Posts tagged Nature
Offer Yourself Up To Nature
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A bead of sweat runs down my face. I wipe it away with thick gardening gloves, leaving a smear of soil across my cheek. As the morning rolls on, I am slowly morphing into a chimney sweep.

It’s warm and sunny here, in a green corner of Yorkshire. Happily, it’s also the weekend. In my head somewhere, the heavy manual of work has been clamped shut and set aside in favour of a colourful storybook.

So here I am, carefree and cut-off from the outside world. With my hands, I violently remove Himalayan Balsam from a riverbank. Balsam is a tall and sturdy, yet shallow-rooted plant. It takes little effort to yoink the unwelcome stalks out of the ground with a swift, rewarding motion.

There’s a method behind my destructive behaviour; Balsam is a very successful plant. Too successful in fact. It grows so rapidly in our climate that it crowds out other native species. With its pathetic roots, it leaves riverbanks bare and unsupported when it dies back in the winter months. If this battle isn’t fought, erosion will make light work of the soil.

From beyond the wall of foliage around me, muted sounds of ripping and thrashing remind me that I’m not alone in my quest. One morning each month, friends gather in this place. Specifically, a community group called the ‘Friends of Rothwell Country Park’. The group members place themselves at the disposal of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust rangers.

The idea is simple and effective. Community groups like the Rothwell Friends invest some of their time and extend the reach and ability of an individual park ranger. In this case, Emma. Emma is tasked with managing three sizeable parks on her own. Even a single set of enthusiastic (if unskilled) hands would halve her workload today.

If you reflect upon the hundreds of hours that can be soaked up by a single suburban garden, you will appreciate the magnitude of the burden carried by Emma and other local rangers as they work to maintain and improve the land placed in their charge. As government finances tighten, and money becomes harder to come by, the voluntary sector is a useful resource that the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust gladly taps into.

A small group of volunteers can never fully satisfy the wishlist of an ambitious ranger, but with more hands brought to bear, the closer we can get. Every man-hour translates to better protection of local species and cleaner places for our children to play. Every park provides a haven where the local inhabitants can unwind. They also support a kaleidoscopic range of butterflies, birds and small mammals in an increasingly urbanised country. This is clearly worthwhile work.

Back with the Balsam, my skin is stoically weathering stinging grazes from the nettles I am trying to protect. ‘Am I killing the right plant?’, I ponder as the limp Balsam stalks rest benignly in my arms.

 The better question I could be asking is – where are the rest of us? Much to the disappointment of our ranger, my girlfriend and I had been the only people to turn up and help today. A few years ago, as many as ten people would come on the first Saturday of each month.

A volunteer workforce might be free, but it can also evaporate. It pulls at my heartstrings to imagine a future Saturday morning where Emma concludes that not a single soul has chosen to come and help.

I never expected community volunteer work to feel lonely – but as we slowly uprooted the shallow hillside, I couldn’t help but wish that more ‘friends’ were here.

I would encourage each of you to seek out your own local park groups and offer yourself up to nature. I believe that you’ll find it rewarding to protect a wilderness near you.

About the Author:

When not getting his hands dirty, Simon Oates is the editor at Financial Expert, a free educational resource dedicating to sharing basic investing principles such as how to buy shares and how to invest in property.

Creativity in the Countryside: Wold Couture
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Today we're thrilled to feature a small, creative business that takes its inspiration from the natural world. Jess at Wold Couture designs the most beautiful wedding dresses and accessories, drawing on her local environment to inspire and motivate her creative process. Over to her...

The dress that launched Wold Couture: initially inspired by the dawn chorus, it later came to be known as the Cobweb Dress.

The dress that launched Wold Couture: initially inspired by the dawn chorus, it later came to be known as the Cobweb Dress.

Wold Couture began in essence when I lived and worked in London, but it only truly came into its own when I moved back to the Lincolnshire Wolds - where I spent most of my childhood - and became inspired by the surrounding beauty once more.

Though I designed and made bridal-wear in London, the business itself was launched from one dress inspired by the dew-covered cobwebs I saw as I walked through the Wolds. This dress still features in the bridal collections today, and is, I believe, testament to the power and longevity of natural patterns and design.

Our style overall is quite romantic and incorporates some vintage twists as well as lots of delicate decoration influenced by nature. Both decoration and silhouette are inspired in part by what I find outdoors - flowers, clouds, the shapes of trees - but I find the best ideas come when you’re not looking for them. On a weekend walk to somewhere new, in the bath, whilst travelling – sometimes a design comes fully formed into my mind and I’m not entirely sure how it got there.

