I have a long and passionate relationship with the outdoors.
Having grown up on a farm in Dorset and spending most of my holidays and free time on Exmoor, my youth was peppered with early morning rises (I hated them) to feed chickens or help with lambing; of digging potatoes from the garden because if we didn’t we wouldn’t have them to eat for supper; of Sunday afternoon walks with ALL the family (there were 6 of us) rain or shine, wind or snow, poorly or not.
At home we weren’t allowed to watch much television (Home and Away and Neighbours in case you were interested) so we spent our weekends playing sports, helping in the garden or on the farm clearing woodland, fixing fences or building and destroying camps. It sounds idilic and in hindsight I know it was. But at the time I envied my friends who went shopping, hung out in town or who lived next door to their best friend. My best friends were my sisters, the animals and the trees....and looking back, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
My favourite place at my family home was the view that looked out onto the farm down past the cow barn. The track stretched out from the yard in front of you to the left, holding hands with a large messy hedge on the right with a lush (or in the winter, muddy) meadow beyond. At the corner was a stile and on the other side a gate. I can hear the metal clink of the latch and remember the dogs (we usually always had two) eager to get through, barging us out of the way...a loud expletive following on the wind from my mother. This view has stayed with me all my life, through good times and achingly sad ones. But now it is the main view from my parents barn conversion, beautifully framed by enormous picture windows that I can enjoy whilst sipping a warming cup of tea instead of under a layer of thermals and a waterproof.
The most favourite places we loved to go away from the farm was the beach. Living in Poole we were not more than 20 minutes from some of the most stunning beaches and coastal cliffs in the country. We would spend hours there in the summer, arriving before everyone else and walking what seemed like miles before settling on the right patch of sand away from the smell of chips and screaming families. We would sit and read, and run and play, and swim and eat and talk and sleep, and do it all over again countless times before returning home after dark tired but happy. In the winter we would walk the dogs and play cricket, load the car up with wooly hats and wellington boots, friends and sweets, run around the sand dunes and eat warm sausages and hot chocolate whilst cuddling together for warmth. The smell of sea salt and wet dog are still some of my (unusually) favourite smells!
This, I think, is why I love the outdoors, specifically the countryside or the seaside. Places and experiences there have shaped my life, helped to mould who I am as a person and how I live now. These experiences have shaped my current way of life and contribute heavily to what makes me happy.
Don’t get me wrong, however, I do love the city and all it has to offer. For a time, through uni and the subsequent years after, I live in Newcastle and Toronto and enjoyed every minute of it. But was it coincidence that these places were on the edge of the countryside, nestled next to water and and always reminded me of home?
In my adult life, my relationship with the outdoors has changed.
During my twenties the beach became a place where I met with friends, swam for fitness or went to contemplate the world when life got complicated. The farm was a place where we could hold parties, return for Christmas, or introduce new boyfriends over Sunday lunch and the obligatory afternoon walk.
Now I’m in my thirties, the outdoors means more to me than ever. I have a new attitude, a proactive drive that pushes me to do more in the outdoors. I work for the National Trust and am surrounding by people who have amazing passion, respect and knowledge for the places we love. I have friends who like a challenge and encourage me to hike, and sea swim and cycle for fun. I have creative peers in other countries who ask to see where I live and share in my experiences out there. The outdoors is wrapped around my life and intertwined with my creativity, giving me a sense of place and purpose regardless of what I’m going through.
There are places that now hold enormous significance for me. But, just being outdoors, in the open, in a bit of space, means just as much.
In these past 3 years I have lost my boyfriend to cancer; I've completed an MA, owned a business, travelled to America and explored England; I've lost a family member to a sudden heart attack and potentially found someone new that I can imaging spending my life with. When things get tough, or I need to think, I take a walk or swim or run, or draw outside. When I get together with friends, I meet them on the beach or at the park, to walk and talk and laugh. When I treat myself or celebrate I travel to beautiful places, challenge myself or explore the unknown. When I’m lonely or miserable or just need to stop, I go outside.... and that simple act, even for just a moment is always, enough.
So I’m really bad at keeping in touch with people. I don’t pretend to be good at it and my truest and oldest friends and family have come to expect my sporadic messages, late birthday presents and general lack of communication. I am an aunt of 4 and a Godmother to another 4, and I keep wondering if I’ll ever get better at it. And now I’m worry that I’ll make a bad impression or scare them for life in some way.
As I’ve become older, friends and family have moved away and are now dotted around the globe. It’s more important than ever for me to stay in touch and I try to use all the social media communication tools, speak over the net and comment on posts and send pictures as much as I can. But theres something much more special about seeing someone in person, to really connect by looking someone in the eye or holding a hand, even if it’s just for a second, that makes a lasting impression.
