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Posts Tagged ‘Beauty of nature’

I am discovering that one of the necessary pains of downsizing a home is parting with old friends in the forms of books and magazines. I collected most of the editions of Geo: Australasia’s Geographical Magazine until publication ceased 20 or so years ago. I kept them because of the quality and interest of their stories and pictures and because they featured content about nature.geo-a-cropped

Just when I was resigning myself to sending my collection for re-cycling, I showed some copies to a pastoral care worker caring for patients suffering from advanced dementia. To my delight, she offered to take some copies in order to trial their use with her clients.

As she explained, a big part of dementia care is helping sufferers find pleasure and meaning in reconnecting with lifetime memories. Music is very valuable in this connection, for example. Her thought was that articles and photos in Geo might trigger memories of holidays, places visited and experiences with wildlife.

A day or two after she took the copies, she reported back to me rather excitedly. She told me how browsing Geo articles together had built a conversational bridge between a son and his dementia burdened father.  Typically the son found communicating with his father about immediate day-to-day topics very difficult. But sharing the articles brought a very welcome transformation.  The articles triggered memories in the father of his trips to some of Australia’s iconic natural wonders such at Kakadu National Park. He was able to talk about these trips not only lucidly but informatively. The son was surprised to learn things he didn’t know about his dad’s earlier life. Both the memories and the conversation brought precious moments of pleasure and significance to the two men.

Happy memories – those that combine joy, satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment – are indeed precious. Like cherished books and magazines, they can be returned to again and again, evoking the same welcome feelings and thoughts over and over again. This is true for happy memories of all kinds, including, and perhaps especially, memories of nature experiences.

My brother-in-law, Robert Macarthur, reminded me of this when he shared this recollection with me:

Sixty years ago we went to Mosquito Creek and saw the most striking explosion of colour I have ever seen among eucalypts. There was this circular carpet of white bush-heather, guarded by magnificent tumble-down gums with their trunks splashed with all manner of browns and yellows, whites and greys; wattles in yellow also stood around the circle their yellow blossom threaded by a purple vine; beauty that was unforgettable.

Bob was nearing his 90th birthday when he shared these thoughts and, as he says, the experience he was recalling occurred 60 years earlier. Nevertheless, the detail and vividness of his recollections are amazing. Such is the power of images of natural beauty pleasure to endure in memory and to have a life-long impact.

And it is not only images drawn from nature that are stored in memory for a lifetime. When psychological researcher, Rachael Sebba, asked people to nominate their favourite places from childhood, almost all recalled a natural setting – very often because of the fun things they did there. The adults’ happy memories were mainly of the things that nature permitted them to do – to have “adventures”, for example, to meet challenges, and to socialise with friends. Recreational activities in nature are particularly memorable because they are enjoyable in a way that provides a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfilment.

I have to admit, that I did not let all my copies of Geo go. Those that had content relating to my owngeo-b-cropped experiences I kept – expressly to evoke memories. An article about Claustral Canyon in the Blue Mountains, for example, takes me back to one of the most exciting nature experiences – abseiling, water-jumping, swimming and wading – I have ever had.

This is one of countless memories I am able to draw from my virtually lifelong connection with nature. Not all of these memories have to do with activities and “adventures”. Many, like the one Bob recalled, are of the beauty and wonder of nature. Bringing these memories to mind is not simply a case of conjuring up dates, times and places. It is much more than that. I reconstruct the experiences in some of their sensory and emotional detail; I relive them to some degree – from the inside so to speak. I become a time traveller escaping the “now”. This sort of memory is known as “autobiographical memory” because it is about the narrative we make from the happenings in our lives.

It is important to emphasise that autobiographical memories are rarely, if ever, exact representations of these happenings. They are always mental reconstructions that are influenced not only by the “facts” of the happenings but also by a host of other factors related to our continuing efforts to make the best (for us) sense of the facts. A memory is less an accurate and permanent record and more a story that is constantly being subtly condensed and re-shaped in the telling. Nevertheless, it is entirely appropriate to cherish our happy, autobiographical memories. They help us to know, appreciate and value ourselves as persons.

