The war on litter

I read this week that Her Royal Highness Liz has declared war on single use plastics on the royal estates, effectively banning their use. Good on her, I say. More should follow her lead (unless it’s attached to a corgi).

It has been a gripe if mine for a while seeing how much litter lies around, not only in towns and cities but also in our countryside too. Our beauty spots, areas of refuge and escape, blighted by litter and debris. I’ve spoken personally about carrying out litter picking trips in my neighbourhood recently but as yet haven’t managed to do it. It’s something I feel is very helpful for both the community and ourselves. How many of us hate seeing litter? I can say hand on heart that I have never deliberately dropped litter, yet I feel compelled to pick other people’s up.

I know of walking groups that take bags on hikes with them and pick up any litter they find, actively enjoying and improving areas they love.

I sometimes find my day job very frustrating. Amongst other things day-to-day, I find myself dissatisfied. I imagine it is to do with the nature of the industry I work in, and not being able to see results. The fruits of your labour if you like. One night I was walking to my allotment and I saw rubbish everywhere I looked, so I started picking it up. Within a few strides I had picked up an armful of fast food wrappers, plastic bottles, all sorts. I saw instant results.  The pathway was clear. I felt satisfied. That was it I thought. The reward for putting in the effort. The benefits for myself, the community (who probably dropped the litter to begin with, he says, sceptically), as well as the environment outweighed the ‘inconvenience’. Mental health organisations call it ‘ecotherapy’. I’ll cover this further in another post.

For many, we think we shouldn’t have to pick it up. I didn’t drop it, I’m not picking it up. Like we’re idiots for working for free. What if everybody thought that? Granted, it’s not our job, but the fact is, local authorities do not care. That’s the sad part. It’s too expensive to do it, so leave it. A study in the UK showed that areas where littering and dog fouling were tolerated had higher levels of crime. The general feeling is the majority will drop litter if they see litter. If a neighbourhood looks neglected, it attracts further neglect.

I bet if there was a reward scheme for litter picking (financial), we would see a shift in visible litter. In the mean time, volunteers do it for the most part. The people who really make a difference to where they live and other areas too, and I’m going to join them. Look at your own area if you can and get out and make some changes, see how you and your area change along the way. It could be really good!

If you’re in the UK, use the link below to find litter pickers in your area.

https://www.litteraction.org.uk/

Stay tidy!

The tide.

I went back to the rough ground today for the first time since autumn. Very much like last time it was very sunny and bright, with a piercing blue sky, and shades of yellows and browns. The one noticeable absence however was the greenery. Back in the autumn there was still a fair amount of leaf cover and the whole area still felt quite private, but today, there were none to shield the outside world away. It felt very open and exposed.

As well as the world’s eyes creeping in, so too were the sounds of the urban surroundings – a cacophony of emergency service sirens, the hum of the motorway passing overhead nearby, the clang of lorries as their wheels find the weathered potholes on the carriage way. The increased noise, combined with being able to see more cars and people whizzing by, makes me feel, I notice, vulnerable. The rough ground isn’t the hidden sanctuary it once was. A guy wobbles by on a push bike that is far too small for him, weaving through the abandoned shopping trolleys, burned out car, and dumped boiler. People walk by going about their business. It just feels…less private.

But this area is not mine. I don’t own it. Is that what we want from the world? A place just for ourselves and a select group of people that we hand pick? No riff raff. No undesirables. No strangers. By doing that, we cease to grow as people and our horizons begin to shrink. We become set in our ways and spoilt by routine. If this rough space were mine, and only mine, who would join me to fight for it if the need rose up? Nobody would see it like I do because they would never be given the chance. Like a walled secret garden.

In amongst all this, I could actually hear a hive of bird song. Very spring-like. A volery of long tailed tits fluttered overhead from leafless branch to leafless branch, taking me completely by surprise. I would have expected them to be blue tits, or something equally as common. Back in the summer, I noted how quiet it was here for birds. Now it’s coming to life.

I start to make my way back to the pretty much pointless exercise that some would call my career. I note the old pavements I am walking along, revealing, beneath all the growth, the rough ground’s urban heritage. The samsara of ruralisation, urbanisation and then ruralisation. How quickly nature reclaims what man sees as a waste. The decaying fallen branches lying around, releasing their carbon back into the atmosphere shows that everything is a cycle. Birth, death, prosperity, decay. The tide giving and taking. What goes up, comes down. And every dog, always has its day.

Roaring dreams take place in a perfectly silent mind.

Sit down children, today’s subject is mindfulness.

For various reasons close to my shrivelled, unworthy heart, I chose mindfulness as a cause for 2018. It is a topic I touched upon in studying Buddhism over the years but didn’t truly embrace it or appreciate its importance. I find the word ‘mindfulness’ everywhere now – mindfulness cafés, mindfulness colouring books for adults, mindfulness potty training for children, mindfulness chocolate bars. I exaggerate of course, but hopefully you get the idea. It seems to be ‘trending’ which is something I hear and tend to switch off from because it usually means as many money-makers as possible hitch up to it and distort it. Protein is another one. Protein this, protein that. I’m ranting, I apologise.

Anyway, where was I? Mindfulness! Yes. I’ve began to work mindfulness in to my outdoor life. Maybe I’m guilty of distorting mindfulness too, because in my pursuits I am trying to live for the moment while doing them. Paying attention to sensations while running is one. The feel of rain on your face, the warm sensation of being two miles in and finally thawing out. The wind in your hair. It is probably best illustrated while hiking, especially if I take my camera. Paying attention to minute details like dewdrops on grass, ripples in streams, or listening to bird song. I love listening to bird song of common birds. Even though you hear them every day, it is important to never take them for granted for one day them or you will be gone. Watching sunsets and the like tend to be cliché but they’re simple and free to access. The other day, I stopped in the street to appreciate a murmuration of starlings. Who knows if and when you’ll see one again.