Dresses inspired by (left) stratus clouds, (top right) alto-stratus clouds and (bottom right) trailing roses.

Dresses inspired by (left) stratus clouds, (top right) alto-stratus clouds and (bottom right) trailing roses.

The design is just one part though, and what comes next is much more work. To take this idea and turn it into a fully formed and functioning dress certainly takes an alarming amount of coffee, very little sleep and plenty of arguments with the sewing machine. I design and make in my workshop in a sea of fabric and by the time I am done I need another week just to find the floor again. Luckily, the view from my window out onto the fields ensures a constant supply of inspiration, particularly because the view changes not only seasonally, but throughout each day too. Early evening is the most beautiful time to look out, and I can watch the sunset and cloud formations across the vast expanse of the Lincolnshire skyline - it's wonderful!

Currently, I'm working on a few exciting projects. First is a look-book for two of my favourite dresses that I'll send to potential stockists - it's been great fun scouting locations to shoot the dresses, whether in an urban environment to contrast with the design, or out in the countryside near home.

Alongside this we are also finishing up a new accessories range which will soon be available online. As the business is so intertwined with where its located, I think it's so important to keep connected in as many ways as possible. Recently I started tutoring at a local gallery (click here to find out more) - the courses cover everything from upcycling to hand embroidery, and are a great way to chat about ideas, share my passion with fellow creatives, and get more involved in the local community. Finally(!), I'm also studying myself - I'm halfway through a masters degree in fashion with hopes to launch a collection of sustainable ‘slow’ fashion sometime next year.

Wold Couture has always been about bespoke design, but over the next few months we'll be focusing more on the collections, which will enable me to do more of what I love: designing.  If all goes to plan we hope to be employing a small team of seamstresses to work on both bridal and fashion collections in order to maintain our 'Made in England' brand. I can't wait.

Thanks Jess - sustainable 'slow' fashion sounds just up our street!

If your creative business takes inspiration from the natural world, and you'd like to be featured in a similar post on Creative Countryside, get in touch by emailing contact@creativecountryside.com. There is no payment involved; we just like to showcase creative talent whenever we can!

Seasonal Celebrations: Imbolc

Usually celebrated on February 2nd (or the eve of February 1st), Imbolc (pronounced 'im'olk') is one of the four Celtic fire festivals that make up the wheel of the year, and celebrates the passing of winter and the return of spring. It comes at a time when many of us are longing for the end of cold, dark days, and serves as a reminder that brighter mornings and new growth are on the horizon.

As Imbolc is also St Brigid's Day, celebrations of this Celtic fertility goddess are also held to signify her transformation from the crone of winter to the maiden of spring, and often take the form of lighting candles, fires, and celebrating the sunlight. Appropriately, snowdrops are one of her symbols, and form as a further reminder that the bleakness of winter is waning.

The day is also a great opportunity to reassess any goals you set yourself back at the start of January, as the start of spring we plant the seeds that will grow and nourish us for the rest of the year. Spring-clean whatever you want to be rid of (both literally and metaphorically) and set forth on a new journey of optimism and hope. You could also plant some actual seeds to symbolise the promise of this new season.

Head over here for more ideas on how to celebrate the festival.

Books Inspired by the Natural World

Though not necessarily classed as 'nature writing', these six books take inspiration from the natural world in different and captivating ways. If you can carve out a little time in your busy day, reading a few pages is always a pleasure, so pick one and get started!

  1. If (like me) you're about to start a family, Common Ground, by Rob Cowen, will definitely appeal. It weaves the story of a father expecting his first child with exploration of a small strip of land on the edge of a town. Unobtrusive and lifeless though it may appear, this wasteland provides the backdrop for a journey through the local landscape, with lyrical investigations of plants, animals, insects and humans.
     
  2. I've long admired the writing of Sara Maitland, and the magical Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of our Forests and Fairytales certainly doesn't disappoint. She argues that forests are twofold, both beautiful and terrifying, and that it is this combination that creates the backdrop to fairytales. Filled with re-imaginings and seasonal wanderings, it is a book of many guises that celebrates these ancient and primal landscapes, and muses on their significance.
     
  3. If I were to choose books simply by their covers, Holloway, a collaboration between Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards, would be top of the list. This short book explores a landscape of shadows, spectres and great strangeness, and coupled with ghostly illustrations, provides the perfect way to spend half an hour or so.
     
