A recent post had highlighted the benefits of living in awe and wonder and had been prompted by an article in Good Housekeeping magazine. This month my attention was drawn to a wellbeing commentary in the Royal Horticultural Society’s The Garden publication where writer Lia Leendertz reflected on four key ingredients that help our overworked brains reset and re-energise.
According to Rachel and Stephen Kaplans’ Attention Restoration Theory we need to find a space that we can immerse ourselves fully in, that is away from our normal sphere of existence and where we feel safe. It also needs to offer some degree of fascination. These also resonated with my previous topic of taking a day off each week to regroup and recover. This is, if we also view through the Christian lens, set aside from the normal day to day and allowed to focus on all that is glorious and good. All writers have highlighted how it is invariably the commonplace that offers these sanctuaries, not just the obvious locations with a billable wow factor.
Jane and I found all of these in a simple walk along the Tees.
As is becoming depressingly familiar for a recalcitrant winter reluctant to turn into spring, the forecast was for wet and windy.
Actually, make that very windy. Heading east replaced wet for dry; the wind, we soon discovered, there was no getting away from.
Jane is a relative newcomer to the Tees and I felt that a saunter from Barnard Castle to Gainford would offer another lovely opportunity for her to see a river growing in maturity and stature amongst some of County Durham’s well-tended agricultural countryside. The sun shone, the skies blued and the river shimmered with dancing spangled light. It was quite glorious. The Tees was full and fast and in fine voice. Tributaries waterfalled into the tumult, their flow snatched into a river hurtling downstream, on a prophetic mission where eddies and waves spoke of the sea ahead. She was taking no prisoners today and we walked carefully on shorelines repeatedly washed in the substantial fruit of recent rain.
As majestic as she was, the river played a subtle second fiddle to the gale storming east overhead. Juggernauting through the trees, newly budding branches were wind whipped and swayed into the next layer of a fortissimo concerto soundscape punctuated by birdsong and muckspreaders. We may have avoided swimming in the river but we had no choice with full immersion in a breeze heading for a sonic boom.
Blown, nudged, pushed and pulled, we sailed forward, wind at our backs, sun on our faces, glimpsing a floral spring underfoot. A quadrille of wood pigeons rose hastily, white and grey handkerchiefs fluttering sunlit against the skeleton trees. Sunshine video projected living shadows along the path; YouTube footage had nothing on this. Everything that could, moved; dynamic, purposeful, noisy.
Alive with sound, Teesdale was having a spring clean; old, dead and damaged removed to make space for new.
Amongst this energy and power, the brain is ironically calmed and restored. In a place where awesome and glorious are at play, there is also the reassurance of pattern. Described nicely as a Fibonacci sequence to be exact. The maths is generally beyond me. However, Lia Leendertz continues, this is where each number equals the sum of the two numbers preceding it and the sequence runs something like 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 … and so on. It isn’t something that nature intends to display; rather a mathematical principle identified by Leonardo Pisano which can also be observed around us.
We saw it in tree branches splitting repeatedly to the finest twigs borne cerulean heavenwards. Primroses and daisies too. Nature is actually busy creating plants that make the most of the local resources; leaf and petal alignment are perfectly orientated to make the plant’s life cycle as efficient as possible. It just so happens that many of them follow Fibonacci’s Golden Rule and these proportions are fascinating and refreshing to a tired brain.
I’d dallied for a couple of hours in the Durham’s Botanic Garden a few days before, in search of Fibonacci in the early spring flowerbeds. Normally drawn by colour, I instead counted. Petals mainly. Daffodils, as lovely as they are, don’t follow the pattern. Orchids and hellebores do. I love daffodils but the others absorb me totally. Has Pisano contained perfect beauty in a mathematical formula or is it just my personal perspective?
Along the Teesdale Way, tiny Fibonacci violets and snowdrops were scattered by the path, jewels dropped in times past by bird and breeze to decorate the route. Their minute delicacy and resilience brought a remarkable counterpoint to an environment sounding not dissimilar to that of standing in a motorway central reservation dividing six lanes of fast-moving trucks and wagons. Winter bleached autumn leaves helicoptered around our feet, scudding into sheltered hiding places to continue their recycling journey. Joining the A67 into Gainford became a battle to stay on the road. The wind was at its strongest here and we too were leaf littered along the pavement, holding railings and tree trunks as anchors during the intermittent squalls. After 11 miles of walking that seemed more as running before a storm, we landed windblown and energised in the Winstonberry café very ready for cake.
“We’ll get the bus back then,” I confirmed with Jane. She nodded, attention more taken with the large scone that had just been placed in front of her on the table. The girls behind the counter had been very clear in their directions as to where we should find the bus stop for our return trip to Barnard Castle.
“It’s not far to the bus shelter, a few hundred metres from here,” I continued, referring to the map. “If we allow fifteen minutes or so to get our muddy boots back on and walk up, we should have plenty of time before it arrives. You OK with that?”
Jane glanced at me, wind crafted hair now stashed neatly under a bright orange cap, half munched scone in hand with a gale glazed look that seemed to say “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
I had to agree with her.