For years, I believed that I didn’t have a relationship with nature while growing up. I lived in inner-city Bradford, we walked everywhere. We didn’t have the money or the resources to visit the Yorkshire Dales and Moors which were on our doorstep. Natural attractions that I didn’t know existed until I was an adult returning to the region for freelance work.
But when I look closely, and explore my childhood, there are moments where I can trace a connection with nature, through urban green spaces. These urban green spaces might have been city parks but also would be patches of green used as rubbish dumping grounds. Amongst the discarded sofas and bed frames and those single shoes would be patches of dandelions, daises, clovers and sometimes trees.
I loved Autumn. The changes. The fallen leaves, the weak golden light. The crisp misty mornings. This time always puts me in mind of walking to school as a child, choosing a different route each day. Each route dictated by how many piles of leaves I could stomp through. Walking under the tall, wide sycamore trees, the pavement uneven because the trees roots pushed through the gaps. Clinging to the wall were mounds of swept away leaves gathered. Knee deep I’d walk through, not thinking of the time or energy someone expended to sweep these leaves to the side. I was in leaf-heaven; the crispy, crunchy sounds and textures. The myriad of colours, a feast of yellow, oranges, reds and browns. I loved it.
So when I say I didn’t have a relationship with nature as a child I mean it wasn’t something that was front and foremost, named and designated special time and attention. If it happened it was in the every day and probably taken for granted and not seen for what it really was; part of me, kin.
It is only within the last few years, after a major traumatic event in my life, that I have actively fostered a developing and deepening relationship with nature. This has been to help me heal. I do believe my disconnection from nature is not unusual and is the norm in 21st century society. That is up until 2020, when there has been a surge in the numbers and range of people getting back to nature during the Covid-19 pandemic. Being close to home and forced to slow down, we have developed an appreciation and almost child-like wonder for nature again, or for some of us, for the first time.
I’m interested in exploring my connection with nature through this residency and how it supports my health and wellbeing. I’m interested in how my growing love for nature means that I’m more prepared to step up and advocate for nature and be more of a steward and protector. I’m interested in how the more you get to know a place, the more at home you feel there and the more you grow to love and care for a place. Does it matter if you know the individual names for things, for flowers, for plants to have this close connection? Or is it enough to just recognise them from one time to the next and know that they make your heart sing every time you encounter them?
I know when I walk amongst the trees, or when I take the plunge east time into the North Sea, I feel within my heart and gut that I’m coming home. I give thanks to the landscape, the sea for receiving an accepting me just the way I am. I’m enough, I’m not judged or rejected when I come to be inside nature. I’m me and not me. All pretence and identities fall away and I can just be. This is what I want to explore further during my time in residence.
I’m eager to get started on this residency after a number of false starts and set backs due to national lockdowns. But at the same time, taking what I’m learning from being in lockdown, I’m moving at a slower pace. Immersing myself in nature, research and conversations is what I look forward to. But I’m in no hurry to solve the mystery. Wherever the exploration may take me is okay. I’m leaving the map and compass back at the house, and allowing my heart and gut to lead the way. I’m excited for the journey, the process rather than wasting time and energy worrying about the destination. As I’ve read somewhere, ‘nature does not hurry and yet everything is accomplished.’ All in good time.
Sheree Mack’s practice manifests through poetry, storytelling, image and the unfolding histories of Black people. Sheree engages audiences around black women’s voices and bodies, Black feminism, ecology and memory . She facilitates national and international creative workshops and retreats in the landscape, encouraging and supporting women on their journey of remembrance back to their authentic selves. She is currently writing a mixed-genre memoir around a Black woman’s body with/in Nature. She’s a podcast host for the newly launched podcast, The Earth Sea Love Podcast, which explores women of colour and their relationship with the natural world. This is created in relation to a much bigger project founded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Wayfinding: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Great Outdoors.
Sheree will be taking up residence in Northumberland National Park in 2021.