My own autobiographical memories are, of course, sourced from more area of my life than my connection with nature alone. But my sense of who I am is vastly enriched by the memories I draw from that connection.

An amazing thing about these memories is the relative convenience and reliability with which I was able to collect them. I have found that nature can be relied upon to provide a never-ending flow, and remarkable variety, of enduringly memorable experiences. Believe me, nature is a truly wonderful maker of memories.

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I never thought I would think, much less say, that taking a mobile phone on a nature walk could be a good idea. Mobile phones have become technological tyrants in the lives of many people. Sure, they are a great communication tool, but they are an insistent source of distraction that can almost run our lives if we are not careful. And they certainly have no place in nature-based activities undertaken to find stillness, inner calm and tranquillity – or at least so I believed.

My mind was changed by Matthew Johnstone’s story. Having had a long struggle with depression himself, Matthew is now creative director at the Black Dog Institute. He has been greatly helped by what he calls “eyes-wide-open” meditation (EWOM). This, he says, is a form of mindfulness meditation that is for people who are turned off by conventional insight or mindfulness meditation (MM) – or who find it difficult.

The cover of Matthew Johnstone's book on how to use photography in mindfulness meditation

The cover of Matthew Johnstone’s book on how to use photography in mindfulness meditation

MM involves quietening the mind by channelling attention onto an object, such as a candle flame, a feeling, a word or mantra – “om” is a popular one – or one’s own breathing, and then observing in a non-judgemental way the thoughts and feelings that pop into your head. The key ingredient of mindfulness says medical academic, Dr Craig Hassed, is that “we are conscious of what is going on but not in a self-conscious kind of way – so paying attention rather than thinking about ourselves”.

In contrast to MM, which adopts an inward looking perspective, EWOM turns our observing to the world beyond ourselves. It requires us to slow down, look around, and let our attention be attracted and held. It centres our awareness on the “out there” and enables our senses to dwell on “beautiful light, beautiful shapes [and] beautiful colours”. It locates us in the present and the here and now and, in so doing, quietens the sometimes unpleasant and damaging “busyness” of our minds.

Matthew found that a camera can be a great aid to EWOM.

“A camera in your hands is the reminder to consciously slow everything down from your breath, to your walk, to your thoughts… To take photographs, we have to stop, look around, focus and capture. It brings our awareness to what’s going on.”

The camera does not have to be a fancy one. The camera built into most mobile phones is quite suitable for the purpose. Indeed, a mobile phone camera is the perfect tool for EWOM, he says, especially for people on-the-go. A great advantage of your phone camera is that you probably have it with you all or most of the time. It is also convenient to carry and easy to use.

Based on Matthew’s remarks, I have identified some simple guidelines for using your camera phone as a EWOM tool (no doubt Matthew would suggest others):

  • Switch the phone to aeroplane mode so that you’re not distracted by texts, tweets and the like.
  • Let the camera remind you to consciously slow everything down – from your breath, to your walk, to your thoughts – and then take time to look.
  • Imagine the camera is asking you questions like, “What can you see that no-one else can? What grabs your heart? What makes you smile?”

This last guideline underlines the importance of photographing only what resonates with you – what you find yourself drawn to happily and involuntarily. These will be subjects that you find intrinsically interesting and attractive; subjects that you attend to effortlessly and without direction from your conscious mind. Psychologists refer to this involuntary, interest and emotion-driven attention as “fascination”, and contrast it with the fatiguing, voluntary, choice-driven (or directed) attention that is so much part of day-to-day life.

