A Year of Nature

As is typical, an end of year summary post. Being a scientific type it’s stats driven, in contrast to my personal highlight, thinking about nature’s beauty – I’ll cover that, and the most popular posts at the end of the post. First up are some popular tweets, which are also worth reflecting on.

Walk until the landscape suggests a place to stand

A phrase that came to me late summer while walking, a phrase that suggests our embeddedness in the natural world, how our decisions are based on that coupling between landscape and mind, places where perceptual fluency and aesthetics require us to pause.

The most popular of these images (53 favourites and retweets) was a surprise to me, a pollard willow exploding above the Old Dove, with tired reeds collapsed to the fore. Great that a winter landscape (taken 13/12/14) can be so compelling


Second, with 49, another winter landscape, although from the archives, 15/1/12. Research into popular landscape views has suggested that people like a pathway curving into the distance – not quite got that here, but hints at it.


Third with 42, it’s back to the Old Dove, and an photo taken 30/11/14. This is a favourite haunt of mine on the edge of the parish. A place I discovered September 2011, when I repeated my first visit on six consecutive days as I sought familiarity. On those first trips, I was fascinated by the river, cradled by the landscape as it carried the spirit of its upland source to the flatlands of the meadows. It offered new sounds, the return of leaping fish, subtle rapids with countless voices, like audible leaves on a tree. And by the river, lies a clear oxbow lake, where the shadows of willows reach over the flat fields for the flow of the river beyond. Over those consecutive trips, I visited at different times to read the various stories of the day; especially that cusp between night and day. I found the static vigour of the hawthorn and watched the dance of the willow. The stillness of the water allowed me to look down, yet up through its wonder of movement. My favourite aspect around the oxbow is a tree I’ve named the painter’s alder, leaning over the water, forever reaching for its own reflection – the alder is central in the photo below.


The fourth most popular photo was also taken by the oxbow, it’s not until the fifth that a more distant landscape of the Northumberland coast figures – I’ll be tweeting the top 10 images from @blackbirdsyear. Looking back it reinforces the value of familiarity and the pleasure that can be drawn from a modest, rather than more spectacular landscape.

Walk until the landscape suggests words to write

Once stood, a sentence or more often comes to me. I’ve realised that the act of writing these down is not simply an output of thought, a substitute for speech or recording of knowledge – the writing enables and shapes my thinking about our connection to nature – sentences carry thought and help create new thinking, so writing in nature also develops our thinking about our relationship to nature. That is why my nature writing in A Blackbird’s Year (published Autumn 2014) informs my research, for example 1000 Good Things in Nature (published Autumn 2014 in Environmental Values).

Having the associated image brings these sentences to life, for example, most popular with 47 was an image taken last week. I’d set out in search of a murmuration that was reliable last winter, but I’ve not seen it this year. Stood there alone, in the fading light, I noted the ‘Solace of the reeds and their perpetual request for silence’.


Solace of the reeds and their perpetual request for silence.

Second, with 34, is ‘A cutting crystal frost released another day’, once again, by the Old Dove, the power of a familiar landscape seen at different times across the seasons; each step is a word in nature’s story, each minute another line in the story of the day.


A cutting crystal frost released another day

Third, with 30, ‘A tree harbours light’.


A tree harbours light

Finding Nature Blog Posts

When I looked at the stats, the most viewed blog post came as another surprise, it was Green Ergonomics: Nature Connection by Design, posted 14/7/2014 – most people think ergonomics is to do with chairs, and supermarkets sell ‘ergonomic socks’, so I thought the title could be off-putting, but intriguing perhaps. The key message from the post was using design to provide prompts to pause and reflect on our shared place in nature. I can see scope for further research here, combining my work on the importance of pre-reflective and intentional self-attention for nature connectedness, with design, in order to create locations for nature connection, rather than an information panel based on knowledge and identification – connection to nature comes from meaning and emotion.

The second most viewed post is Nature Writing, Mind and Nature (2/11/14), considering the role of nature writing in our relationship with nature, with a focus on the somewhat forgotten Richard Jefferies, who explored the relationship between mind and nature.

Third most viewed, was a reflection on The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd (26/10/14).

“Shepherd joins the realities of self and nature and joys in the perception of the world, each sense a route into what nature has to give, channels of existence in the natural world such that mind can impregnate matter and create a living spirit that can walk out of the body and into the landscape.”

But rather than reading my blog, read Shepherd’s book!

While writing this post, What is a Connection to Nature? (15/12/14) has overtaken The Living Mountain, that post is thinking in progress, where I introduce my concept of ‘biopsychophysis’.

Nature’s Beauty

Opening this review post I mentioned nature’s beauty, and it is this topic that has most excited me during 2014, although the blog post on Nature’s Beauty and an Ecology of Mind (16/6/14) came 5th. The post was based on two papers from early 2014 on the importance of nature’s beauty in bringing about the benefits of a connection to nature. I found this exciting as this was predicted by Gregory Bateson back in the 1970s. Since that post our own research has suggested nature’s beauty is key in nature connection itself, but the work is still being written up, so can’t say any more just now.

Looking Ahead to 2015

Finally, it is always good to look forward, more research ahead, but the main focus just now is Nature Connections 2015 on 26/3/15. An interdisciplinary conference on pathways to nature connection, the programme is jam packed with a variety of interesting speakers followed by drinks at Derby Museum’s new Nature Gallery, if you’re interested in getting people connected to nature and want to meet like minded others, take a look – booking is open! I’ll be posting more details on the blog very soon.

All the best for 2015!


About Miles

Professor of Human Factors & Nature Connectedness - improving connection to (the rest of) nature to unite human & nature’s wellbeing.
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