I took a pact through the People and Parks Foundation to spend time in nature every day for a month. I recorded short videos most days of the experience.
The time in nature had to be meaningful. I couldn’t be multi-tasking or ‘doing’ things while passing through nature (like biking or catching up with a friend.) I wanted to be as engaged and present with the natural world as possible, not lost in thoughts or glued to my phone.
I chose a single focus for each day, so my attention for the time outside would be grounded on one thing. I brainstormed a list of things I love doing in nature and then chose one each day to explore. It was a lot of fun making the list and choosing from it. The list included - ‘see the sunrise’, ‘watch the night sky’, ‘climb a tree’, ‘sit next to the river’, ‘walk barefoot’ and ‘observe the ducks.’
I became more familiar with the object
I don’t normally have a single focus while out in nature, so having one, and changing it each day made keeping the pact feel fresh and different. It was like “right - for the next 20 minutes I’m watching the moon. This is my 20 minute nature pact time. Just be with the moon.” I enjoyed choosing what to focus on before heading outdoors, and also at times ditching the plan and just noticing what was most striking at that moment outside.
Having a single focus meant that I could really get to know that one aspect of the natural world in more depth, instead of superficially noticing many things.
For example, I would normally walk past the wattles in bloom and think ‘wow that’s nice!’ and keep walking. But having that as the focus for 20 minutes meant I noticed so much more.
There was of course the brilliance of their yellow in bloom. But there was also their very particular smell - a tinge of sweetness to an overall dustiness, and the feeling of pollen particles sticking inside the nostrils. The sound of the leaves swaying in the wind, the light hum of the pollinators. Bees with bright yellow leg pouches brimming with pollen to feed their young. The contrast of the sea of yellow before me, and the grey sky above.
The cheeriness of the wattles in bloom, and how they lifted my mood. How they marked a seasonal change into early spring in the Wurrundjeri calendar, signalling that the depths of winter were over.
Because of that, I cared more about it
By spending time like this with a different aspect of the natural world each day, I noticed far more about it, the interaction felt more meaningful and I cared more about that thing.
On reflection, it’s not that different to interacting with people. I remembered a neighbour I once had who was often in his front yard. When I first moved to the area I would walk past him and barely register that he was there. One day we started to talk and get to know each other and after that, I couldn’t ever again walk past him and not notice him. Once I knew his name and cared about him, he was on my radar.
After spending this time of quality attention with a different aspect of the natural world close to my home each day over a month, I suddenly had 30 extra friends that I now noticed and cared about. This really enriched my life. The single Tawny Frogmouth now has a mate, hurray! Oh the Native Daphne flowers are starting to fall. I haven’t seen the moon for over a week now, where is it?
Curiosity and questions
Spending quality time with one aspect of the natural world each day built a relationship with it. This sparked my curiosity, I suddenly had so many questions about my new friends. That bright star I can see from the balcony looks like a planet, which one? What type of fish was that jumping out of the river? How old are the rock formations around here? I started investigating the answers to some of these questions. It felt different to other learning I’ve done because it was driven by a genuine interest in something that I cared about, rather than memorising facts and figures about something abstract.
The spontaneity of encounters
Of course, nature encounters often can’t be planned. Some of the best moments of the nature pact month were unexpected, unplanned and of course, not caught on video. Like the time I was walking with my son to the playground and we cut through a patch of bushland and crossed paths with a big male kangaroo. He was as surprised to see us as we were him and we watched each other for minutes before he relaxed and bent over to continue eating grass. That isn’t an everyday experience in the suburbs.
I took the nature pact while in lockdown. It became the highlight of the day. It was a precious time to escape the increased demands of life and the negative news, and just be present. Each days experience bought about some new, positive feeling - whether it was increased calm and relaxation (watching the clouds), a sense of awe and possibility (seeing night become day at dawn) an appreciation of beauty (seeing flowers and enjoying their fragrance,) joy (watching baby cygnets on the lake and spotting the Tawny Frogmouth), excitement (at the thrill of climbing high up a tree), or reverence (thinking about how old the rock I was sitting on was and not being able to fathom it.)
Now that the Nature Pact is over, can I keep this up? Can I engage with the natural world in a meaningful way every day? The answer has to be yes. What was particularly inspiring was that I did this month in the suburbs of a city, in lockdown so it all took place within 5km of my home. I didn’t have these experiences in rugged wilderness worthy of a postcard. The sun can be seen rising and setting every day from my balcony. Yep, the view includes electricity lines and other houses. But there’s the same incredible light, the same wonder at the the transience of that time, that I’ve felt in wilder locations. Clouds are everywhere to be watched. Grassy patches abound for barefoot walking. The seasons and weather patterns inspire constant change in all our surroundings. Nature and its gifts are everywhere. I’ve just got to slow down, notice and care.