In the human mind, nature and fascination go together. Just as directed attention is an inescapable part of life in modern environments, fascination is the “normal” or typical form of attention in natural places. The psychological relationship between fascination and nature is forged by our emotions. The emotional centres in the human brain evolved long before the thinking parts and continue to have a big say in our behaviour including where and how we focus our attention.

There is now overwhelming evidence that fascination experienced in natural environments is therapeutic. Apart from countering stress, it enhances recovery from mental fatigue and associated mood problems. It is not hard to imagine that regular doses of fascination help relieve depression and anxiety, perhaps by giving the brain time-out from negative thoughts and feelings.

Matthew Johnstone practices EWOM in all kinds of settings. But I think that natural settings have more than most to offer as far as EWOM is concerned.

Matthew Jonstone b

And if the phone camera can help with EWOM then I am willing to concede that there is a case for taking a mobile phone (switched to aeroplane mode, of course) on a nature walk. If you are going to be “in the present and the here-and-now” anywhere, the “present and the here-and-now” in nature are as good as it gets.

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Have you ever returned to a very scenic place that you hadn’t visited for some time and found it to be more beautiful than you remembered?bluegum e

I frequently have that experience. With my days of full-pack bushwalking behind me, I am re-discovering many of the shorter day-walks I did in the early days of my bushwalking career. A few months back, I did one such walk, The Blue Gum Walk that is located in bushland on the northern margin of Sydney. Actually, it is a walk that is well-known to me as I have done it several times over the years. Nevertheless I was exhilarated – yes exhilarated – by the diverse beauty I encountered. I came away marvelling that such magnificent scenery could be found right on Sydney’s doorstep. I responded to the walk almost as if this was the first time I had done it. You might even say that I had discovered the walk again for the first time.

Why is it that my earlier very positive memories of the walk had dimmed to such an extent? Could I be suffering an unusual long-term memory problem along with whatever might be happening to my short-term memory?

I don’t think so. It is much more likely that my memory is working very much as it always has. In allowing the positive emotional content of good memories to erode over time, my brain is functioning in a typically human fashion. Generally speaking, the things that make us happy are not threatening to our survival – quite the contrary. This means that there is not the same imperative for our brains to remember such things. Things that make us happy are not likely to kill or injure us. Nasty things, on the other hand, could – so it pays our brains to be very efficient at remembering threatening experiences – especially the negative emotions like fear and disgust that such experiences evoke.

Our brains, in other words, are better at remembering the bad rather than the good things that happen to us. That is why Rick Hansen, author of Hardwiring Happiness, says that it is very important both to repeat and to dwell on happy experiences if we want them to leave a lingering beneficial legacy in our brains.

A consequence of my muted recall of the delights of The Blue Gum Walk was that I underestimated how enjoyable it was going to be. This is not surprising as expectations depend on memories.

An interesting possibility this raises is that we all tend to underestimate the positive return we will get from an anticipated nature activity. We may expect to get some pleasure from, say, a bushwalk, stroll in a park or garden visit, but less than we actually experience.

To test this possibility, Elizabeth Nisbet and John Zelenski conducted a couple of intriguing experiments at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. They took advantage of the fact that, on the Carleton University campus, it is possible to get from one place to another either along outdoor paths or through underground tunnels (popular in an Ottawa winter). In both studies, they randomly assigned participants (male and female adults, aged 16 – 48 years) to take walks either in the tunnels or outdoors along the paths through natural features. The researchers tested two predictions:

  • participants would enjoy walking outdoors more than indoors and that the outdoor walkers would feel more connected with nature;
  • participants would make forecasting errors, such that they would underestimate their enjoyment of the outdoor walk.

The results of the experiments supported both predictions. Walking outdoors produced better moods but the extent of the emotional buzz was not fully anticipated even though the predictions were about walks in familiar areas.

Nesbit and Zelenski draw this conclusion from their studies:

To the extent that affective forecasts determine choices, our findings suggest that people fail to maximise their time in nearby nature and thus miss opportunities to increase their happiness and relatedness to nature.

