes with energy, instead of staring at a beach on a screen I have never been to, an ocean I have never tasted, a mountain top I have never experienced all whilst actually aggravating my already fitful mind with blue light, I can simply delve into my memory bank and transport myself right back to that exquisite moment of peace in the woods, where the sights and sounds are tangible and where the only thing I have to worry about is trying to take it all in.