To Cumbria and Back
Last week we finally enjoyed a winter vacation in the Lake District after missing out last year because of the coronavirus restrictions. There was no wonderland of white frosted fells and snow on this occasion. Instead we had dry conditions, some sun and frost that lingered in the shade of the valleys, and only a vague sighting of snow in crevices on north facing peaks.
It was, however, another week of immersion in a forest bath and a reminder of the strength of nature. We look out on open fields at home and the mental uplift received from a week amongst the trees by a running beck cannot be denied.
On our wanderings, the brutal side of the natural world was brought home to us as we surveyed the masses of mighty trees uprooted by Storm Arwen at the end of November. On one descent our path was repeatedly blocked although to be fair some kind person had intervened at one point; just when I thought I really couldn't duck under or clamber over another trunk. It was akin to witnessing a mass extinction event and whilst thankful that we weren't walking through those woods during the storm, we were made very much aware of how fragile some of our largest tree specimens are.
The natural world is supposed to de-stress us and reduce anxiety. Our winter week in Cumbria is intended to help us unwind after Christmas and during the long dark nights that characterise this time of year. I'm not sure how the sight of destruction with enormous logs strewn across the landscape fits into that narrative, but it certainly raised awareness of and respect for the harsh vicissitudes in the environment around us.
If extreme weather events are increasing, then our retirement is inevitably going to bear witness to them. The power of the wind can be awesome and the forces of nature more so. Mindfulness has its place in benign conditions; it needs to be elevated to alertness when the full energy of the elements is unleashed. Being outdoors heightens every one of our senses, whatever the conditions. It makes us feel alive.