34 trees, 2 magpies, and me
This week I believe in Trees!
There's a small park less than a minute from my house. Squeezed between residential side streets and the A4032, it boasts no unbroken vistas, no soaring heights, nor even, in winter at least, a single startling flower bed.
This is, instead, a landscape for tree watching.
I count 34 living in the park and in the neighbouring playground. All but three have long since left their leaves to litter the lawn and their deciduous branches hold still in the dry air.
The sun splits the empty branches of a London Plane, and chases the shadows across the grass towards me.
In the playground stands a palm, its pineapple crown surprised to be here. Side by side in evergreen solidarity are a pine and a mature holly.
The pine's cones have fallen barren below their mother, but the needles are shelved out of my reach, and well beyond my powers of identification. Scots or Black. No idea.
The gentle waxy leaves of the holly, on the other hand, wreath her unmistakeable berries. At her feet is a prickly child, keen on the shallow sunlight of the open parkland.
The sound of construction filters across from the street beyond the Plane. The workmen are from a company called Maple. The litter on the bench beside me is a bottle branded Oasis. Trees, huh.
But I'm not alone. A pair of magpies strut their way over the grass, turning over dead leaves, looking for lunch. The shoots of next month's daffodils, meanwhile, go about their quiet business in the soil.
The dual carriageway bawls a background sludge of white noise, but I can still hear twittering hidden in the holly, while the magpies chatter companionably among themselves.
I'm less than a minute away from computers and phones and notifications and emails, but I could be on a different planet entirely.
I've only been here half an hour, but I could be a different person entirely.
My fingers grow cold, my Thermos runs dry. Sometimes we go outside to return indoors.
Snippets from my reading in the last seven days.
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (1950)
From its heaving expanses, arose, as through the chimera of a daydream, a phantasmic gathering of ancient oaks. Like dappled gods they stood, each in his own preserve, the wide glades of moss flowering between them in swathes of gold and green and away into the clear, dwindling distances.
The Nature Fix by Florence Williams (2017)
To prove that our physiology responds to different habitats, Miyazaki's taken hundreds of research subjects into the woods since 2004. He and his colleague Juyoung Lee, then also of Chiba University, found that leisurely forest walks, compared to urban walks, deliver a 12 percent decrease in cortisol levels.
But that wasn't all; they recorded a 7 percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, and a 6 percent decrease in heart rate. On psychology questionnaires, they also report better moods and lowered anxiety.
2019 so far has been a year of getting outside. Don't worry - I still spend hours and hours hypnotised by my laptop, but I have also found time to spend in the natural world.
On Monday, for example, I went with a friend to meditate while sitting among the roots of a veteran hornbeam that we found on the frankly precocious Woodland Trust Ancient Tree Inventory.
Later on our walk along the River Frome we disturbed two other people who were meditating in nature, including one crouched in a patch of dead nettles. Least we think he was meditating.
David Charles wrote this newsletter. David is co-writer of BBC Radio sitcom Foiled, and also writes for The Bike Project, Elevate and Thighs of Steel. He can be found at davidcharles.info and on Twitter @dcisbusy
Wind resistance of various positions in a cycling peloton.
In the center rear of the pack, a cyclist has just 6% of the wind resistance that they would have riding on their own. Practically speaking, the energy savings is the equivalent of pedaling 9.3 miles per hour while actually flying down the road at 33.5 miles per hour.
Via Fast Company