  4. Travel back fifty years to the Scottish Highlands, and you'll reach the moment Katharine Stewart moved with her family to A Croft in the Hills. This powerful memoir evokes nostalgia for a lost era, but also highlights the hardships many would have experienced. Expect bitter Scottish winters, the trials of looking after livestock, and the simple pleasures of a back-to-basics lifestyle.
     
  5. A little different from my usual style, Findings, by Kathleen Jamie, is a curation of moments plucked straight from the author's travels. It doesn't follow a narrative as such, but instead opts for short prose essays on topics such as peregrines, the winter solstice and the carcass of a whale. A totally different approach that is nevertheless intriguing and, at times, surprising.
     
  6. If you don't even have time for the half an hour it takes to read Holloway, try John Lewis-Stempel's The Wood in Winter. Published by Candlestick Press as an alternative to sending a card, this pamphlet follows a nature walk into a wood in midwinter, tying in old festivals and traditions, and reminding us of our own deep connection to the earth.

Reading books inspired by the outdoors is an easy way to reconnect with the natural world. Check out last week's post - Nature & Culture: Finding a Common Ground - if you'd like more tips on how to achieve this in other ways.

Nature & Culture: Finding a Common Ground
Celebrating trees and woods. Image courtesy of Common Ground.

Celebrating trees and woods. Image courtesy of Common Ground.

Nature and culture are often viewed as two distinct concepts. Nature is wild, it is 'out there' rather than 'in here', and sometimes it feels as though you have to make the choice to immerse yourself in the natural world. Yet it is a part of our culture, and of our everyday lives: it is the tiny green shoots emerging between the pavement cracks, the droplets of rain on the end of our nose, the crow perched on the tallest branch of the tree on the corner, creaking a sombre tune.

If we remind ourselves that nature is not just conservation and climate change, it can often be surprising how many opportunities we have to immerse ourselves in its restorative powers, allowing it to influence our lives and choices, and therefore our culture. The arts and environmental charity Common Ground aims to remind us of just that.

Projects both old and new mark a return to that 'age-old intertwining of human life and the natural world', and range from creating community orchards, to celebrating local customs, or 'distinctiveness'. Their intention is 'to connect people with their local environment through music, art exhibitions, film-making, publishing, community gatherings and education, creating the inspiration and some of the tools that can help communities make meaningful, long-lasting connections with their home ground.'

Rules for Local Distinctiveness. Image courtesy of Common Ground,

Rules for Local Distinctiveness. Image courtesy of Common Ground,

Reading this reminds me of all of the things Creative Countryside is aiming to achieve, and of the ethos that the magazine will adopt. So intertwined are our goals, that you can read all about one of the oldest Common Ground projects - Apple Day - in the first issue (September 2017). But as we transition into spring, perhaps one of the most pertinent and engaging resources from the organisation is last year's edition of LEAF! (the newspaper for trees, woods and people) which features green men, nest building and seasonal food, and can be downloaded from this page

Of course, there are many more projects you can get involved with, but if you're not quite ready for that yet, I'll leave you with a few ways that you can reconnect with nature and your local environment this season:

It's easier than you think to connect your life and culture to the natural world, so what are you waiting for?

O Christmas Tree...

"O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree! True symbol of eternity!Your boughs are green through out the year, Resplendent in a life sincere.O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree! True symbol of eternity!"

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Christmas-Tree-Farm-Creative-Countryside

Choosing our Christmas tree is an annual family tradition. We have journeyed to the same farm each year to select a tree that will remind us that nature does not succumb to the frosts and flurries of winter entirely, and that despite the elements we can house some warmth of the earth over the festive period. The smell of the tree is evocative of winter evenings as a child spent standing tip-toed on chairs trying desperately to reach the upper branches to hang stars and baubles before joyfully shouting in my parents to show them the finished result. As I have got older, the urge to decorate and string garlands of lights has only intensified, and this year is no exception.

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Christmas-Creative-Countryside

Over the weekend we selected a 7ft Nordman and it now stands in pride of place in the corner of our living room. We though Bella might find it a strange addition to the home, but so far she's not really paid much attention to it! We try to decorate quite traditionally, with some wooden decorations and a star for the top. My favourite baubles are those we have received from family members; there are a number that twinkle in the soft sparkle of the lights that originally hung on my grandparents' tree, and I love to look up and be reminded of happy times together.

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Christmas-2-Creative-Countryside

I use some of the lower branches for my Christmas wreath, adding only a few pine cones and a bright ribbon to complete the effect. For an easy wreath tutorial head over and read my autumn wreath post here.

What does your home look like at Christmas time?

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