Talking Heads volunteer Nic Saunders has contributed this creative piedce about finding solace in nature during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s May 2020 and I am sitting beneath a bright white birch tree surrounded by a sea of green grass shimmering with bluebells and dandelions. I discovered this tiny piece of woodland on one of my wanders. It’s close to the main road and I can hear people walking their dogs on the golf course nearby. It is the first time I have sat under this particular tree. I have closed my eyes and can feel a slight breeze on my left cheek, the wood of the trunk solid against my back, the blades of grass tickling my toes and the rise and fall of my chest against my shirt. I hear blue tits and robins singing melodies and the clap of a wood pigeon’s wings against the branches and leaves of the tree in front of me. I can smell the air is clean and fresh with a hint of soil. I am calm, grounded, centred. I open my eyes and smile to myself. I am still amongst all this vibrancy of life. A couple and their dog walk through the trees and spot me. They ask if I’m ok several times and I say I am fine and that I’m just sitting. I smile at them. I don’t feel shame.

I had been visiting this little forest a few days a week since I discovered it in January. It was my enchanted forest and I always felt at home there. I would explore the trees and pretend I was in an unknown land filled with magical creatures and animals. I always felt self-conscious whenever there was anybody around when I was in there and would scuttle away to avoid being near them, feeling even more like a weirdo. I wanted to sit under the pine trees and listen to the birds and feel the elements on my skin, but I never could. There was always a risk I would be seen and judged for my seemingly odd behaviour. To me, it wasn’t. Being near trees and connected to nature is what brought be a sense of calm and wholeness. People caused me stress and anxiety to the point that it could be hard to leave my flat, especially living in an unsavoury part of Edinburgh where you are targeted for acting and looking different and that, I certainly was. I wasn’t living there by choice. I was technically homeless and had been placed in temporary accommodation in an area that I most definitely did not belong. Whenever I was able to leave the house I would go searching for areas of nature that were hidden from the view of people and paths. It was enjoyable to explore, but wherever I was, I would invariably always run into people and the moments of calm that I found were fragmented by intrusion and anxiety of being ‘seen’.

When lockdown happened and we were told we could only go out once a day, with our own household and to keep 2m apart, I was elated. I felt like I was ‘normal’; wandering around aimlessly and making the most of those precious minutes spent outside. I didn’t go out every day. I was still isolated and anxious, but I felt, for the first time, that my way of being was normalised. Society was having to adapt to a way of life that was normal for me, not vice versa. It was a relief not to be stared at in horror or judgement when I physically moved away from people. A pandemic is more acceptable than trauma behaviour it seems. I welcomed this ‘new normal’ with open arms. It lifted a lot of my shame and being in this limbo encouraged me to embrace my ‘oddness’. I stood and watched crows forage in grass patches, I did a photo shoot with a needle-felted creature I made and identified any trees I came across. I spent time in the enchanted woodland and did the things I was most afraid of – I sat under the trees and listened with all of my senses. It was acceptable behaviour that seemed appropriate for such an unusual situation we had found ourselves in. There were articles all over the internet about people getting more in touch with nature and their local area that I just looked like everyone else. The things I had been doing in private were now publicly acknowledged. The anxiety I had about being judged by strangers had lifted during the pandemic. We were all doing unusual things to keep ourselves sane. It just so happened I had been doing them for quite some time.

by Nic Saunders

Nic is a creative queer human living in Edinburgh with 2 potato-sized guinea pigs and a passion for sharing stories about the healing experiences of nature and living with complex trauma.