 In other words, lower expectations about the pay-off from nature activities means fewer such activities are chosen.

For those of us in the business of promoting greater society-wide engagement with nature, any guideline for helping people make pro-nature lifestyle choices is welcome. Nesbit and Zelenski’s findings may be suggesting just such a guideline, namely increase expectations about nature’s pay-offs.

If you asked Rick Hansen how this could be achieved, I am confident that he would emphasise two broad strategies:

  • Help yourself to pleasurable nature experiences often and regularly – these can be as simple as spending a few minutes in a nearby park or garden;
  • Savour the experience deeply so that it stirs your brain’s memory networks into sustained activity.

Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff have written a book about savouring, a process of being deliberately mindful of pleasure and attentive to its source. They describe a range of techniques for savouring, including:

  • Be absorbed: Go with the “flow”. Stay with your feelings and try not to think about what is happening and why. Dwell in the moment and be aware of your oneness with the object of your contemplation. Ignore the presence of others and shut out distracting thoughts. Don’t rush for the camera – give priority to making a “psychological” record rather than a photographic or electronic one.
  • Sharpen perceptions: Accept nature’s implicit invitation to discover more. Let your attention take you deeper into the experience. Observe mindfully – listen, taste, feel, smell as well as look. Follow Rachel Carson’s suggestion to focus as if this is the last time you will have the experience.
  • Support memory storage: After allowing time for absorption, take a photo, make a sketch, or write a diary or journal entry. Reminisce about your experience with a friend. If appropriate keep a physical souvenir (a pebble, feather or leaf, for example).

 

As I have decided that I could do a good deal more savouring on my bushwalks, I am on the lookout for practical savouring activities to try. As an example, a friend has suggested spending half an hour of each bushwalk simply observing the insect and other life on a small patch of the forest floor or on the trunk of a tree. Other suggestions gratefully received (use the comments box if you like).

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That’s right: it’s “body and soil” not “body and soul” are one (although that may be true as well).

This ancient piece of Korean wisdom along with modern scientific discoveries is motivating a remarkable Korean public health initiative – the establishment of healing forest centres throughout the country. Talk about regarding nature as an essential resource for human health and general wellbeing (as I did in my last post)! A better example is hard to imagine.

I have more to say about the Korean healing forest centres below, but first I want to reflect on a recent related article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Quite by chance, the article, which also deals with nature as a resource, appeared soon after my last post was published. The article is by Gareth Collins, President of the NSW Chapter of Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and is entitled Sydney’s Beauty Lies in Nature.

Sydneysiders could see this as a slightly provocative title, given the world-wide admiration of the OperaSydney Harbour aerial House, the Harbour Bridge and indeed the many stretches of attractive urban development around Sydney Harbour itself.

But Gareth reminds us that Sydney has around it vast areas of natural bushland, much of it still in a state of wilderness. There are also ribbons of bushland within the metropolitan area itself. These are located mostly along rivers and creeks draining into the harbour or into Botany Bay in the city’s south. (The river entering the harbour in the centre top of the photo actually passes through one such ribbon of bushland, now preserved as a National Park.)

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Suburban streets are not far away

As Gareth points out, these areas of natural bushland form an immense green infrastructure that pervades our suburbs, along roads, streets, creek lines and in parks, and makes Sydney one of the greenest cities in the world. This natural beauty, he writes, is a gift to Sydneysiders, which must not be taken for granted.

Like many cities around the world, Sydney is short of land to accommodate a very rapidly expanding population. In response, urban density is increasing along with the expansion of suburbs into formerly rural area. This, together with the development of essential infrastructure, poses a great threat to urban greenery, especially so if there is a failure to acknowledge the value of natural spaces as a resource for life.

Gareth sets out a charter of what is needed:

All development needs to contribute to the total urban forest so that shade, clean air and natural beauty are on hand. Projects need to be co-ordinated to ensure high-quality public space is accessible to all. A visual and physical connection to the landscape and water needs to be provided and maintained.

