For Mental Health Awareness Week our team have been sharing what trees mean to them and how connecting with nature has helped them, especially during the pandemic.
The Importance of Trees, by Lorna Coenen
Prior to lockdown I worked in an office next to a local park with loads of trees. I loved going for walks in the park. If I was having particularly stressful day, I knew that even just 10 minutes spent there would always make me feel better.
When lockdown happened, and I started working from home, my mental health soon began to suffer. Being unable to see friends and family was so hard and not being able to continue with my normal activities made me feel very down. Added to this were the constant news updates on the number of deaths, and the continuous distressing scenes being shown on TV.
Then, in October 2020, I was made redundant. It was a total shock and completely unexpected. Suddenly, on top of everything else that was going on in the world, I now had no job either. I could feel myself heading on a downward spiral. Then I was offered a job at ITF and things began to look up.
When I first started at ITF I was asked what my favourite tree is and I thought about it for ages before deciding on the Yew tree. It was such difficult thing to decide because there are so many different types of tree and each one is special for a number of reasons. It’s a bit like when someone asks what is your favourite type of music. I don’t have a particular favourite because it depends what sort of mood I am in.
During lockdown I started going for walks whenever I could, mostly in local parks or along the river when we were allowed, but sometimes I had to settle for just a stroll around the block. Finding motivation for a daily walk around the block was not so easy but now that we can travel further afield I feel like I am beginning to get my life back again. I’ve been on some lovely walks in Florence park, Cutteslowe, Port Meadow and along the Towpath. There are so many great places in Oxford where you can walk among the most beautiful trees.
Shotover will always remain my favourite though. It reminds me of my own childhood when I would get lost trying to find the sandpit and of the childhood of my own sons, who would often climb the trees, invariably getting stuck at the top and needing to be rescued. I love that when you arrive, even when there are lots of cars, it never seems busy because once you get in amongst the trees it’s so peaceful and you might not see another person until you emerge back out into the open again. It’s amazing that you can walk from the hustle and bustle of Aldi’s car park, cross over the busy bypass and then before you know it you are in the most beautiful, tranquil area surrounded by wildlife, where is it so peaceful that you can actually hear the birds singing and the leaves rustling.
“It can feel quite daunting to stand next to a tree that’s far older than I am but it’s kind of magical too, imagining who has stood there before me and who will stand there in the future long after I am gone.”
I love trying to guess which tree is which. I’m not very good at it and usually get it wrong so I get really excited when I actually manage to get one right. I love the many different branches, each with their own individual shape and colour. I love the beautiful leaves with their immense variety of different shapes and textures, and stunning range of colours. I love how the trees change with the seasons from bare branches to new regrowth, pretty blossom to delicious fruit. I love collecting conkers from the ground in the autumn and I love deciding which leaves have the best texture for me to take home and paint with silver, capturing their beauty forever in a piece of jewellery. I love everything about them, but most of all I love the way they make me feel. They bring me to life and make me feel whole again. It can feel quite daunting to stand next to a tree that’s far older than I am but it’s kind of magical too, imagining who has stood there before me and who will stand there in the future long after I am gone.
The first time I ventured to Shotover Park during lockdown 2020 it felt like a bit of a ‘re-birth’ for me. It had been so long since I had been there that I had literally forgotten how great this place always makes me feel. My son and I walked among the trees chatting to each other about the silliest of things and enjoying being out together after so long stuck in the house. When we walked back to the car I could feel the warmth radiating from my rosy red cheeks and I felt so alive and refreshed. It was then that I remembered how much I love spending time there. Since then we’ve been back again a few times and I have tried to get out and about as much as possible. Working from home can be very isolating and it can be all too easy to spend days in the house without venturing outside at all.
Now as we are coming to the end of lockdown, the one thing I have learnt is to really appreciate all those things I used to take for granted. Sharing a meal with a friend, or a cup of tea with my parents has never felt more important before, because before lockdown I had never been denied those things. One thing I will never take for granted again is the importance of the trees that surround us and the effect they have on my own mental health and wellbeing.