Here’s a guided list of ways to connect with nature when you don’t have much space, or if you’re in a pandemic-induced lockdown. For example.
By the Anonymous DOC Blogger
I was mildly offended when my colleagues were discussing the need for a blog about being a good conservationist if you’re lazy and my name came up.
“Anon!”—let’s pretend that’s my name— “Anon, that could be one of your ones!”
“Yeah!” Colleague number 2 jumped in too, and just like that I was outnumbered. “You could write it in your funny style!”
“Thanks for that compliment, whānau,” I said, not feeling thankful at all. “But I don’t know if I’m the right person.”
“You definitely are,” my colleague said firmly, shutting down any further debate. She wanted a name in her planning chart, and she wanted it before Teams gave the 5-minute warning. “Anon, I’m putting your name next to the lazy conservationist blog. Don’t worry, if you think of another angle, you can do that instead.”
Then we went into level 4 lockdown and I did not think of another angle in time, and so here we are.
Do I like being in nature and learning about our incredible native species and ecosystems? Yes.
Do I like to keep a connection with the natural world because I’m passionate about the unique biodiversity in Aotearoa, and its preservation and protection? Absolutely.
Do I like to keep my outdoors adventures within my skill limit? Yep (and I wrote another first person blog about that).
So this begs the question: am I a lazy conservationist, or am I just a tactical one?
I like to think it’s the latter!
I like nature, but on my own terms, which usually means close to home, information-heavy, and only sometimes requiring a purpose trip to a destination.
See, in my heart of hearts, I’m a city slicker.
“Eww, yuck,” I imagine some readers of the DOC Conservation Blog groaning.
To which I will just say: hey! Don’t be judgey! I’m a nature-loving city slicker. We exist!
Nature is not just for the adventurers.
Nature is for everyone.
That’s important, so I’m going to say it again: nature is for everyone.
In fact, this Conservation Week (4-12 September) is aimed at people like me. Urban based. Those of us who don’t hit the hills every weekend for whatever reason—don’t want to, aren’t able to, or face other barriers.
I wasn’t planning to be in lockdown in the leadup to Conservation Week. But like many people, once I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere, I wanted to go everywhere.
What did I do the weekend before lockdown? Stayed inside all weekend and read books, happily.
What did I do the weekend after lockdown? Same, but unhappily. Because I had to.
In lockdown, nature transitions from something that I enjoy having around me because I love it, to something that is a necessity for my wellbeing.
Research shows it boosts our immune system and reduces stress and anxiety. When we take time for ourselves in the outdoors we give our minds a break and feel connected to nature. Because when Papatūānuku thrives, we all thrive.
5 ways to connect
Here are some suggestions for ways to bring nature into your life if you’re lazy (*tactical!) or limited with the nature near you in level 4 or 3.
Perhaps you’re in an apartment, or you have children who are driving you round the bend (if you have perfect angel children I guess you can join too); or you’re an essential service worker—thank you!— trying to catch snatches of nature when you can.
This blog is for us.
Here are my low impact recommendations for getting your daily dose of nature:
- Nurture your pot plants
- Notice the colours of nature (make it a game)
- Discover things as a citizen scientist
- Immerse yourself in nature with digital experiences
- Practice your nature photography
^ I thought I’d list these up top in case you’re in a rush and don’t have time for any more of my chatter. But if you’re still with me, let’s dive in.
1) Nurture your pot plants
In my head, I have a great image of being a Plant Parent, a green-thumbed earthy figure, at one with Papatūānuku, in an apartment full of native fronds.
In reality, I’ve been struggling to keep one chain-store sourced, non-native fern alive.
This fern and I do battle everyday as I try and discern its needs based on the colour of its leaves, and it coyly holds its secrets in tight little tendrils because it is a haughty and aloof being. And a plant.
(This is not the first time I’ve anthropomorphised to a degree that makes my DOC colleagues uncomfortable, and it won’t be the last).
Note the brown edges on said fern, which indicates a fiery battle of wills between plant and person. I shout ‘live, damn you! Live!’ as my fern sways in the breeze, unbothered.
One of the many great things about working at Te Papa Atawhai is my colleagues know lots about getting nature to grow.
Pot plants from chain stores aren’t in the DOC remit, but there’s often an overlap between colleagues who like big-scale nature and little-scale. Thanks to the benevolence of one green-thumbed colleague who made me cuttings and wrote detailed care instructions, I have managed to keep not one, but three leafy little friends alive. Thriving, I dare to say.
