How to keep sane #1: get out of the house and into nature

thumb_IMG_6248_1024thumb_IMG_6240_1024thumb_IMG_6252_1024thumb_IMG_6261_1024thumb_IMG_6262_1024thumb_IMG_6244_1024thumb_IMG_6269_1024thumb_IMG_6256_1024thumb_IMG_6284_1024thumb_IMG_6286_1024Disclaimer: this is not a scientific, medical tip. It is just what I have learned from my experience, and what may be helpful to some others.

I find that if I spend too much time at home, I get the blues. I become lethargic and cranky, I turn to food and bed and the telly, and pretty much give up on life. I get very down, become introspective and pessimistic, and I begin to think that this state of affairs is the only reality and everything else that is going on elsewhere is fictional.

In November, when I was completely overwhelmed by my brother’s sudden death in September, I got myself a dog. I had wanted a dog for so long, and I now began to see that if I didn’t get one, I was set on a downward spiral and I feared I might never get out. I had put off getting a dog for years because of my non-dog-friendly living situation (rented accommodation, working full time, no private enclosed garden, living in the city), but need overcame scruples and one evening I found myself in Carnoustie of all places buying a scrappy little force of nature that wouldn’t stay still for two seconds together.

The next months were difficult, to say the least, but I knew that if my puppy and I could just hang on until the end of March, we would then be able to live in better surroundings. I planned to move back to my mother’s house so we could be company for each other after everything that had happened, and this would mean that my puppy and I would be in a house with a dog flap leading to a good-sized enclosed garden, with two other dogs to play with and a multitude of hill, forest and river walks to explore in the surrounding countryside.

Roll on seven months and life is so much better. Morag (my puppy) loves it here, and so do I. But I notice that unless I keep up a rigorous schedule of proper walks, out in the countryside, I very quickly relapse. Getting out of the house is so important – vital, in fact. I do feel that being outside in the natural environment gives me a kind of sanity that I just can’t get indoors. It’s a kind of medicine and I can’t do without it.

These are some of the things you can do by getting out of the house and into nature:

  • Breathe fresh air
  • Get your body moving
  • Feel rain, sun and wind
  • Appreciate the sounds, sights and smells of nature
  • If you have a dog, learn from his or her excitement and curiosity at being out in nature
  • See what you can collect. I find feathers, stones, shells, sheep’s wool, skulls, flowers, chestnuts … the list is endless. You don’t have to take them home with you (and definitely don’t pick flowers to take home) but it is very helpful to focus on specific things. It trains your mind to be curious about things outside yourself and appreciative of the variety and intricacy of the world around us. I love coming across pigeon feathers like the one in the photo. They have such a beautiful, clean white edge, like delicate white piping on a grey silk shirt.
  • Stop and watch other animals, even if they are as common as sparrows. I love to stop and try to follow the movements of a certain bird or animal. You can learn so much about how it lives by doing this. Once I came across a squirrel and I saw it opening nuts on a bit of flat surface of a fallen tree. All about it were the shells of nuts from past suppers. It was a squirrel’s dining table in the forest!

Even if you live in a city, there are places you can go. Most cities will have parks and if you are lucky there might be a botanic garden. Cities on the coast usually have a promenade, or there might be a riverside walk. Smaller cities might have accessible countryside close by. It’s not as easy as when you live in a small town or in the country, but it’s still doable. And it’s free.

If you have a dog then the dog will make sure you go out. I get out so much more than I used to, because I have a responsibility towards Morag that I can’t shirk. If you don’t have a dog then you will have to exercise more self control and get yourself outside on your own. It’s hard, I know. I wasn’t very good at it. I’m naturally lazy and will curl up indoors at every opportunity even when I know it ain’t good for me.

P.S. If you feel like criticising me for having Morag on a lead in the photos, please hold it in. Morag is getting better at recall but outside of the confines of the park she can’t be trusted not to disappear in chase of sheep, deer, rabbits, pheasants etc. When she gets the scent of a creature it’s like she sees red and then she’s completely oblivious to anything else and won’t come back for hours. I just say this to forestall any comments about cruelty in keeping dogs on leads. People walking biddable labradors and spaniels have told me it’s like keeping her in prison. My answer is that she gets plenty of running off lead in pursuit of other dogs, pigeons and crows in the park, but outside she has to stay on the lead for her own safety and the safety of livestock, wild animals, and not least herself.


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