Mindfulness, when completely mastered is a kind of meditation, tuning in to the moment, and sounding out the everyday noise in our consciousness. There are health benefits too. Combining this with outdoor pursuits therefore seems to me to be ideal. Just got to keep practicing!

Does anyone out there have any experiences to share, or tips, or ideas? Please share!

The quote in the headline of this blog might not be completely appropriate, but the thinking is, if you can silence the thoughts whizzing through your mind, your real dreams might speak a little louder.

Out in the cold

Opening the curtains this morning brought no surprise but a test all the same. Ever had that feeling of having a monumental task looming over your head? That’s what I felt today.

The sky was grey, and it was snowing. It was the snow that surprised me. Straight away, the task in front of me grew in stature, like a playground bully. The task I’m talking about was an 18 mile run. The first ‘proper’ run on the road to my ultra marathon running goals for this year. I knew I was definitely going to go, I just wasn’t relishing the thought of it.

I thought it might be a huge mental victory to get my arse out of the door, but soon came to the conclusion that it might be the opposite. I had set my alarm early so I could fuel up and get out and back before mid-morning. This romantic notion of being up and out before anybody else, with the elements bashing me, shot in grainy black and white with (what the youth call) ‘grimy’ soundtrack playing over the top. In reality, the grimy music was snuffed out when I switched the alarm off and went back to sleep, shot in glorious Technicolor, with a decidedly un-grimy Rodgers and Hammerstein ditty floating over it.

Two hours later than advertised, I got out of the door. Not so mentally strong after all, but still strong enough to leave the warmth of the house and get soaked.

The run itself was good until the 14 mile point where my gloves got so wet it was warmer to take them off. A mile later, my hands froze. A mile after that I had lost all feeling and dexterity in them. Luckily for me it was only confined to my hands, and not my bodily functions. Wetting myself would have iced the cake. I did end up doing a mile more than planned, so not too bad. Out of the blocks. Bring on the challenges of 2018.

Winter walk

It has been radio silence on the blog front for a number of weeks now. I’m not sure why. I suppose it is down to being busy ‘living’ as we call it nowadays. In other words, losing yourself in work and trivial matters, forgetting the way.

Life is like a winter walk in the woods: occasionally losing the path, having to brave the elements, trying to find beauty amongst so much monotony. So very much like a winter walk, I have lost my path recently. I had been planning some wild camping trips, which I will need to crack on with in the new year, as well as some ultra marathons.

Today was all about getting out and getting some fresh air and getting back to nature. A six mile slog through the muddy woods on the hills ticked the boxes. I have found myself feeling a bit restless recently, getting the feeling I should be getting outdoors more despite the weather. Its the only way to survive winter. Get out and face the elements, don’t become a prisoner to them. See winter as an occupation not a season. The more you can get and do everything you plan to do, the more you grow accustomed to it and its normal. Unless you have a chronic health condition, sitting in all winter with the heating turned up full is not good. Wrap up, waterproof yourself and go!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-challenges

Another long run in the bag on Sunday. Three and a half hours by myself out on the road. Quite unimaginable really. The human body is amazing. Compare the time spent on that run with other things that you could do. You could watch two films or two football matches. It’s half of the average working day. And yet, even without music to listen to, I didn’t get bored, or negative. I thought about a lot of things, a kind of therapy. Definitely not a meditation though. I think in order to do that, I would have to focus on my feet. By definition, meditation is the art of focusing on a single (hopefully virtuous!) object or thought, so rolling countryside and lanes don’t tick the boxes. It’s a great way of getting to know yourself though, seeing where your thoughts go, and finding out what you’re capable of. I don’t talk about my running at work unless I’m asked about it mainly because most people find it difficult to understand why I would want to do it. Equally, I find it difficult to understand why they want to spend their free time in bed until lunchtime, then switching the TV on for the rest of the day. If pushed, I always reveal that I’m just happy doing it and constantly pushing my ageing body to achieve things I never dreamed of. In other words, finding out what I’m capable of.

I think a life testing yourself in any way is a virtuous life. A meditation I guess. Challenge yourself to run a marathon, walk every street in your town, spot every species of wildflower that you can, count every star – whatever it is. It will fill you up. It will help you to dream. It will give you something to talk about when other things fail. And guess what? Keep doing it! Keep reinventing challenges. You’ll discover the outdoors, yourself and your next big move.

Falling leaves

It’s a bit of a cliché, but the autumn really is a pallette of colour. I myself have long preferred spring as I feel it is full of promise. But the autumn brings colour of a different kind, coupled with melancholy. Technically it is now winter here, but the leaves are still falling and are beautiful.

This is one of the most rewarding times of the year to get out and about. It is mild enough to get out, yet cool enough to be comfortable. From a photography point of view it is the best time of year.

I enjoy country walking at this time of year. With the seasons changing, and less leaves at the trees you can see more birds. Autumn also heralds the return, of sorts, of the dawn chorus, and bird song in general as many overwintering species contest their territories before the cold weather hits.

Don’t be put off by the falling mercury of your thermometer (if you have one). Wrap up and get out. You’ll be amazed at how quick you warm up. Take some photographs, share them! Don’t fall (pun intended) into the hibernation mentality. Cold weather can invigorate too. I take cold showers. It’s a great way to feel buzzing and alive. Consult your doctor first though!