This blog is part of a Green Social Prescribing series to highlight the way connecting to nature can improve wellbeing. Our Programme Manager, Christine, narrates a conversation with her grandson whilst walking the dog. From simply noticing the nature around them, to looking up tree facts, the walk soon turns into a mindful experience, a maths and history lesson, an exciting discovery and a wonderful bonding experience! Nature never ceases to amaze and inspire!
“My latest walks have been with Harry, aged 9, as well as the dog. Harry is very bright and interested in everything. Our last walk included a chat about racism in America as he had been reading about it.
The weather has been improving and the nights are staying light for longer, so we have been able to take longer on our walks. This week we visited a woodland path, where most of the trees were fully clothed with their leaves and stood with their feet in the shadows of other trees and undergrowth, and their heads tall against a bright sky. Bluebells surrounded many of them along with cow parsley and buttercups. This pretty scene was along the edge of a main road, separating a playing field from the roar of the traffic. Where there had once been fields of corn and barley, cows and baby lambs, now there is a football pitch and crowds of children playing to the sound of a sharp whistle.
I pointed out some leaves to Harry and he asked what they were, so together we looked them up, using the wonder that is Google-Lens. I knew they were oak, but I needed him to find out for himself. He was amazed so we looked up more ‘oak facts.’ By the end of the walk, he could recognise an oak from its shape, and he knew all about acorns and masting (a bumper year for acorns when the tree does its best to guarantee its survival). We looked at small saplings that had sprung from the mast year and tried to guess which ones would survive another winter. I told him that farmers used to plant hedges with trees about 100 feet apart with plants like hawthorn in between and we counted steps between the big oaks we found once we had spotted that they stood in straight lines. This started another conversation about why the fields and hedges had gone.
Great gnarled trunks with bumpy ridges stretched up into the air, with branches curved and shapely reaching in every direction. I told Harry of the great ships that had been built from oaks in the past; the branches were valued for their abstract shapes as they could be used to make the curves of the ships. We studied each tree as we passed it. They weren’t all oaks; there were beech and maple, silver birch and lime, and one glorious weeping willow. All identified through Google Lens. Google also informed us that trees grow about an inch around the trunk for every year of their lives, so we decided to return with a tape measure the next day. And so, we did.
Armed with a 20-foot tape measure Harry set to work. We tried to do trunk rubbings too but that got tedious, so we gleefully started measuring every tree we saw. The dog quickly got bored and tried to jump into a small but mucky stream nearby. Harry tiptoed tentatively around the trees, carrying the end of the tape measure as he threaded his way between the brambles and the bluebells to get as close to each tree as he could. Once he got the tape in place, he shouted to me to pull it round so he could check the measurements. Next was the monumental task of having to change feet and inches to pure inches so we could work out the age. We raced each other to get the right answer but he is better at his 12-x table than me, so he always beat me to it. Some trees had the same measurement – we debated whether there’d been a mast year that year as they were not in a straight line. Several oaks in a straight line had a measurement of over 90 and we speculated on the possibility of an ancient hedge. I pointed out another line of evenly distributed oaks in the distance and told Harry I had spotted another near his school. He made a solemn promise to look for them the next time he went in.
And then – wonder of wonders – glory of glories – we found the oldest oak tree in the wood. It measured a majestic 13foot 6inches around its girth, making it, to our calculations, 162 years old. In the great scheme of things that’s not THAT old, but to a 9-year-old boy it felt like we’d unearthed Finn McCool and Methuselah. We thought about what the world was like when that tree first inched its way out of an acorn and the changes it had seen. How it had survived wind and storms, thunder and lightning, 2 world wars and a new town being built in the field it had protected; the onset of the motor car; planes flying overhead and thousands of people with thousands of dogs walking past each year.
So many conversations and so much to be learnt from a simple dog walk. Who would have thought? Next time we will be guessing times and distances – we’ve already planned!”
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