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Opinion

Lockdown lesson: Nature can lead you to a world full of wonder

The last few months have transformed our relationship with nature and it’s important to learn lessons from lockdown, says nature writer Stephen Rutt

A lesson I relearned in lockdown was to make do with what I had, instead of pursuing what I wanted. It sounds simple, yet it is something I have to keep relearning. 

It’s a lesson I first learned six years ago on North Ronaldsay, a tiny island in the Orkney archipelago, where I lived for seven months. A certain amount of restriction, it transpired, can breed resilience. The narrowing of horizons was merely refocusing, down to the details of the everyday. Those were among the happiest days of my life and I think it wasn’t just down to the scenery.

Lockdown was not: I was stranded away from home, across the country in Bedfordshire, in a family home, surrounded by wheat fields and lifeless woods. At first I was tempted to rage about it: I was, after all, supposed to be writing a book about summer wildlife and climate change. 

I had an interesting summer of wildlife to see that I had planned out meticulously, rare and exciting species that it would have been a thrill to spend time with. Now I had endless time and no subject, or so I thought.

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Daily walks around the fields to the local wood saved me then. As well as tracking the progress of the season, as late winter resolved into an exceptional spring – it felt like the height of summer from early April – it kept me in touch with the world. I began to look deeper at what we had to hand, the drama and meaning of common species in humdrum habitats.

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What I thought were plain and boring landscapes were revealed to be full of excitement. Tracking daily the progression of the season became thrilling. Nature is everywhere and always changing. Being alive to its signs and presences is an amazing way of noticing what’s about, what’s happening where you are and when, in ways that are more organic than a map or calendar might tell you. 

This does take a bit of knowledge, though. If you don’t know, then remember this: that we are a part of nature and not separate from it. We all make do with the same light, the same time; there are few places a bird won’t venture in this country. Beginning to notice it can lead you into a world full of wonder.

Stephen Rutt’s latest book, The Eternal Season: Ghosts of Summers, Past Present and Future, is out now (Elliott & Thompson, £14.99)

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