 And why?

[To] create a healthier environment, a happier inhabitant, and a more productive city.

The mention of health brings us back to Korea and specifically to Saneum Healing Forest near Seoul. South Korea is like Sydney in a way; it is richly endowed with vast natural areas, forests of towering pine, oak and maple. Saneum is one of 37 state-run recreational forest scattered across the nation. The forests offer citizens easy and enjoyable access to the country’s vast natural resources with cheaper entrance fees than other private or government-owned recreational forests.

Saneum is also one of three similar forests where healing centres have been established. These centres offer programs based on strong science that links forest-based activities, especially walking, to a range of health benefits, including reduced stress levels, lower blood pressure and improved concentration.

In this respect the programs are very similar to ones provided in Japan under the umbrella of the shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) movement. Activities included in the healing programs are meditation, forest yoga, dancing, poetry reading and “gi” (energy) exercising (shown in the photo).

So successful have these programs been that the Korean government plans to have 34 healing forest centres in operation by 2017, one close to all major cities. So far this policy, based as it is on the demonstrated value of nature as a public health resource, has increased visits to forest from 9.4 million in 2010 to 12.8 million in 2013. This is an extraordinary increase given that the comparable trend in Australia and other Western countries is in the other direction.

I wonder if I will ever see “bush healing centres” in national parks or reserves in or near Sydney and other Australian major cities and towns?

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The annual report from WordPress (my blog’s webhost) has just turned up in my email. The report tells me how many views my posts attracted during 2015, how many visitors dropped by, the countries they were from, the most viewed posts and so on. The report points out that many of the posts are still being viewed, prompting the suggestion that the topics of these posts might be worth revisiting. Always open to wise suggestions, I have decided to do just that in this post – but with a twist.

The most viewed post by a country mile was one I published in 2014, soon after the birth of my great granddaughter, Zoe Margaret. In that post, The World I Would Like for Zoe, I reflect on the world that I hope will be hers – not so much the world in general but more the part nature might play in her life and, indeed, in the lives of everyone. The post was written very much in the “I have a dream” vein, the dream being for a world where Zoe can forge a deep and mutually nurturing friendship with the natural world. I want this for her because, as a human being, this is a relationship she is meant to have and also needs. It is her birthright no less.

Needless to say, observing Zoe’s delight in discovering the natural world is a great joy. Recently she Gang Gang bfound Gang Gang Cockatoos and other native birds very much to her liking. She rapidly learnt to recognize the sound, “gang gang”, and to look for the birds where they usually sit.

Zoe is able to discover nature because her family constantly provides her with opportunities to do so, and she is growing up near abundant natural bushland and urban greenery.

On both counts she is a very fortunate little girl. The natural world is becoming a resource for her mental, emotional, social and spiritual life.

The understanding that nature is an essential resource for human all-round wellbeing is accepted by many but not by all. Indeed there are vested interests, ideologies and mind-sets that find such an idea threatening – even contemptuous.

I was reminded of this by an email I received just a day or two ago. The email was from Michael Keats, one of three bushwalkers who have dedicated themselves to raising awareness of as well as protecting beautiful landscapes and ecosystems close to Sydney. A visit to their website is highly recommended – even to my overseas readers because the site contains many stunning photographs. These photos (from their website) of the Gardens of Stone provide a glimpse of the beauty that Michael and co want to share and preserve for posterity.

Pagodas explorers

Garden of Stone pagoda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A great concern is that many of these unique formations are being threatened by mining operations that can undermine the structures causing them to collapse.Gardens of stone threat

This is an excerpt from Michaels’s message:

I have authored over a dozen books on bushwalking and made a number of appearances before PAC [Planning Assessment Commission] enquiries to try and prevent the destruction of bushland for Coal Mines. In my submissions and personal appearance I have emphasised the spiritual value of the bush to restore and replenish the human spirit and suggested that resources should be committed to opening up areas such as the Newnes Plateau to bushwalking and discovery rather than mining. Whilst I have not been laughed out of court, sniggers from coal miners and pro coal advocates are common. I walk twice a week and go camping whenever I can. The stimulation to my life from close contact with nature is amazing.

