I was brought up on a healthy diet of bird watching, veg growing and pond dipping. I wrote my first story when I was six. We lived in London at the time, a short walk from Wimbledon Common, and many an hour would be whiled away climbing trees, hunting for puffball fungi and eating jammy scones in the Windmill Tearooms. The story was about aliens landing on the common in a ship disguised as a silver birch tree. As the protagonist in my own story I was tasked with teaching the aliens about all the animals that could be found on the common. Once they had finished their tour, they got back in their spaceship and travelled home.
Later, whilst nature and story never really left my life, it became displaced as it has for many of us in our modern busy lives. I walked other paths for a while but when my daughter arrived seven years ago, my need to reconnect with the outside world and the land we live on was reawakened. The stories nature told me became louder and soon I found myself compelled to create little stories for her about the world around us.
I was already a writer and so, for me, storytelling was a natural progression. I challenged myself to write one hundred stories in one hundred days and started to tell them to audiences at various community events. I found that when I told stories about how the green woodpecker laughs, how the wren makes more than one nest and that the beech tree is the last tree in the forest to shed its leaves, people not only remembered the stories but they remembered the facts that went with them. They then wanted to go out and find the green woodpecker and hear its laugh, discover the shrill wren in the hedgerow and watch the curling fire of beech leaves as they held on until the last minute.
Fast-forward a few years, the pandemic arrived and with it several lockdowns. People started to reconnect with nature on their daily government sanctioned exercise and perhaps, by being forced into that one outdoor moment, we were more likely to be mindful of the seasons and the wheel of the year as it turned. There were countless examples in the news of nature returning to and rewilding urban spaces, in particular deer in London, ducks in town fountains and mountain goats in Wales. In fact the examples didn’t stop there, they were worldwide with wild boar in Israel’s cities, pumas in Chile’s and kangaroos in Australia’s.
It was at this point that it occurred to me that storytelling was a form of rewilding too. It’s a phrase that gets used a lot now and often conjures up images of beavers, buffalo and wolves roaming what is left of our rivers and forests. So what is it exactly? To me rewilding is about nurturing and nourishing those places that have been neglected. That could be a place that was once wild and has now been urbanised, or it could refer to our own connection with nature.
Through telling stories and watching how people reacted to them, I had discovered that when looking for ways to reconnect with our true selves, our ancestors left the answers right there, coded into stories: be kind to each other, do not take your fellow animals for granted, create strong bonds and respect the earth for the mother it is. Once we have relearned the rhythms and patterns present in these stories, we will be able to hear when our communities and nature tell us their own stories, through their rhythms and patterns and what’s more, we’ll want to listen.
With this is mind I wrote Adventures in Nature. In this book I take the echoes of our ancestors stories and retell them in original stories using nature and the land as inspiration. Each story is accompanied by an outdoor activity, craft or recipe in order to bring the story to life, helping readers to connect further with the story and the nature within it.
Since the events of 2020 and the on-going pandemic, many have started their journey to reconnect with nature and it’s vital we do not lose this momentum. Many of us have found comfort in nature and the outdoors over the last two years and so, with the beginning of a new year, I’m inviting you to ‘Rewild Yourself Through Story’, and join me for ‘Adventures in Nature.’ If we remember these stories and continue to tell them, both old and new; around the fire, as families, between friends and over dinner, then perhaps we can re-root ourselves and reconnect with the world we live in, come out from behind the screens to see not just the trees but the whole wood, the animals, plants and magic that live within it.
By Dawn Nelson