Hard Times, Soft Fascinations

After a year ruined by Covid, nature can restore my faith in better times

THIS WEEK, THE UK marked a year of living with Covid-19, and I marked it by having a wobble.

I mean, it’s hardly an anniversary to celebrate, is it? One hundred and twenty-six thousand dead. Fear and uncertainty still rife, and the prospect of spending still more months in limbo, home alone.

Back in the day, the four of us went out to Clap For Carers every Thursday, but on Tuesday no-one felt much like standing on our doorstep, ‘reflecting’ on a terrible year and shining a frigging light.

To be frank, we don’t want any more gestures: we just want it all to be over.

Given the fact that so many – here and around the world – have suffered much more than me, I know it’s childish to feel sorry for myself.

All I can say is that it suddenly felt a long, long way until June 21, which is supposed to be our Deliverance Day, and it’s been such a long time to put up with everything being weary, stale, flat and unprofitable…

Nature is like a battery charger, restoring our capacity to think and solve problems”

We also had the news that we probably won’t get a foreign holiday again this year – which, even though it’s been blindingly obvious for months, somehow made summer feel even more pushed back, provisional, un-grasp-able.

Nor has it helped that we’re having a cold spring.

Usually, by the end of March, we would have had at least a couple of isolated hot days – bringing out hardy clusters of alabaster-legged blokes in board shorts and flip-flops to remind us that proper summer will be here presently.

But, at best, we’re having the sort of weather where you can’t get your clothes right: you look at the wind and grey skies, and so you go out all wrapped up. But then the sun peeks out for a while, and you have to take a layer off.

And, afterwards, it clouds over again, the wind picks up and you have to put the layer back on, plus a coat on top of that… But, still, you just about felt the summer coming.

When I’m feeling particularly low, I often go to our allotment. Scientists* have shown that being in nature can be like a battery charger when it comes to restoring our capacity to think clearly and solve problems.

Shitloads of little birds were singing their hearts out”

Nature, it seems, is full of ‘soft fascinations’: sights and sounds that unconsciously and subtly claim our attention, helping to repair our cognitive functions and leaving us feeling happier.  

As the weather wasn’t that bad, I decided to go to the allotment and paint the shed with wood preserver, knowing that being up there often has the power to bring me back from the depths.  

And it worked again; it pretty much always works.

As soon as I got inside the allotment gates, the sun popped out and I became aware of shitloads of little birds singing their hearts out.

When I got to our plot, I saw that broccoli, cabbages and beans were already growing.

Long rows of raspberries and strawberries, meanwhile, crouched in the soil, patiently waiting their turn.

I opened the shed and saw my baseball cap on a shelf, faded from wearing it against the hot summer sun, and I thought: “It won’t be that long.”

* See, for example, Chatter, by the University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross.

3 thoughts on “Hard Times, Soft Fascinations

    1. Oh, I love this transatlantic difference stuff! Love the way language works! At the risk of being patronisingly obvious, something that wobbles is something that’s not steady – like a wonky chair or table, a blancmange, or a or jelly (do you say Jell-O in the US?). Similarly, if you have a mental ‘wobble’, then you’re feeling emotionally upset – or not strong and stable (as our last Prime Minister used to like to stay). 🙂 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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