There is nothing lovelier at any time of year than a walk in the woods.
Our old neighbour Mary lived with her husband Jer in a little thatched cottage that might have graced many a postcard of old; the garden before it teeming with flowers the old apple trees at the back hung with fruits in the season.
There was nothing Mary liked better than to reminisce of times past, her years in America, her eyes bright with remembrance when she spoke of them again. When she felt in need of a tonic, though, she invariably gathered nettles, cooked them and ate them as a side course. They were rich in minerals and vitamins and were good for the blood, she said.
Likewise, when we children were stung by a bee, we were told to rub the affected area with a dock leaf, which had the effect of soothing it there and then. Mrs Ruth, meanwhile, gathered the flowers of the elder and made them into a wine, the latter beneficial in the treatment of colds and flus.
These are just a few examples of how nature's healing was very much part of the fabric of life and living then. Like so much else in life, however, old ways and traditions have not only been reinvented, they have been rebranded, given fancy new names and titles into the bargain. The healing power of nature is now described as “ecotherapy.”
Despite this new terminology however, it is still based on age-old principles which recognise and respect the good at the heart of nature itself. One of my favourite quotes about nature comes from the American writer Wendell Berry: "I am not bound for any public place, but for ground of my own, where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadows of the woods."
There is nothing lovelier at any time of year than a walk in the woods. It is healing and restorative and calming too and all the more so in the spring: the scent of the evergreens woody and green, their deciduous counterparts waking to new life once more. Someone once wrote that there is no thought so tiresome, so burdensome, that one cannot walk away from it at least for a while.
It is a lovely sentiment and one that strikes, a chord with me time and again when I walk in the woods on ,a crisp spring day, the long light falling in slants through the trees. The herons and egrets coming and going from the estuary below.
The birds give a sense of rhythm, the measure of the place for their lives are governed not just by the seasons but by the ebb and flow of the tide. When I see the egrets perched on the fir trees, they remind me again of pictures in manuscripts, the pristine white of their plumage the perfect foil for the green of the leaves.
AS RACHEL Carson pointed out in her iconic book Silent Spring, it took billions of years to produce the life that now inhabits the earth. "Aeons of time in which that developing and evolving and diversifying life reached a state of adjustment and balance with its surroundings."
Essentially this means that life has been moulded by the environment, not the other way round, but now man has begun to alter the nature of his environment and his world.
It is as if we have broken faith with nature, our heedless, often reckless, pace of change in direct conflict with that slow and deliberate pace which has served nature so well for so long
Apart from the practical benefits of healing herbs and plants, there is, as I have said, the beauty, serenity and calm of the woods and the wilds and the waste places too.
Walking in the woods in spring gives us a wonderful sense of connection with the world around us, a sense of belonging that soothes the spirit and restores the soul.
The. Canadian poet, Robert Service, knew the feeling well "Yea, I am one with all I see, With wind and wave, with pine and palm, Their elements in me de fused to make me what I am. Through me their common life stream flows."
It is a lovely thought but one with a serious import, reminding us, as it does, that our lives are inextricably bound up with nature. Its fate will be Our fate too...
Robert Taylor urged respect for nature. One of the features of his thesis, which struck a chord with me, was that of kinship. We share the same origins as other creatures and so have ties of kinship with them. The same life processes brought all of us into existence and this is what binds us together..
Not only that Taylor argued, we are absolutely dependant on other. forms of life; without them we could not exist. We are part of nature: we are net superior to it. In recognising its inherent and intrinsic value we will be touched by its healing more and more. .
It is no great wonder then that I love walking in the woods so much, the spring song of the chaffinch from the bare boughs of an oak filling the place with delight.