Build Me Up, Buttercup
Drop- in posts written by Dr Kitty Wheater.
4th of June
A warm welcome to this week's virtual drop-in.
Build Me Up, Buttercup
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how tiny beautiful wild things are all around us – from the herb Robert by the side of the road, and the arum lily lurking in the ditches, to the orange poppy in sandy ground. These have their own seasons, and as the weeks unfold, the blooms start to fade. The cherry blossom was the first to fall, and then the apple; the purple Russian comfrey is on its way out; the green hoods of the arum lilies lie limp in the woodland; the yellow rattle is seeding.
But the summer is gathering itself to begin again, differently. The blossom may be long gone, but in the meadow where I walk each day, buttercups now coat the grass. Buttercups are survivors: in long grass, they grow tall and slim; when mowed, they grow short and squat, resiliently golden.
Rather like the arum lilies, we may feel limp and tired by this point in the year. After an initial surge of adrenaline to meet the challenges of coronavirus and University life under lockdown, we may feel as though we are running on fumes, while also trying to look to the future. Like the summer wildflowers, a wave of adaptation and creativity is now behind us, and we may not yet know how we will muster ourselves to begin again.
One of the difficulties is that what lies ahead may seem hazy and contingent. We don’t yet know, as the buttercups do, whether we will need to grow tall or short in the next phase of this strange era. So even as our energies dwindle, our ever-ready minds attempt to match the myriad possibilities for next term, creating scenario after scenario, problem-solving in advance. We must be tall and short, at the same time; we are already in a new year, before we have finished the old.
But summer is the season to pause. It’s a time to take stock, reflect back on time passed, make an honest accounting of our energies, rest, switch modes. This summer, more so than others, we must build ourselves back up.
And what better way to do it than by looking to nature, in the time ahead? In the last five years, a million people have participated in the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild campaign, which encourages daily connection with nature in ‘random acts of wildness’ throughout June. Half a million are thought to have signed up to this year’s campaign, and a study at the University of Derby found that people still experience positive effects on their health and happiness two months after taking part. Participants get up early to watch the sunrise, walk barefoot in a park, collect pine cones, or follow a bee on its journey.
You may well have your own way of connecting with wild things in the summer: wild swimming, growing tomatoes in a window-box, counting species in your garden, or pressing wild flowers, as I did as a child. At this time of year, nature presents itself unexpectedly: a mistle thrush fledgling, close enough to touch, young and unafraid; a cuckoo call, where you have walked a hundred times, and never heard one before. Last summer my cousin, who is horticulturally challenged, abruptly stopped the car to dash out and pick up some squash seedlings, going for free outside a neighbour’s house. (He could never have germinated them himself, but the seedlings stood a chance.)
Spending time with wild things – whether a dog rose in a hedgerow, daisies in a park, thrift by the sea, or just an exuberant buttercup in the gravel outside your flat – is a way to cut through the blurry boundaries between work and home that may have sprung up with remote working and studying. You might have found that you send emails from the same spot in the living-room where you watch Netflix; you take work calls as you make tea for the kids; your partner sits in the corner trying not to breathe as you wrap up a tight deadline. Whether your summer holiday is in sight, or you’re still soaking up your weekends, we will need to demarcate work, play, and rest this summer, so that we can really play and rest – because it’s these that will build us up.
So go and sit in a sunny patch somewhere this week, and open your senses: the sound of birdsong, the colours of the summer, the feel of grass, or sand on the beach. If you like, you could take some earphones and do a mindfulness practice outdoors.
I will be taking leave for a couple of weeks, and so I wish you a very good three weeks until I write again: keep safe and well, and may your buttercups be as exuberant as those here.
With best wishes,