“Sometimes I stand on the porch and just stare, transfixed, at a mountainside that offers up more shades of green than a dictionary has words.” - Barbara Kingsolver
Our northern hemisphere spring is racing into summer. The hedges, woods and road verges have exploded in greenery from limes to apple green and aquamarine. It is a visual feast for the eyes, and this is before we even turn our attention to the patterns held within. The leaves are growing apace on all the trees, bushes and flowering plants, ready to take in the carbon dioxide and provide us with precious oxygen. I challenge you to be playful enough to find a tree and hug it! Give thanks for the important work it is doing to keep us alive and thriving. I gaze at the trees I am fortunate enough to spot within my day, give thanks and wonder at their life stories.
Last week’s blog post created a great debate and suggestions, mainly on my personal Facebook page and through messages, about people's favourite nature sounds. It produced a fascinating and fabulous array reflecting the diversity of sound that we can tune into, giving us pause and to fill up on much needed joy. I very much enjoyed hearing about the sounds that are special to you and I appreciate you taking the time to share them. I love the fact that many of the sounds we treasure are actually the sounds of nature trying to get it on! So often it comes back to sex in the end! One of the reasons I created this blog was to create engagement and community (though not necessarily to talk about sex!) so please do comment on here below each post, in that way it can be shared more openly and start great conversations.
Sound last week, and this week I turn our attention towards sight. For those of us who are fortunate to possess this sense it is a dominant one, giving us our main impressions of the world around us. In my part of the world, the West, we spend much of our time using our close up vision on devices probably between 15 and 50 cm away from our eyes. Just reflect for a minute and think about what we typically look at in an average day. In addition to time in tech, we can find ourselves in rooms of artificial light, with blue light high in energy coming from digital lighting. This light can affect our sleep patterns and give us eye and headaches. As a species we evolved outdoors in daylight surrounded by green. Green was good; it indicated water and therefore food, meaning we would not starve today. As Dr Qing Li, the eminent scientist from Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, notes: “Studies on effects of colours on emotions have shown that we find the blues and greens of nature most restful. They make us less anxious and reduce our stress. The greys of an urban scene however, have been shown to make us unhappy and more aggressive.” The blues and greens of this time of year beckon to us and make it easier for us to connect with them and feel the benefits.
It is not only the colours of nature that our eyes, and in turn our minds, find beautiful and calming, it is also the patterns. I had heard of Fibonacci numbers from my school day maths but only recently have I begun to hear about ‘fractals’. Fractals are patterns in nature that repeat at all scales, for instance a tree branches at the trunk, and then into smaller branches, then into twigs right to the growing tips. The pattern of branching is the same at all levels. We see these patterns throughout nature from weather to flower petals to pine cones. Like natural greens, we evolved with these patterns and so it is thought that we can process these patterns easily and so are restful to our brains. This has been proven by Dr Richard Taylor, a nanoparticle physicist at the University of Oregon, who in fact says our brains are hardwired to respond to fractals and that there is an easy congruence between these patterns and the neurons processing them in our brains. Taylor goes as far as to say that we need these natural patterns to look at for our wellbeing - which may sound a little ‘out there’ but its impacts are very concrete - and we are just not getting enough of them in everyday life. Time to put down that iPhone, switch the laptop to standby and get outdoors to expand our visual range; make like an owl and take it all in. Take in the splendour of the view, be it in a park, garden, meadow or woodland.
In opening our eyes and really seeing a natural view we can tap in to awe and wonder: something far bigger than ourselves, information rich and greater than our understanding. The body quietens down so that our brains are able to take in information from the environment. In this way, when our awe increases, our worrying decreases; our positive feelings increase and negative ones diminish. The scale and awe of nature has the power to stop us in our everyday tracks and allow joy to wash over us. So here is this week’s question, what is your most memorable or awe filled natural sight? Answers on a postcard, or preferably ... in the comments section below!
“At the end of the day, we come out into nature not because the science says it does something to us, but because of how it makes us feel.” Prof. David Strayer
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