I’ve been thinking lately about who and what have made an impact on my life and come up with a myriad or different answers, some unexpected. In recent weeks I think more and more about making a mark in life and how much I really mean to other people.
My plan is that I get to go and visit some of my furthest flung friends in the next year, but lately the old bank account has been looking rather empty which has rather put a spanner in the works. As I try to get my life back on track (I keep alluding to this and I will explain, honest) I'm trying to make an effort - as far as I can - to maintain these relationships, in whatever way I can.
Last year I travelled to Warsaw to visit one of my oldest friends who I have been promising to go and see for a while.
It was wonderful to see him and his girlfriend (now fiancé), to see where they are and how they live their lives. It was amazing to experience the city and the National Park located so close to their home; to take photos and sketch and to meet friends and neighbours; to spend time reminiscing about old times, sharing stories from our shared past and hearing about their plans for the future. During the trip began to doubt my decisions and as I shared stories about my recent experiences, became mournful about a life I could have had. I also started to resent what I’d done and who I’d met, sliding down a spiral of self pity that my life would never amount to anything. I think the amount of beer I consumed may have fuelled this pity party and you’ll be please to hear that it was very short lived in the end.
I returned from this trip having thought a lot about the extraordinary events and relationships I’ve had in my own life. I came away thinking if I drew a line and marked each significant event along it, and drew another line and marked every interesting place I’ve travelled, and drew yet another line and marked every meaningful relationship I’ve had, even for a short time, that these 3 lines would be jammed packed with marks.
Sometimes you can get bogged down with thinking about what you don’t have, who you don’t have and how that compares to everyone else around you.
Sometimes you can be so tough on yourself that you don’t see all the hard work you’ve put in; relationships that you’ve carefully developed over the years, all the experiences you’ve engineered and shared, the intangible moments that get left behind, that fade into nothing; the memories you have made.
I made those 3 lines, my life lines, and something extraordinary happened. I let them go and drew 3 more.
I know now, that when I am feeling low, I can look at these 3 lines and confidently say that I have done the best I can do, and that actually, somewhere along the way, that I have left my mark.
I know now, when I’m feeling low, that I can look at the 3 new, long, (fairly) straight and clean lines and feel hopeful and excited about all the other marks I am bound to make.
I write. I draw. I go outside. A lot.
When I write, I write for me. It's clumsy and grammatically incorrect with atrocious spelling (had to actually spell check that one) and I usually go on for too long and use too many 'ands', but it's a way of getting my crowded thoughts out into the open, a way of sorting through the mess, and way to bring about a calmness I can’t quite explain.
When I draw, I draw for me too but I also share it with others - a recent phenomenon I might add. Drawing is a way for me to respond to the world I'm seeing, hearing and feeling; a way for me to communicate my unique perspective (this may seem grandiose but we all have one). And even though my drawing may be inconsistent and sporadic, sometimes I’m able to create something beautiful, and that - for me - is enough. My printmaking is an extension of this, and everything I create stems from what I draw.
When I go outside - into the English landscape in particular - I feel at home. I have a long and passionate relationship with the outdoors, having grown up on a farm in Dorset and spending most of my holidays and free time on Exmoor. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city and all it has to offer, but my heart lies in the countryside. I am most comfortable on the top of a hill or mountain, close to the sea or even out on a balcony, deck or doorstep. Just feeling the air on my face and knowing I could just ‘escape’ at any time gives me a sense of calm and freedom. There is something innately human about being out in the elements, of understanding the power and unforgiving forces of nature, of experiencing and appreciating it's beauty and colour, of repeatedly being in awe.
Over the past 3 years I’ve been through the mill (a story for another time), but I’ve also experienced amazing things, met incredible people and pushed myself further than I expected I could go. During those 3 years, more positive experiences have included owning a business, completing an Illustration MA, sea swimming, completing my first triathlon and travelling to Zion National Park in Utah. These adventures have tested my body and my resolve, and I have come out feeling more alive and more excited about the future than I ever have before.
I used to write a blog, stories to an unpublished website destined never to be read. I used to draw just to complete an assignment or to fill my spare time. I used to go outdoors because it was just something we did as a family and something I enjoyed.
Over the past few months I have come to realise that if I don’t do all 3 of these things, for at least half my day, every day, then I am unhappy. Now I work for the National Trust, make money from my artwork and try and travel when I can.
I work hard to create experiences in my work and life that I can record through writing and drawing; my writing and drawing fuel my creativity but also my need to experience the outdoors; my time outdoors spurs on my need to create and provides subjects for my work.
I finally find myself in an amazing cycle of experiences, creativity and production - which makes me happy (most of the time) and that I hope will go on and on….and never stop.