For much of 2016 I’d wake and for a split second all would be well: energy flooding through my consciousness and then into my limbs, aligning me to seize the day in a ‘can do’ and positive manner. And then I’d remember. A deep-seated feeling of despair and nausea would assault my core. I’d check my phone obsessively for the latest celebrity death, shocking political development, post-truth outrage. I’d find myself snapping at my children whose petty sibling squabbles proclaimed entitlement not empathy.
I became closed down, emotionally distant, taking refuge in such opiates of the people as Olympic triumph and Strictly. Of course there were many moments of joy – on holidays, at festivals, with friends and cherished family.
It is small comfort that all agree last year to be horrible. My progressive values – the protection and nurturing of the environment, political and socio-economic equality, education for all, making the world a better place for our children, compassion, and belief in the kindness of strangers – are undermined and rejected. I have been too comfortable and complacent in my middle-class urban bubble, dubbed elitist and patronising. My ethos and ethics have been slapped down. It hurts.
The rise of the right genuinely freaks me out. I’m aware that the pendulum will swing back my way, as it has before, but we have so little time to prevent the catastrophic consequences of galloping climate change, habitat destruction, and a rapacious capitalism which has no ceiling, knows no limit in plundering this planet. The petro-dollar oligarchs who now control our polities know they have only a few years left to extract the max from their mines and wells, for their shareholders, and their overly-lined pockets. And they aren’t waiting around.
I look at my beautiful multinational children, who genuinely feel no prejudice towards those who present as ‘other’, and I have been terrified for their diminished future, their curtailed freedoms, their narrowing options. And I need to move from bleak despair to fighting for their future, standing up to make a difference.
So in 2017 we’ll be getting out into nature more as a family. Children are becoming disconnected from the natural world. Beautifully shot nature programmes do not encourage folk to defend an environment which reaches them remotely. They are not a substitute for interacting with nature in all its messy multi-layered glory. And spending time in the Great Outdoors has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, rejuvenate your mind and body, and provide mental clarity – a natural high for all ages!
The plan is that every weekend we will have an outing, whether to the local park or further afield, to a reserve, woods, hills or coast. I have renewed their RSPB Wildlife Explorers memberships. They get their own magazine six times a year full of arts, crafts, competitions & wildlife info. And we will be taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch on the weekend of the 28-30 January. The RSPB has a lot of information for kids and families – from how to put a pond into your garden to online games designed to teach small fry about animals and conservation. They’ve just launched a Wild Challenge for 2017 with activities designed to either experience nature (go rockpooling) or help nature (build a minibeast hotel – which we did this week, see pic).
The Wild Network’s mission is to rewild children, and I’ve just downloaded their cool, free Wild Explorers app that details over 100 outdoor activities helpfully arranged by age, location, and length of time you have available. In a similar vein is the National Trust’s excellent list of 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11&3/4 – which is also available as an app.
I’ve joined the Gardening Club at the kids’ inner city primary school, successfully applied for a grant from the Woodland Trust for a free tree pack for the playground, and we’ve applied to Tesco’s Bags of Help community grant scheme to transform the playground to make a wildwood adventure learning area complete with forest school resources, more plants and an outdoor library. I’ve enlisted my eldest to sow a wildflower mix of bee-friendly plants in our small urban garden. She also helps water the tree pits in our street, the product of a local initiative from some green-fingered neighbours.
Root ourselves in nature, in our local community, invest in the local school, in our children, and tall upstanding trees will flourish.