Since beginning my natural history podcast Trees A Crowd, here are some things I have learnt from the wonderful guests I have interviewed:
- Bees don’t go to the loo inside
- There are mites that don’t have anuses that live in our eyebrows
- Naked mole rats can’t get cancer
- Puffins mate for life
- Giraffes are a mistake
- Gorillas use Tinder
- Snakes have passports
- Snails’ shells are essentially LPs
- There are tardigrades on the moon
- Trees are badass – they can talk, they have friends, and they live in socialist communes with a “species-ist” tolerance far above our own.
Nature is just full of stories and adventures, and the chances are you’re already inspiredby them.
That beach holiday you took this summer — that one vital to your wellbeing — it was fuelled by the natural world.
Remember your warm skin post-dip? Sea salt crusted flesh from baking in the midday sun, accompanied by the pungent whelk whiff that hung upon the breeze as you went crabbing off Swanage pier, and the vanilla extract in your toddler’s ice cream before it was dropped, cone-up, onto the sand made almost entirely from the shells of prehistoric molluscs.
Next year too — your looming Spring spent piste-bound on Alpine slopes augmented by the snow that falls, the pines that grow and the juniper infused drinks you guzzle. Nature accompanies many of us upon our happiest moments.
Feel free to challenge me and suggest you would have had the exact same amount of joy zipping down the Milton Keynes snow-dome or popping to a leisure centre’s chlorinated city lido, but I genuinely won’t believe you.
Similarly, when I’m down, a country walk offers me perspective. Failing to identify wildflowers brings me endless joy. Wildly hoping to encounter a hare even more so.
I recently interviewed an adventurer, Alastair Humphreys, who became perhaps best known for coining the term “Micro Adventure”. He champions even the most urban of dwellers to open themselves up to nature in a host of very simple challenges.
The challenge that most appealed to me was where he asked you to head out into the countryside after a regular day at work, to camp out wild, and then to come back to work, as usual, the next morning.
Other than unbrushed hair, a slightly more wrinkled suit and perhaps a mustier armpit, no one would be any the wiser, but the wild-sleeper him or herself would have seen the world and their existence in a whole different light.
I spend my time off the screen and off stage darting around the country interviewing people inspired by or devoted to the natural world; people who refuse to take it for granted, and in most cases have built a life around trying to help you see and experience it.
I record these interviews for my podcast, Trees A Crowd, in the hope of finding a commonality between these people, and in the hopes of being able to learn from them. What is it about the Natural World that inspires us? I speak to conservationists, taxidermists, musicians, artists, farmers, writers, gardeners, environmentalists…and I honestly don’t have an answer for you.
Many of these people were raised in cities, many of them work in offices, but I guess I’ve learnt two things:
(1) I love talking to people who love nature. I get to pilfer their wisdom, experience their lives by proxy — and I hope that you too can benefit by listening to the podcast.
(2) They don’t consider themselves to be outside of the reaches of the natural world. They consider themselves to be a part of it — a distinct cog in wildlife’s machinations.
Many I’ve spoken to see us as a species and as individuals that are causing problems, but others see humans and their artistic responses to nature as an equally valid expression of ourselves as part of our planet’s rich tapestry. I think my interview with Wolfgang Buttress and Dr Martin Bencsik balances both views wonderfully.
Wolfgang is a conceptual artist and Martin is a physicist. They collaborate on human-sized experiences — you can walk through them, touch them, be engulfed by them. They serve to make us feel part of nature, not simply to make us consider and readjust some of our conceptions about the wild-world.
In my interview, Martin joked that he hated bees — that “they’re sticky and sting you” — but in reality, it is his sense of inquiry that has led him to continue his fascination for the natural world.
Their recent collaboration with Greenpeace at Glastonbury Festival, “BEAM”, was done to celebrate human endeavour. Music was at the heart of the sculpture — it directly responded to noises from nearby stages. The elements too were co-created with a number of musicians, including Amiina, Sigur Ros’ string section.
Through a united experience, the piece encouraged community and enrichment of the self, whilst also highlighting the plight of the honey bee, of species diversity, and of sustainable resources.
I’m not suggesting that you must become a conceptual artist like Wolfgang, or even an adventurer like Alastair to enjoy nature; and I guess I’m not really interested in asking how the natural world inspires us at all, because, quite simply, it does, all the time.
But I would suggest, that if you slow down a little, make space and time, adjust how conscious you are of what surrounds you — perhaps even listen to particular podcasts — then you may begin to notice the interconnectivity of yourself to the grass beneath your feet.