IMG_0338 fixedWhile some of the magnificent areas that Michael refers to are in wilderness areas, others are readily accessible. I have been visiting these areas for over 40 years and share Michael’s passion for them. My life would have been the poorer without the Newnes Plateau and the Gardens of Stone.

My fervent hope is that Zoe will get to visit such life-enriching places as often as I have.

That is why I am immensely grateful for what Michael and his associates are doing. They are true “biophilic crusaders” – people who are fostering both a love of nature (biophilia) and a commitment to the preservation of natural environments.

I am writing this on January 1, 2016 – as good a day as any for New Year resolutions. With biophilic crusaders in mind, I resolve to make 2016 a year when I do more to support conservation organisations and “naturalising” projects (projects aimed at transforming urban spaces into pockets of grassland and trees).

If this resolution resonates with you, why not join me?

Happy New Year, Bonne Année, Manigong Bagong Taon, Heri ya mwaka mpya, Buon anno, あけましておめでとう, Frohes Neues Jahr.

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When my bushwalking friend, Jane, told me her “conversion” (or her “how she got it”) story, I just had to share it. Here’s that story in Jane’s own words – delightfully told.

According to most of the bushwalkers I meet, I am a recent convert to walking. I didn’t start walking in my youth but rather left it till I was much, much older. I admired those who could walk for days covering large expanses of ground in often remote areas. I was not one to don a backpack filled with dried peas and a waffle iron, walk for hours and sleep the sleep of the righteous under the heavens on a flimsy bit of foam.

I’m still not. In some ways that hasn’t been such a bad thing. I didn’t “use it” but I was lucky that I didn’t “lose it”. My knees after resting for nearly 40 years are still able to clamber down hills and ford streams. And its all still a bit of a novelty.Jane blog a

Today I do love walking and I have been able to sleep under the stars. These days I sometimes walk in the bush. I sometimes walk in New Zealand forests. I love walking in alpine regions. And wherever possible I include a walk when I travel overseas.

This small contribution to “Our Green Genes” is about how I got hooked on walking.

Where was I before I got interested in walking ….

I am now well into my 50’s but still think of myself as middle aged. I am recently retired from a senior management role in government. I live on the upper north shore of Sydney but grew up on the northern beaches in the 60s surrounded by beaches and bush.

I enjoy the theatre, spa treatments, champagne, nice wines and good food.

I married an ageing bushwalker in my 30s.

It took him until I was in well into my 40’s to talk me into buying my first pair of walking boots. Before that I thought walking was just a means of getting around the shops.

My first pair of boots….

I was driven to buying walking boots in 2008 out of necessity rather than desire, I would have preferred an Oroton handbag which was about the same price. According to my husband, I needed these boots to “walk” in Tasmania where there was the potential of running into a “tiger snake”.

What? There are tiger snakes in Hobart?

No. But we had booked three days at Cradle Mountain Lodge for a romantic getaway and while I had my eye on the spa package and the restaurant menu, he had his eye on taking a walk in the national park.

So, I ventured into Kathmandu in George Street Sydney. I had never been in the store before. I hurried there between meetings. The salesman was most helpful. He sold me my first pair of walking boots with ankle support in the colours of gelato. The whole process took about 10 minutes. I bought the first and only pair that I tried on. I think I also bought a matching pair of socks. I didn’t care what they looked like. At that stage I was not planning on wearing them too often.

The first walk……actually walks!

