So far Medley’s blog has focused on music and art, but nature is also integral to Medley’s aims. Mirroring art and music’s impacts, there are also many ways in which connecting with the natural world can help health and wellbeing.
Striking reflections on connecting with nature come from well-known people and writers in different circumstances: living with Asperger’s, or with depression, or with anxiety and mental health struggles. Dara McAnulty has told of seeking out quiet places where he can concentrate fully on absorbing natural sights and sounds. In his Classic FM interview with Moira Stuart on 27 September, Monty Don spoke about nature’s impact on depression, the gradual new focus it creates and the way you begin to feel part of the natural world’s rhythms and cycles. Joe Harkness has written thoughtfully about the sensory, immersive power of nature, as he describes connecting with the natural world through birdwatching and birdsong.
Lived experience is supported by research. In 2019 researchers in Denmark conducted an evidence review of some 130 studies into woodland’s proven impact on adults in reducing levels of physical and emotional stress alike. In the UK, the University of Derby’s Nature Connectedness Research Group was the first of its kind when it was formed. Its 5 Pathways To Nature Connectedness explore the diverse ways we respond to nature: but are only one part of the Group’s multi-faceted work.
Maybe nature’s impact on us has its main roots in observation. Is it always helpful simply to ‘be’ in nature? Do we have an instinct to plant, to clear, to make an active contribution? Sometimes I like simply to sit or stand or walk. At other times I want to respond, to interact with what I see. Either I feel photography or drawing will defy time. Or I want to feel part of nature’s wonder.
One important focus here (which I want to explore more as Medley grows) is the way nature and the arts can work together. Nature can feed music and art, while creativity can add new layers to the way we respond to nature. Music heard, sung or played outdoors can be more powerful. Differing acoustics in diverse open-air settings can create a new perspective. It can also highlight the narrow line which divides natural sounds (biophony), like whale calls or birdsong, from music. Art can deepen our response to nature as well. I know that when I spend time drawing or painting plants or wildlife, I become more observant. If I then go for a walk, I find myself focusing on a tree’s shape or form, on the shade cast by a hedge or on the colour and gleam of ivy or laurel. I only paint birds from photographs (obviously more practical) but still notice that I look differently at the birds in my garden, at the angle of a woodpecker’s head as it feeds, or the flick and dart of a house sparrow.
Observation in itself becomes a form of interaction, so if I observe more closely, I connect more with what I see. Three of the University of Derby Nature Connectedness Research Group’s 5 Pathways (Senses, Emotion and Beauty) are specifically observational. Experiencing nature through observation is integral to any full experience of nature, even if it also involves practical tasks or activities. Observation might seem very visual, but can cover any sense. People with sight loss might observe through sound or touch. All time spent in nature can stimulate the senses in different ways. The Sensory Trust runs Creative Spaces for people with dementia and Sensory Nature Adventures and Play for children with disabilities and their families.
Maybe there are as many different ways to experience the natural world as there are different places, ecosystems and species to explore. For some, that experience may involve art, music or other art forms. For all, observation itself could become a way to respond.