Friday, March 13, 2020


Homemade bird food - attempt #1, and a book on bees

'Barnabee', oil on canvas board (the model was already dead!)

"The effects of nature’s qualities on health are not only spiritual and emotional but physical and neurological. I have no doubt that they reflect deep changes in the brain’s physiology, and perhaps even its structure."
 Oliver Sacks, quoted in this Brain Pickings post

"When humans come into contact with benign soil bacteria such as Mycobacterium vaccae, proteins from its cell wall trigger a further release of serotonin from a specific group of nerve cells in our brains. So it seems that a bit of weeding can be good for more than just your herbaceous borders."

Mitchell, Emma: The Wild Remedy. How Nature Mends Us
Michael O'Mara Books Limited, London 2019, pp.9f.

I have always found weeding therapeutic (although sometimes it can lead to ruminating), but it was interesting to read the scientific explanation in Emma Mitchell's wonderful book about the medicinal effect of nature on her depression. Through that contact with soil, together with inhalation of the volatile compounds and oils of plants (which produce some of the same effects on the systems of the human body as on plants - protection from viruses and bacteria), the endorphins from exercise, and the release of serotonin via sunlight on our skin and the eye's retina, a simple walk in a green space yields numerous benefits from nature's pharmacy.

There was an interesting article in The Irish Times recently about reconnecting with nature that specifically mentioned fractals, the visually complex patterns found in nature. I cannot find it online, but it quoted physicist  Richard Taylor, who explained that "Your visual system is in some way hardwired to understand fractals, and the stress reduction [of being in nature] is triggered by a physiological resonance when the fractal structure of the eye matches that of the fractal image being viewed." In some of Joe Dispenza's newer guided meditations, he uses fractals for tuning into the energy centres of the body, and I am keen to get back into those, though they seem too advanced for this lapsed meditator (I have only been doing very short meditations in the last few weeks).

I know I will always feel better after spending some time outside, but some days I don't heed that call and self-sabotage instead. So I am grateful for friends who get me out even on my worst fatigue days. This morning I was on the couch as my body was aching all over (the now familiar aftermath of going to see my oncologist for results - thankfully they were good! And yet, for the first few days the relief and gratitude are mixed with utter exhaustion), and just as I was tempted to binge-watch Grace and Frankie at 9:30 in the morning my neighbour asked me whether I wanted to join her for a walk. And of course it helped.

A few weeks ago we were dog-sitting, and even though I had a flu-like cold and there were almost continuous storms, I managed to take the dog for walks. They were exhilarating. I would slowly crawl up the hill to the bog road at the end of our cul-de-sac while the dog kept running ahead and looping back. There was a puddle that had turned into a pond and was effectively blocking access to the grassy bog road. But I was wearing wellies and waded through it, and each time I would stop in the middle, feeling the cold of the water around my feet and legs and looking at the abundance of lichen on a tree which seemed to glow in the dim grey daylight, and I would temporarily be lifted out of whatever thoughts were going around in my head and feel immensely grateful for another day.


My nephew and I made posh bird food recently - it involved coconut oil and organic pumpkin seeds. I won't link to the recipe, as it wasn't really a success (it didn't hold together when I cut it). We might try the recipe from Emma Mitchell's book Making Winter next. The bird balls we usually put in the feeders all come in plastic packaging (though admittedly I haven't done much research around it. There must be other options - we did spot fancy ones sold individually in a shop in Oughterard, but they wouldn't be feasible for the amount the birds in our garden get through in a week!), so I figured making our own would be a good idea.

We had looked into getting bees, but right now it feels like a lot to take on, so for now we are focusing on making our garden as bee-friendly as possible. My sister gave John this beautiful illustrated book on bees. A while ago I brought a dead bumblebee back to life on canvas and we hung the painting at a child-friendly height in our sitting room.