As I was scrolling through Substack this morning, a photograph of blue skies, palm trees and pyramids caught my eye. I stopped to read the text. "Sometimes you are out and about in Cairo and you are treated to a view of the pyramids, and it never, ever gets old." Before I got lost in the longer posts from Samantha Childress on life in Egypt and the things we take for granted, (Snickers bars! The right to criticise our government!) I stopped to wonder if that's really true. Maybe it's just me, but I find that it's easy to forget to be amazed. I take things for granted all the time. Right now, after endless grey skies, I think I would be amazed at seeing blue up above, but would I really? I was reading a tale about rain the other day, I can't remember where. The person was lamenting that in the UK, if it rains for even a short time we somehow label it "a rainy day" even if most of the day was actually dry. It's where we choose to place our attention. I spend a lot of time reminding myself that "I will always be amazed / grateful / thankful for this" but then ten minutes later find myself distracted and searching for something else, often similar but slightly different.
Attention is the zeitgeist. Perhaps because in today's world it is hard to focus. Or perhaps this is the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon in action. Am I simply noticing more people talking about paying attention, because that is what I am choosing to pay attention to? This is getting a bit meta. Apologies.
Either way, autumn is a great time to hone your attention by paying attention to the tiny details of what is happening in nature. To take joy in the almost mundane. The colours this year have been stunning. It has also been very wet. Probably everyone has noticed these things. However, the leaves, so beautiful on the trees, have disintegrated to dangerous slimy mush underfoot, and yet the beauty is still there if you look for it. Yesterday a giant lime leaf plastered to the pavement amongst other tiny leaves as though autumn had been stuck in a scrapbook. Today a single buttercup shining through dying foliage. Hazy mist on an early morning pond. A blackbird, almost invisible in a leafy gutter. New shoots of ivy creeping up a stone gatepost.
Slowing down helps with paying attention to nature. I've been walking less quickly than usual because anything faster than an amble is making me cough and coughing in public, whilst never ideal, is no longer remotely acceptable. All these little things have leapt into my field of vision as I've wandered. Not just outside either, looking at instagram, a picture of autumn sunlight glinting off a puddle popped into my feed. Katherine May's book "Enchantment" finally made it to the top of my To Be Read pile and I'm devouring it; a guide to awakening wonder in an anxious age; encouragement to not wait for wonder to land at your door but to make a concerted effort to seek it out.
Everywhere I turn, people are talking or writing about how they find joy and beauty in nature. It's clearly an antidote to the less joyful and less beautiful news we're hearing every day. Surely this is a better way to live. We have become so disconnected from nature and the world around us. Perhaps wonder can be seen as a bit Pollyanna-ish and not very adult. We've all seen little kids with a stick poking at a drain in fascination while their parents look on, slightly bored and embarrassed. Or indeed a dog, sniffing slowly along a hedge, seemingly taking in the scent of every leaf. As I often invoke, let's be more dog.
Soon December will be here, the drab grey days of late autumn will be replaced by lights celebrating winter. There's already been a taste of this with Diwali, the ultimate festival of light. One friend messages me desperate to put her Christmas lights up. Another friend sends a meme cursing people who put their Christmas lights up before December. I don't want to peak too soon. I'm enjoying the anticipation. Gathering offcuts of holly that the council left scattered in the gutter when they chopped back the undergrowth. Using pine and mint oil to scent the house. The start of tiny secret festive season - a term I discovered this week in another blog. With the festive season in mind, we want to bring you some tiny winter prompts throughout December to support you in having a nature connected advent. We've loved doing this in past years because it prompts us to stay connected too, at a time when the rest of life can take over. Watch this space as advent approaches and get ready to notice nature.
Finally, a note on blue skies. This morning after a very gloomy grey skied walk first thing, I was making my coffee and looked out of the window. The sky was (at least in part) blue. I gasped! It turns out I really could be amazed by a blue sky. There weren't even any pyramids.