Dwelling in the Suburbs of the Countryside
People feel a pull towards the countryside for all manner of reasons. Perhaps the countryside is the farm you grew up on, surrounded by rippling hills and a sky that can never make up its mind. Perhaps it’s the city worker in London who leaves the office an hour early on Fridays, catching a train to the New Forest and popping a tent in the overhead luggage rack. For many, and I would go as far to say the majority, a love of the countryside dances between these two extremes; those who live in what was once a village and is now a sprawling estate filled with photocopied houses. If you live in one of these places, you’ll see a secondary school that you avoid driving past when the bell goes and the road is full of buses and saloon cars. The corner shop will only let them in two at a time and the post office will open after you’ve left for work and shuts before you manage to get back. You’ll spot the same elderly man in a neat tie and jacket walking to get his one pint of milk and half dozen eggs twice a week – at exactly the same time – and you’ll always make sure to smile when he catches your eye. The village hall will run a weight loss club on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the morris dancers will begin to filter in, bells jingling, before the closing motivational speech has finished. These are the suburbs on the outskirts of towns and cities. No, they don’t have chocolate box cottages and the postman doesn’t want to stop for a chat, but they are where so many of us live.
I have always been part of this latter camp, and yet the outdoors has nagged at me to pay attention to it for as long as I can remember. Especially now, as an adult, my walking boots are taken out of the airing cupboard if I anticipate a few empty evening hours or spot a spare weekend on the horizon. Sometimes, it isn’t as easy to immerse yourself in the countryside when it’s practically difficult to get out to. When you live in the grey area between city and country, it’s easy to feel detached from both places. I’m definitely no expert, and there have been weeks that have gone by where the nearest I’ve gotten to the countryside is Matt Baker discussing the migratory habits of fenland birds on Countryfile. That being said, there are some rituals and routines that I do genuinely try and include to re-centre myself with the outdoors, especially in the weeks that see summer transition into autumn.
When there is less of a guarantee that you’ll be able to set up camp beside a river for a long, light filled day, you sometimes have to be a little more creative to maintain a routine that naturally aligns itself with nature’s constant shifting.
A Decent Waterproof
A decent waterproof doesn’t necessarily mean a new waterproof, or an expensive one. A borrowed jacket that keeps off the worst of a blustery, drizzly day means that weather isn’t an excuse for not popping out or taking that weekend hike even when the weather app is full of dark grey clouds. To my shame, I resisted wearing a proper raincoat for years because it was bright and garish (and didn’t look nice in photos – I know – an awful reason!) I’ve since realised that walking in the rain is one of the best things about autumn wandering. Strangely, when hair sticks to your forehead and the smell of petrichor gets kicked up from the earth, it feels so unbelievably calming.
Leave Your Walking Boots in the Car
Of course, if they’re still soggy from your last jaunt, you may want to dry them out first! Finding that the sun breaks beautifully on your drive home from work in late September, and remembering that you’ve got your boots with you, could be the thing that tips your driving wheel into the direction of the moors before you head home to make dinner.
Make an Autumnal Picnic
There are so many recipes that come into play when September and October come around. Butternut squash, pecans, sage, sausages, pastry, pie, apple… Think of what you’d most like to eat for lunch or dinner and find a way to adapt it into picnic food. This could just mean going ahead and making dinner as normal to wrap up in foil and eat out in the open; an impatient dog sat at your feet glancing from person to person in the hopes of catching some crumbs. Butternut squash risotto could become arancini balls that easily travel in a hiking bag!
Take a Camera Out
It’s so easy to look back on a year and see one, clear image that symbolises each season. A snow drift against a dry-stone wall for winter; cherry blossom in bloom for spring; parched grass swaying in the breeze for summer… But there are so many tiny changes taking place every day – even if the warmth tricks you into thinking that summer is lasting longer than usual. You’ll see it in hazelnuts, acorns and eventually conkers that drop onto the path. Toadstools might have appeared overnight on the lawn – in a fairy circle if you’re lucky. Heather bursts into bloom like fireworks, amethyst coloured and undulating across heaths and dunes.
When you have a low week and want to live in a blanket nest, or when life gets busy and boisterous, it’s strange that we often cut out the things that do us the most good. That can look different for so many different people, but if your soul sings in line with a countryside that isn’t immediately on your doorstep, you sometimes have to meet it halfway. That being said, the transition into autumn can see nature coming to you instead: scuttling spiders with voluptuous bellies may crawl under the door to say hello. You never know, it could just be mother nature beckoning you to join her outdoors!