A naturalist on connecting to nature

As we move into spring, it’s about time to properly re-engage with Mother Nature. Dan Webster, a naturalist and wilderness guide for 35 years, shares some practical things you can do – even on that daily bop through the urban jungle.
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How to stay ahead

Let nature in before tech. ‘I have a rule that when I get up in the morning, I won’t look at my phone until I've been outside and seen something in nature – really looked at a tree or watched the sky for a minute. When I do that, I find myself forgetting to pick up my phone for a little while afterwards.’

Set a purpose. ‘Be conscious about your walks. Maybe there are walks with your phone, like when you’re taking photos, and walks without. Some people do nature journaling; for others it might be fitness. Everyone has to find their own individual thing. For a while I was obsessed with step counting, but I've weaned myself off that and I'm happy I did. Trust the process. You're outside and you're walking around – you're being healthy.’

Be mindful. ‘Mindfulness is a new old trend. One technique is to focus on just three things, whether it’s leaves on the ground, grass poking up through concrete, or the birds in the sky. You don’t even have to know what it is, it’s about being aware of what’s new about today.’ 

Use your other senses. ‘We use our vision so much you can get hard-wired into just focusing on that. On any walk, you can certainly use feeling and touch: what does the sun feel like? What does the rain feel like? Literally reaching out and touching – like a tree, take a second and feel the texture of that.’

Zoom in. ‘There are worlds within worlds – doing the same walk every day gives you the opportunity to really look at things in terms of seasons or weather. Springtime is such a dynamic, verdant time of renewal. With flowers coming out, they’re fairly ephemeral – how does it change and why is that happening? Then what happens after that?’

Focus on short bursts. ‘Getting a weekend excursion in isn’t always going to happen. What's really important is short bursts: just stepping outside or even stepping up to your window and looking out for a couple of minutes. In Florence William's new book, The Nature Fix, she says that in just five minutes outside, your brain goes through changes and starts to relax.’ 

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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