How do you interact with the countryside? Do you use it for recreation? Is it, perhaps, the backdrop to a walk with family or friends? Is it something in which you exercise yourself and the dog? The real question is, ‘Do you ever stop and truly engage with it?’
I know from experience that it is hard to find the time to stop and do nothing, to step outside of your daily life and find a moment when you can become part of the countryside, aware of and immersed in your surroundings. It is something that I don’t do enough, but when I do I find that the benefits stay with me for a long time afterwards. It does require patience and the ability to temporarily switch of thoughts of the things you should really be doing.
The first thing I do is find somewhere off the beaten track, a spot on the river perhaps, the shade of a hedgerow or the middle of some wooded gully. I settle myself down and just watch and listen to what is going on around me. It is the sounds that you notice first, invariably the songs and calls of birds; being able to recognise the different species means that you can soon place the players that make up the soundscape: the distant Chiffchaff, the sweet-sounding Blackbird and the thin song of a Dunnock. Behind these is a deeper chorus; a low, drowsy buzz of dozens of insects, the true background to an English spring. Once you have settled into the rhythm and melodies you then start to pick up other sounds, perhaps the rustling of some small mammal in the grassy sward.
Then you start to pick up movement, your peripheral vision charting foraging birds as they move through the scrubby cover. Now you are settled you become part of the scenery and other creatures pass by unaware of your presence. I have had Munjtac approach to within a foot or so, oblivious to my dappled form, hunkered down in the shadow of a hedge. I have had shrews and, once, a mole, run over me, going about their business at a rate that counters my calm immobility. Very occasionally, if I have not chosen the place of my solitude well, it will be another human being that passes close by, unknowing and blinkered, perhaps deep in thought.
As we have become more divorced from the world around us I feel that our senses have been dulled. With no predators to fear in this pleasant English countryside, our senses are no longer alert to what is going on around them. Taking time out provides an opportunity to re-engage them.