There’s a meme/motto/line going around on social media for the past few months now – ‘nature is healing’ – it started out as a three-word slogan to describe how the lockdown and ensuing lack of travel and the supposed reduction in pollution levels were somehow visibly improving the lot of our environment.
People posted photos to their Twitter accounts of quiet, still and almost smog-free streetscapes and landscapes.
But, like anything which goes viral and catches fire in the digital world these days, it wasn’t long before it became overused and was quickly satirised into submission; with people photoshopping dinosaurs onto empty streets and even the Loch Ness Monster returning to its natural habitat in Inverness.
Anyway, this all came to mind over the past few weeks and months as I have been walking around Dundalk.
As we’re right in the middle of Summer now, everything has burst into splendid life and the flowers and plants are growing with incredible vigour.
But it has seemed that, especially around the town centre, the trees, which would normally be kept quite tidy and controlled, have exploded since the start of 2021.
Now, it could be that the local authority hasn’t managed to get the chainsaws and ropes out to trim, scalp, decimate trees and hedges yet, but it just seems like the natural world has been injected with supercharged plant food in the last six months and is reclaiming the urban landscape.
Roads across the town seem to be encroached by lower hanging and much greener branches than ever before.
And I for one think it’s wonderful.
Sure, nature may be healing, but all this abundant growth actually makes Dundalk look softer and prettier.
A spin down the Magnet Road and past the copse at the Demesne is akin to driving through an Australian town on the edge of Daintree rainforest.
Between the dappled sunlight and moving shadows, it’s quite arresting to be honest – just take a moment to savour it next time.
Follow the road past the Magnet itself and you approach the Square, where its relatively newer trees seem to have sprung out of the ground and are adding a shaded canopy of sorts for the many coffee drinkers enjoying our outdoor Summer.
Of course, the beneficial addition of trees in an urban area is something town planners have known about for centuries.
It serves to return nature to an otherwise grey and rather dull location; adding much-needed colour and environment.
It can also bring with it some forms of wildlife which would otherwise be absent.
It just seems that, like so many things over the past 18 months, we are maybe appreciating it all more, while also truly understanding the impact that nature can have on our outlook and even mental wellbeing for the first time.
For those of us who were confined to a 5-kilometre (and even 2-kilometre, for a time) radius at recently, you had to make do with what you had within that limited circle of life. You had to find the good, the new, the unusual within a setting you’ve known your whole life – not an easy task.
But, those of us who were lucky enough also managed to get the gift of time.
Time to really look at our surroundings. Time to breathe in our local life. And time to think about what we actually want from life.
Many people have expressed a certain nostalgia for the lockdown days.
Some have even expressed anxiety about the return of the world we all knew before the pandemic. I can understand that sentiment.
There’s a reason so many people of a certain age dream of escaping the rat race and submerging themselves in the ‘good life’ – away from the hustle and bustle and 24-hour movement.
This is nothing new, but the pandemic and the lockdowns made it a tantalising reality for many of us.
We got a taste of the dream – both the good and the bad.
Some, realised that the dream would soon sour and are happy to get back to normal, post-pandemic life; but others are keen on remaining on in the bubble, and others still are taking it a step further and packing in the day job altogether and heading for the wilderness.
While heading for splendid isolation is not something I’m about to readily commit to just yet, I have tried to become more involved with nature on my very doorstep.
Several weeks back I bought two tiny and weak-looking tomato and cayenne pepper plants.
I planted them in two robust pots and, due to the seemingly endless frosty nights – right through May, I’ve kept them indoors and watered and fed them daily.
They are placed at the back door, exposed to sunlight, but kept warm by the constant moderate temperature of the house.
At times I wasn’t sure if they’d survive, let alone produce anything of note, but alas, just this past week the tomato plant has borne actual tomatoes – bulbous, green and shiny.
I’ve never grown food produce before, so I’m mightily surprised and even a bit emotional about this success.
Nature is healing, and so am I.
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