Cradle Mountain Lodge offered an afternoon guided walk around Dove Lake. A mere two and half hour stroll around the shore in a group of about twenty. It sounded right up my alley. Off we headed with the new boots. We walked around the lake with the rest of the group of tourists who chatted continuously and “oohed” and “ahhed” at the lovely vistas across the lake to Cradle Mountain.

The guide was very good. He showed where the Overland Track headed upwards to Marion’s Lookout and described a lovely walk at the start of the Overland from Ronny Creek across the button grass and around Crater Lake cutting back across the ridge to Dove Lake. It sounded delightful…Overall around 10 kms….I dismissed it immediately.

We carried on around the lake. We took photos. We were back in time for happy hour. I brushed off the boots and packed them away. Wifely duty complete.

However, I got talked into the OTHER walk. The “carrot” was a massage at the spa to be enjoyed afterwards.

This walk was to be unguided and minus the crowds.

We headed off early on the National Parks and Wildlife Service shuttle bus to Ronny Creek. We were the only ones to get off the bus. We headed off on our own across the duckboards and through the yellow button grass plain.

It was so very quiet.

And it was flat. Then we came to a hill. I plodded over the top and descended down to Crater Lake where there was a small walkers hut. We stopped there for morning tea.

It was so very quiet.

We left there along a well-marked trail that swept around the lake and then branched off over the hill to Wombat Pond. It was on the way down the hill we headed through the most perfect snow gum forest. We stopped.

It was no longer quiet.

Snow gums during autumn imperfectly shed their bark. Dead bark comes off in large, irregular strips before eventually tearing away from the trunk. The stripped bark reveals trunks of blonde wood. The bark after a little rain takes on a dark red colour. The gentle breeze off Wombat Pond was rising up through these snow gums and causing the long bark strips to flap slowly like giant flags unfurling. The noise was like the clapping of many hands. The smell was bush; eucalypt, damp moss, mushrooms, truffles, wet socks, earthy.

Jane getting it at Cradle Mountain

Jane at Cradle Mountain where the magic happened

We stood and listened. We didn’t move and we didn’t speak. We just stood there smiling like happy idiots. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. .

It was then I “got it” ….I understood why my husband and many others walk and love it. Places like this are unique. They can’t be replicated by man. They can’t be built. And they make you grin like a fool.

We just stood there for 10 minutes enjoying the show. We then walked in silence down to Wombat Pond where I took my first “boot shot” – a photo of my boots with background scenery to mark the occasion. I was hooked.

This was my first real walk and the first photo of the travelling boots. Since then I have taken about 30 boot shots. Nearly every time we walk, I take a photo of the boots. The boots have travelled everywhere; they have seen a fair bit of Australia, have been to New Zealand a couple of times completing two classic walks, Africa twice, Italy, France, Canada and the US. And while I was still working, the travelling boot shots adorned my office to remind me of better things that lay outside.Jane blog b

And who would have guessed back in 2008 that six years later we would return to Tasmania and complete the Overland Track from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair albeit as part of a “supported walk” guided tour. We only had to carry our personal items and we slept in lodges with hot showers, great food and cold beer. But I still did it and I did it in the original boots.

The Overland marked the death of my first pair of boots. I am now on my second pair which I agonised over their selection paying much more attention to fit, sole, water proofing and lacings. I think I spent about an hour trying on different ones.

I have plans to complete many more walks. Here’s hoping that I have at least another pair of boots left in me.

PS I have yet to see a SNAKE!

If there is someone you care about who still has to “get it” as far as nature is concerned, perhaps Jane’s story will encourage or even inspire them. Why not share it with them?

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Isn’t this something?

