Artforms in Nature

The natural world is full of geometric shapes and patterns. Complex explanations for the emergence and variance in natural patterns have been discussed by biologists, physicists and mathematicians; but it’s also nice to just appreciate the
patterns for their captivating beauty.

Look at the spiral of a snail shell; the ripples in sand created by the wind; a dried up pond with a cracked clay surface; the radiating veins of a leaf; the concentric rings within the trunk of a tree; the filaments of flowers; spiders’ webs; a moth’s wing; the honeycomb of a beehive (are you that brave?), or a bird’s feather.

If you’ve got a paper and pencil, try sketching what you find. If you’ve got your camera then take some photos. There is joy to be found in noticing the small things in the world around you – give yourself the gift of the time to do so.

This text is extracted from my forthcoming book, 100 Things to do in the Forest. Full details of the book can be found on Laurence King’s website. The text remains copyright of Jennifer Davis and Laurence King and may not be reprinted without permission. The hand drawn images are copyright Eleanor Taylor and Laurence King and may not be reused without permission. Pre-orders of the book are available on Amazon UK and Amazon in the USA.

Nature Framing

An important part of forest exploration is remembering to see the trees and not just the wood. The wide view of the world that we see when we look out from the top of a tree or stare off at the distant landscape allows one to see everything and also nothing.

This type of view can create calm and a sense of well-being, but shouldn’t be done at the expense of investigating the smallest corners of the woods.

If you happen to have a piece of string in your pocket, lay it out in a circle on the ground. You can create a similar effect by placing four twigs in a square. Then lie down so that you’re looking directly into the circle/ square from a distance of about 15cm. This is your nature frame, and your job is to study the contents of your frame in more and more minute detail until you are quite sure you haven’t missed a single thing.

Observe the living creatures you didn’t know were there. Notice how there are so many more colours than just the brown or green you were expecting. Watch the way the wind makes small changes within your frame. Getting lost staring into a nature frame changes your focus and gives you a greater understanding of a hidden world that is so often and so easily trodden upon without thought. It’s also more interesting than TV, so enjoy.

This text is extracted from my forthcoming book, 100 Things to do in the Forest. Full details of the book can be found on Laurence King’s website. The text remains copyright of Jennifer Davis and Laurence King and may not be reprinted without permission. The hand drawn images are copyright Eleanor Taylor and Laurence King and may not be reused without permission. Pre-orders of the book are available on Amazon UK and Amazon in the USA.

This text is extracted from my forthcoming book, 100 Things to do in the Forest. Full details of the book can be found on Laurence King’s website. The text remains copyright of Jennifer Davis and Laurence King and may not be reprinted without permission. The hand drawn images are copyright Eleanor Taylor and Laurence King and may not be reused without permission. Pre-orders of the book are available on Amazon UK and Amazon in the USA.

Stone Towers

Scottish Highlands folklore tells that, before a battle, soldiers would each place a stone in the shape of a tower at the top of a hill, and when the battle had finished, all who survived would return and remove a stone. Those stones that remained were left as a cairn to honour the dead.

Across the centuries and continents, cairns have been used as waymarkers, to mark summits, as memorials to fallen friends, as markers of a religious place, or, more recently, just as proof of having wandered by. The forest provides a perfect environment for building cairns as they are less likely to be disturbed when built off the beaten track and can be left as a secret memorial to mark a special occasion.

In some places, building stone towers is illegal as it disrupts the natural stone landscape. In other places it is frowned upon because it can confuse walkers who read the stone towers as waymarkers and get lost. In order to not create a potentially disorienting cairn for a pack of unsuspecting ramblers, stone towers bordering paths should be dismantled before being abandoned.

I heard you say ‘they’re just playing’

And you were right. They’re just playing. Because it is within their play that all of the worlds are explored, all of the fears are banished and all of their needs are communicated.

It is in their play that they learn to negotiate, the importance of compromise and the impossibility of always getting their own way. Through play they acquire empathy for others, the right to walk away from a game, the autonomy to say when things have gone too far and the protection of ‘fantasy’ to allow them to talk about the truth.

You say you want your children to ‘learn’ something and not just waste their days playing? How about learning about forgiveness, kindness, frailty, openness, humour, challenge and resilience? How about instead of worrying about the curriculum we make sure that the children we have been entrusted to nurture will grow to be adults who are willing to nurture others?

Human beings were designed to play their way into adulthood and it is through regular, uninhibited opportunities to play, from their earliest days right up until the moment they put their play aside for something else of their own accord, that they should be free to learn and grow.

You say ‘they’re just playing’. You’re right. Just playing is enough.

It’s never about the cucumber

I read online about a mother who was at her wits end because her daughter was hysterical because she wasn’t allowed to get into the oven with the cupcakes they had just made. I have heard the screams of a child who, when presented with some cucumber sticks, simply cannot eat them because she only likes them when they are round. Hysteria. Actual screaming, thrashing, head-exploding hysteria.

And here is what we’ve learned: it’s never about the cucumbers. It’s about the enormity of the trees and the unfamiliarity of the environment; it’s getting to the woods and realising that her friends aren’t there; it’s because she didn’t get tucked in enough times last night. Whatever.

And giving her some round sliced cucumbers is not going to fix anything.