I was sitting, sifting shingle through my fingers on the beach at Charmouth. This is not an unreasonable pastime – right on the ‘Jurassic Coast’ of Dorset, it is a prime spot for fossil-hunters. And I have found one of the best ammonites I have seen anywhere, museums included, along the shore.
The sky was grey, the wind stiff and the sea like pewter; when it was not curling into ‘crash and shhhhh’. And I was alone. The more sensible elements of my family had found a slightly more sheltered spot to hop across boulders. But it is here I find myself as close to meditating as I get. Absorbed in the quest for patterns; the regular curve of ridges that indicates an ammonite or the smooth needle of a belemnite. Time can fly by with my head down; eyes focussed on the myriad stones, evolving and revolving into sand. But this time I was distracted. Someone else was braving the elements with their spaniel.
Suddenly I was pulled out of my reverie and felt self-conscious. I did not want to be seen questing for hidden treasure and sat up, looking poetically (well, one likes to think) out to metallic sea.
I felt bothered about that all night. Perhaps it is related to the difficulty I have in doing yoga without the permission of a teacher?
But the conclusion I have reached is that I was embarrassed by my wholehearted absorption in having fun. It is something that children do so well but we withdraw from as we age. What is there to be ashamed of in just allowing oneself to be absorbed in the moment of nature? Why should we not embrace a wholehearted love of nature with pride?
This is something I learnt from the ambassadors in The Beauty in the Beast. As I travelled around the country I found people who were able and willing to let me into their bubble of enthusiasm. Some even talked of the very meditative nature of time spent in nature. Best-selling novelist Kate Long gave up trying to explain what she did down by the small stream each day – she said that she went to think of ideas. But that was just what she was not doing. She was placing her stool beside (or even in, when I went … banks had burst) and sitting in quiet. Hidden from walkers by reeds, warmed by sun and relaxed by the gentle gurgle of water filling our shoes (next time I will wear boots) it was easy to slip into that wholehearted state of awareness that eats time for breakfast. Water voles were our prey – and they did not disappoint.
There is no embarrassment for Chris Sperring either, even when the first two species of owl refused to return his calls, he persevered and took me deep into the darkness of woods behind his home where we waited for tawny owls to grace us with a reply. Which came in the most hauntingly delicate touches of wing, or wind of wing, passing by our cheeks.
I found that state of grace most readily in my least favourite environment, with the team from the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unity out in the Moray Firth, looking for bottlenose dolphins. I get seasick and the thought of being on a wallowing rigid inflatable boat for a day filled me with fear. But thanks to some wonderful medication I was able to, for the first time since I was two, really enjoy the sea. And as I let my gaze take in the undulating fields of water, looking, again, for patterns, I slipped into a state of near bliss as I wholeheartedly committed myself to thinking of nothing but the nature around me.
On thinking about this it seems that my apprehension on the beach was probably to do with my solitude. I had no reinforcement giving me permission to have fun. And as adults I think that is something we need – unlike the unhindered children who can vanish into their own worlds’ at the mere hint of a request to do something.
So my mission is to find ways of wholeheartedly, unashamedly and joyfully immersing myself in nature – and sharing them. For a start, though, I would love to have some thoughts and guidance from you. How do you lose yourself? How can we all shed the satnav of adulthood and just enjoy the wonders of what is outside beyond the door?
As it was I returned to my mining after man and dog had retreated – and was swiftly lost again until so cold that I had to put on my gloves and then, when the ends started to fray, decided to find which boulders the rest of the family were bouncing across.