2015 Wynne Prize finalist Natasha Bieniek Biophilia oil on Dibond 9 x 9 cm © the artist **This image may only be used in conjunction with editorial coverage of the 2015 Wynne Prize competition, on display 18 July to 27 September 2015, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This image may not be cropped or overwritten. Prior approval in writing required for use as a cover. Caption details must accompany reproduction of the image.***Media contact: Lisa.Catt@ag.nsw.gov.au  *** Local Caption *** **This image may only be used in conjunction with editorial coverage of the 2015 Wynne Prize competition, on display 18 July to 27 September 2015, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This image may not be cropped or overwritten. Prior approval in writing required for use as a cover. Caption details must accompany reproduction of the image.***Media contact: Lisa.Catt@ag.nsw.gov.au

This stunning creation by Natasha Bieniek is the winner of the prestigious 2015 WynneNatasha Bieniek Prize for the best landscape painting of an Australian scene. It is entitled Biophilia.

The exquisite detail in the painting is cause enough for admiration, but the realisation that all the detail is captured in a painting only 9 x 9 cm in size transforms admiration into awe.

NB_12_Natasha-Bieniek_Biophilia_holding_oil-on-dibond_9x9cm_2015_-crop-1_WEBSITE

Natasha says that she is particularly interested in the impact of nature within an urban environment.

My miniature oil painting, Biophilia, is part of a recent series that explores the way humans relate to the natural world. Biophilia literally means ‘love of life’ and references a scientific study that suggests our tendency to affiliate with nature is inherent and integral to our psychological and physical development. The inner-city landscape depicted in my painting illustrates a sense of tranquility that contrasts with its active surroundings. My intention is to draw focus on such diverse pockets of nature, and present the idea that we, as humans, are not above nature but very much a part of it.

Apart from being an artistic tour de force, the painting reveals a deep insight into the features of nature that most reliably and powerfully evoke biophilic thoughts, emotions and actions.

Note, for example:

  • The mix of light and shade
  • The rich diversity of vegetation
  • The deep blue of the sky
  • The tall tree with an open canopy (on the left)
  • The fractal (fragmented but repeated patterns) structures formed by the branches of the tree on the left
  • The winding path that takes the viewer’s eye towards a “mysterious” distance
  • The absence (almost) of people
  • The yellow and red colours providing a counterpoint to the various shades of green

In this, another of Natasha’s miniatures in the “biophilia” series, she captures superbly whatbieniek biophilia 2 is arguably the most powerful biophilic features of all – still water bounded by greenery. This painting is also extraordinarily rich in fractal images – in the contours as well as the branches of the trees and shrubs.

(With thanks to Wendy for the link) I am now aware of at least one other artist who has been inspired by biophilia. Christopher Marley, who describes himself as a “chronically afflicted biophiliac”, is an artist/photographer who creates patterns and mosaics using insects, shells and other life forms. Here are examples from his book, Biophilia:

biophilia_marley5biophilia_marley11

Marley collects the specimens for his art work in ethical and sustainable ways, working closely with scientists, reputable collectors and institutions. Marley explains what he is trying to achieve in this way:

I have found that when my subjects are meticulously composed, it makes the translation more intelligible for the public at large, just as random music notes, once properly orchestrated, can enter the heart and sway it almost against our volition. Once an appreciation for the aesthetics of insects is born, it is amazing how quickly old prejudiced and stereotypes fall away. When people begin to see beauty where they had previously known only a mundane, distasteful, or even frightening world of arcane organisms, positive changes in their perceptions of arthropods as a whole are sure to follow.

His primary purpose, Marley himself says, is to bring people joy. I have no problem with that. But I do question the assumption he appears to be making that insects and other “mundane” creatures need to be dressed up as art works in order to be attractive. In my experience, taking the time to look is all that is required to discover the intrinsic beauty in nature’s creepy crawlies, like this tiny Australian Peacock Spider, for example.Peacock spider

I enthusiastically commend Marley’s understanding of biophilia, however.

It is a symbiotic relationship. The more we grow in understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the more we invest in it, the greater the peace, satisfaction, and joy we receive from our association in return, just as we involuntarily develop love for those people we truly understand and serve. As with all ordained goodness, the more we give, the more we receive.

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