I say it a lot, but don’t take my own advice enough. Experiencing nature is about slowing down – stopping, in fact. The stiller you stay, the more you see. Nature confides when you’re not blundering through it. But that’s only half the story. The rest is attention. It takes mental effort to stand, orient, step and not fall on your face. Backroom brainwork for sure, but it still absorbs neural capacity, and so the best way to see is to sit.
The bench under the kitchen window is as good a place for this as I know. Three metres from the bird feeder, a bed of overgrown lavender and rosemary, a backdrop of grass too scruffy to be called a lawn and a wooded slope that limits the horizon to less than 100 metres. We’re lucky, I know it. In this space, if need be, we can exercise the dog and ourselves. We can feel the sun, listen to the birds, sniff the wind without fearing what the air might contain.
I settle. The dog dozes at my feet. In the dense matrix of rosemary stems I notice an ancient football we thought we’d lost, then furtive movements of dunnocks and a chaffinch, picking at spilt birdseed. A wren peeks. Robin sings. Long-tailed, coal and willow tits return to the feeder and tree sparrows skirr past in a small, hectic squadron. A blue tit alights on the wall of the house and begins inspecting every cranny in the stonework, pausing every second to check its surroundings with eyes black and bright as thought itself. Peer and scan, peer and scan. There’s another movement in the rosemary and I realise a young rabbit has been there all along – less than a collie’s standing-leap from the dog’s snoozing muzzle.
They are all stay-at-homes, I realise. Despite wings and swift feet, their lives will likely be lived wholly in the arena I can see now. They notice the overhead trajectories of crows, wood pigeons and buzzards the way I register a passing helicopter, clueless as to where it came from or where it might be going. For these little homebodies, this horizon is all there is. And I’m reassured it can be enough.