I went south for a few days, and when I returned, Spring had sprung. Last week my morning walk was very much still at dawn, this week, there's no doubt about it, it's daylight and everyone can see me having a quick play on the swings before breakfast. My excuse is that it's good for me, seriously, it is! A quick internet search reveals that "the back and forth motion of a swing engages the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for increased focus and attention. There is a noticeable increase in endorphins after just a few minutes of swinging." Of course, it's also a lot of fun, even when you're getting funny looks.
Last week there were the green shoots of daffodils, this week there are burgeoning banks of yellow, and from nowhere a carpet of blue flowers, which I think are Siberian Squills, although don't quote me on that. Sadly there has been no sight (nor indeed sound) of the resident woodpecker this week, however the redwings are still about, and I'll know Spring is truly here when they depart for more northerly territories. That makes it sound like I know what I am talking about, but really I am learning every day. I'm certain that the more I try to notice nature the more nature there is to notice. I heartily recommend giving it a go. The other advantage to the lighter mornings is that I'm able to stop and take photographs, which is a great way to focus your attention on noticing.
A couple of weeks ago I listened to this podcast from The Science of Happiness where the happiness practice for the week was noticing nature. I often find their suggestions are helpful, but this one piqued my interest more than most: why you should snap pictures of nature. There is no doubt after listening to the participant report on her experiences that the exercise made her happier, in fact after 2 weeks she says it's something that has already become part of her routine and one she doesn't intend to stop. In fact people who do this report that not only are they happier but they are more connected with each other and with their environment. The podcast demonstrates that you don't need to go into a spectacular space that commands your attention, in fact part of the joy of the episode is that the experiment is entirely undertaken in an urban garden (albeit one in Los Angeles). She says she felt like being a kid unsupervised in the garden, and uses the experience to pay attention to the very ordinary, a way of learning about her own space, and suggests that a lot of the things she notices she would have appreciated if she was away on holiday, the shadows of trees against the buildings for instance but not necessarily at home. I love that she takes a photo of a new leaf appearing on a plant every day to document its progress, and it makes me want to rush out to photograph the new buds on the cherry trees that I just noticed this week. The science shows that this sort of nature connection produces a cascade of effects, such as reducing cortisol and boosting the immune system as well as producing emotions such as awe (again!) and contentment. The sense of delight is obvious from the language she uses to describe her experiences during the experiment, it's a really inspiring listen.
I'm still writing down my 3 good things in nature every evening. Today I saw a bee on a crocus, a moorhen patrolling the path by the pond, looking like he was part of the Ministry of the Silly Walks, and the chatter of the birds in the trees surrounding the swings, but I might just pop out now and start documenting the blooming of the cherry trees in photographs. Watch this space.