These days, it’s a critical part of my level 3 and 4 at-home-workday routine to take a break to water my plants and spritz their leaves, and make sure they have their desired level of sunshine.
Top tip from my plant expert colleague: suit the plant to the environment. If your house skews hot or cold, get plants that do too. If you can have native plants do, but note they don’t really like being indoor plants, so planting in your garden is highly recommended and can attract native manu/winged creatures to your home.
Take a moment to nurture nature. Poipoia te taiao.
2) Notice nature’s colours
I have invented* a really cool game.
(*Not really invented. I just customised what other people are already doing. Last year in Level 4, my colleague Benji made a great video about colour matching in his backyard. It was a great way to immerse in nature).
I don’t have a backyard, so instead when I go on my daily walk—masked and close to home—I make a walking outfit up of as many colours as I can, and then I see how many of my outfit colours I can notice in nature around me.
My most successful nature walk garment: the pictured kakariki/green fluffy socks.
These match the grass, the leaves of the pōhutukawa on the corner, the belly of the tūī that sometimes flits over my head, the fronds of the harakeke in the neighbour’s garden ….
My least successful nature walk garment: karaka/orange tracksuit pants.
I’m 0 for 0 on the karaka pants. All I need is one autumn leaf or orange bloom and then I can retire them from the game. But so far, orange is elusive.
Top tip from me to you: wear the most outrageous and eccentric outfit you possibly can. That way it’s fun for you AND any neighbour who might see you out their window.
Bonus tip: playing this game out loud in te reo is even better. This is what I’m doing to take part in the Māori Language Moment on the 14th of September. Have you signed up?
Notice nature – Arohia te taiao
3) Discover things and be a citizen scientist
You can join the iNaturalist crew by recording what you see on your walks in your neighbourhood.
Did you see a cool bird? Record it! An interesting plant? Record it! A wētā or a skink? Keep it a secret! Just kidding, record that too.
This harakeke doesn’t look too healthy to me, and while I have asked my expert colleagues what they make of this (response pending!) I’m also going to load it into iNaturalist to see what the people think.
Top tip: one of the best things about iNaturalist is being able to have a nosey on the map to see what others are seeing. Last time I looked, no one was doing much in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington, but naturalists in Ōtautahi/Christchurch and Taupō were veritably going wild with nature chat.
Discover nature – Tūhuratia te taiao
4) Immerse yourself in nature
When you can’t do it literally, you can always do it digitally.
(^ An oft cited proverb).
Our websites and social media channels are rich sources of ways to immerse in nature through digital.
On my walks I often play the DOC Sounds of Science podcast and learn about things like whale strandings, predator free innovations, bittern monitoring, and non-vascular plants.
You can stream this podcast from our website or search it on Apple podcasts or Spotify.
I also often turn on one of our nature soundscapes and have that on in the background as I work. Nothing like five hours of sea to mountain ambience to get thoughts rolling, words wording, and emails flying.
We also have a few virtual experiences on offer: enjoy a virtual walk to soak in the views on the Kepler Track, or experience kākāpō and erect-crested penguins through the eyes of DOC rangers and scientists. To access these, just head to our website, then once you’ve clicked into your experience, press ‘present’
Top tip: I also really recommend firing up our 24hr live stream of the Northern Royal Albatross colony at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head. The Royal Cam chicks will steal your heart, just you wait.
Celebrate nature – Whakanuia te taiao
5) Practice your nature photography
What a wonderful time to get down on your hands and knees and pretend you’re a Nat Geo nature photographer! Literally what else are you doing!?
Personally, I never realised how long it was possible to stare at one cluster of blooms until I turned it into a learning opportunity for photography. If you have lens options on your phone, test them out! Might be worth seeing what you can see with a macro lens, or by refining your framing.
If you end up with any really great close-up images of textures from the natural world, DM them to us on Facebook, we might be able to run one in our #ToruTextures series.
Top tip: get level with your subject. And if that means you have to go belly to ground on top of crunchy leaves and maybe a few bugs, just do it. You’ll feel alive.
For more tips on nature photography, check out this handy guide.
Notice nature – Arohia te taiao
That’s a wrap
Those are my tips for connecting with nature if you’re tactical or happen to be limited with the nature near you in level 4 or 3.
Look after yourselves.