A Wilder Maternity Leave

Just a couple of weeks ago I was pushing the buggy round my local nature reserve. The same trip I’ve been making several times a week for several months on my maternity leave. I’d stop at the woodland bird hide, prop the little one up on the ledge and we’d sit together - listen, watch and wait.
Baby in hide - Karen Statham

Image by: Karen Statham

There were usually bullfinches, long tailed tits, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, treecreepers and a great-spotted woodpecker to see and, with my little bird knowledge, I’d whisper to my little boy their names. He’d babble and they would sing.

We would follow the walk round, through the wood, past the oak tree, and sometimes we would spot a sparrowhawk or deer in the distance. It had become my go to place, one that made me feel alive yet calm - even after some very sleepless nights and in the early weeks, when my body was still recovering after childbirth. It is true, nature has healing powers.

I also felt it was the perfect setting to engage my baby’s senses in the natural world - the only world that makes sense to me. I hoped the sights, sounds, textures and smells would weave into his memory and stay there forever. Planting the seed of nature, in the wish that his love for it would grow as strong as that oak tree.

Over the months, in this special place, as I watched my boy develop and finally sleep with the motion of the pram, I also watched the seasons change. The fiery autumn leaves fall and fade, the low winter sun break through on a misty cold morning, the snowdrops raise their sleepy heads and lately the daffodils spread their sunny cheer.

I couldn’t wait for spring to further unfold as I’d been told bluebells would spread across the woodland floor and, for the summer, I had already marked a spot for our picnics, overlooking the river - the quiet place where we still hoped to spot an otter. We were ready, my boy was no longer looking up to the sky from his buggy but sitting up and beginning to follow the movements of the birds and the trees with his eyes. The spell was cast.

Yet, like many visitor centres and their grounds, this spring their doors to nature are closed to the public and there’s an uncertainty around when they will re-open. Of all the places we’d visit regularly, this was the last place that I heard was closing and the one that pulled at my heartstrings the most. It had begun to feel like our place, a beautiful extension of our garden and an important part of our routine.    

We are the lucky ones though as we have a garden and fields nearby for our permitted daily exercise and, perhaps more importantly, for connecting with nature. Yet, over the past two weeks, I have noticed already how unconnected I had become to the nature that shares our home in our garden.  The nature that does not require a car journey. The place where we are not a visitor.

This week I have noticed that there are great tits nesting in the bird box. I was surprised to see they had moved in already and, for a moment, I forgot about the virus and worried about whether they would have the same unfortunate fate as those that nested there last year. I was going to move it to somewhere safe before the seasons changed. 

At my garden feeder I have noticed the joyous balls of fluff (the long tailed tits) now gather, avoiding all social distancing rules. I thought they only greeted my garden in the coldest of weather. I had not noticed their arrival. Whilst on the washing line, a charm of goldfinches looked down as my little boy, for the first time, put his toes on the fresh grass in the sunshine. Magical.

Spring and the natural world have not been put on hold, although our visits to many of the places we enjoy spending time with nature has. For those of us lucky enough to have them, for now we can spend time making our garden or even window boxes, even more wildlife friendly. In this way we can attract the visitors that we don’t need to social distance or isolate ourselves from and which bring us all such great pleasure.