Nature has a great power to calm, it allows us to put our thoughts aside for a moment and to once more find peace in our natural environment. Instinctively when we’re out in nature, our senses open up and we start to act more like animals. We smell the air. Listen for sounds. Look for moving shapes within the trees.
Over the stressful Christmas period it made sense to get out into nature and put life to one side for a moment or two. Anything to clear the head of the problems of life.
Fortunately, my house is in the outer suburbs, where the countryside is still winning the battle against the constantly growing city. Nearby there’s a large protected nature reserve, a mass of trees, fields and wildlife. As I entered the reserve it started to snow and I listened out for noises, but all I could hear was the crunch of my own boots.
The sound of the world when it’s covered in snow is uncanny. Since snow is soft the whole world is protected. Without hard surfaces for sounds to bounce off, no word travels far, there’s no echo. Have you ever gone outside in the darkness of midnight, when snow is covering the ground and the sky is filled with nothingness? The world seems completely deserted, dead. Your mind finds it strange, it can’t understand where the sounds have gone. You feel a little anxious, the same way you do when you’re in an empty school. Most memories we have of a place, are when they’re filled with sound. When you finally encounter a place without sound it’s almost unbearable. You need noise simply to validate your existence. If you can’t hear life, how can you know it exists? But soon enough the noise becomes peaceful, it caresses your body and puts you at ease.
As I was walking along the silent, snow covered paths of the nature reserve I noticed a robin flying down to a wooden bench, its head pecking at the snow. I decided to sneak up to it slowly, inching closer to get a photo. Lifting my camera up calmly, I took a photo. My sound broke the peace, the bird suddenly jumped, flying quickly into a nearby bush.
Instead of leaving, I decided to sit there, watching the bird in its safe haven, waiting to see whether it would return.
For 15 minutes it danced around the bush. Slowly edging closer to me.
This was the first time I’d spent an extended period of time just looking at a bird. It’s amazing how the smallest of things can have so much personality, how they can be so beautiful. The robin sat on the branches of the bush like a tiny Christmas bauble, light-heartedly it would jump into beams of light and its breast would flash bright red for a moment. All the while it flicked its head back and forwards, staring at me curiously, studying me. I stared back unable to decide who was watching who.
Soon the robin shot from the bush, gliding down to the bench beside me, close enough to touch, still looking at me, judging me. I wondered what it was thinking. It seemed to instinctively know that I meant no harm and within a moment it began to peck at the bench, before jumping down to my feet, searching for seeds in the snow. It seemed it was no longer aware of me, I was no longer a threat, so no longer worthy of curiosity.
As I watched it, it looked leapt up , swooping into a far away thicket, disappearing, no doubt sensing something that I couldn’t sense myself. It was gone and I was left sitting on the bench, smiling, not yet ready to move on.
Meeting the robin was a strange experience. It renewed me, sharing a moment with this bird. It was not an intellectual renewal, more spiritual. By sharing that moment with the robin it was like for a few moments I forgot about the life that existed around me, lost focus of things in my mind and simply enjoyed the rhythm of the birds movement, the slow flick of its feet in the snow.
As I wondered about why the bird was so captivating, I walked into the nearby woods. Fir trees grew thick and high into the sky, creating dark shadows on the trail in front of me. There is something magical about a fir forest in the winter. With snow covering the ground and the mysterious darkness between the trees, it’s almost as if at any moment you could walk into a gingerbread house.
Instead I came to a small clearing It was late in the afternoon and the low sun shone through the trees, the woods started to grow darker, the shadows looming longer. I wondered if a fox or badger was daring enough to come out. Maybe their curiosity would also get the better of them, like the robin.
But nothing came, so I turned to leave. Which is when something caught my eye. Attached to one of the trees was a circular christmas wreath, still green and fresh. A small note was stuck into it. “Hi! Darling” it said.
Above the wreath, attached to the tree was a piece of paper. The photo of a young woman placed with a note alongside it.
Lisa Armstrong was taken from us at a young age with breast cancer in February 2009. And left her mam, her sister and myself with broken hearts.
Just after she passed away I came for a run in through these woods which were covered in snow. I broke down and cried at this very spot.
As I wept, the snow on this tree cascaded down and a robin landed on one of its branches and he looked at me. I then knew that Lisa had not left us, she was here in our hearts.
If you are passing through these woods and you see an old jogger sitting talking to this tree, it is only a dad talking to his dearly missed daughter.
If I am not here, please say ‘Hi!’ to Lisa. She would love that.
I stood for a moment, staring at the writing. It was the last thing I’d expected to read, my clear mind didn’t know how to respond. All I could do was simply stare at it and read it again. I took one deep breath in and let it out slowly.
A smile settled onto my face when I thought about this man’s robin. It couldn’t be the same one I was just dancing with, could it? Was this one robin pushing its way into the lives of humans and making all of these strangers happy? I decided that it was silly thought. But I realised that it didn’t matter if it was the same robin anyway. What mattered was that this person had found some peace, outside, with the help of nature. Like I, in my own way, had.