Nature Memories (The Wild Child Collection)
Where does a love of nature come from?
I seem to be finding myself making drawings about childhood at the moment – perhaps inevitable when I spend my days following the children around.
Their little bodies have crept into the drawings and the things they notice have become (once again) the things I notice. I also feel that I have been totally changed by becoming a mum, and that has changed my drawing practice. I want to draw the things I am consumed by (and we all know that young children consume your resources in every way). I am thoroughly in my ‘mum era’. I’m fine with that, I love it. And it makes sense to me that the things of childhood should appear in my work.
Becoming a mum has led me to think more about my own childhood. This is sometimes frustrating as both my parents, and my aunt, died when I was in my twenties. There’s no one to ask about all the little things – what we were like as babies and toddlers, our interests and temperaments, were things really just as I remember them being. None of them have met my kids. I think I might find it quite comforting to hear “oh yes, you were just like that, too” in response to witnessing my own kid’s antics. I’ve got a feeling my mum would have remembered every detail. The things I do know to be true: my sister & I loved being outside and I loved drawing.
We were lucky enough to be brought up in a village in the countryside. The kids in the village had an enormous amount of freedom. We used to go out for hours and hours, totally free, we just had to be home for tea. No mobile phones. I don’t recall any sense of the world being a dangerous place, although I do remember mum once telling me that strange men sometimes hide in woods. I could not for the life of me imagine what she might mean. I thought she was a total loon (but I did always expect to see a face poke out from behind a tree one day, some sort of half-elf half-man). I’m not sure the kids are allowed out all day on their own these days – my own kids are too young, just now, but those conversations are ahead of us. But I do think that the freedom to roam, to explore, to get lost and get wet and get muddy and have to fend for yourself is a gift for kids. There was one day we were playing in the woods, we were all soaked and muddy, my trainers were full of stream. We had gone too far from the village. The only way back up to the road was up a massive banking. It seemed like an unacheivable feat to reach the top without sliding all the way back down. The joy at climbing over the fence onto the road was enormous. But then there was the trudge home in wet shoes, using a big stick as a walking pole, knowing we’d be in trouble for being late for tea. Exhausted and hungry and happy. I think those early adventures are a huge part of why I love being outdoors as an adult.
Another reason I love nature is because of my dad. My dad and my aunt were very knowledgeable about nature, particularly birds. They were brought up in a village in the Borders, too (in Swinton in the 1940s). They had amazing stories of climbing trees to take eggs from nests and carefully blowing them for their collections (illegal now, of course, but part of childhood back then); of kicking bee hives and running away; of cycling round Berwickshire trying to retrieve lost Homing Pigeons. There’s a connection with the landscape that they had as children that will have formed the essence of who they were as adults. Dad passed his enthusiasm for birds and for plants on to my sister & I. One of my strongest nature memories is holding my dad’s hand as we headed out on a walk with our binoculars. I was immensely proud that he wanted to go bird-watching with me. It felt very special.
I asked my Instagram and Facebook followers about their core nature memories. What a beautiful read the responses made! Two things stood out to me. The first was that a lot of the memories were connected to their dads or granddads. I’m curious about why there’s such strong associations between nature and male family members. I wondered if maybe men, traditionally, had more knowledge and access to the outdoors. Being invited to share in that world with them was an exciting thing. I also wondered whether the mums and grannies did just as much exploring outdoors with their little people, but that was an everyday thing, so felt less special. And then when the father or grandfather had time to take the kids out on an adventure it felt like a memory to treasure. I’d be interested to hear your ideas.
The other thing I noticed was that the memories people shared – often quite specific and detailed – were multi-sensory. Barefoot on rock, tickly grass, the smell of tomatoes in the greenhouse, hair in the wind, sunshine on the face, the taste of fruit picked straight from the bush, a bird call. Our nature memories use all our senses, and can be unlocked much later in life by a smell or a taste or a sound. Reading all the stories felt very immersive – I was there, holding the big hand, splashing, climbing.
Themes that emerged from your stories: ladybirds, sticks, dens, rockpools, dandelion clocks, throwing stones into the river, being in the woods, daisy chains, climbing on bales, climbing trees. And tadpoles, owl pellets, stepping on puffball mushrooms, paddling, minnows, bats, making potions from flowers and leaves, digging in the mud, mud pies, eating wild raspberries, waves. Kids are really good at being outdoors.
My plan is to make a series of drawings (working title of The Wild Child Collection) of my kids, my godkids and other little people I love, in their element, exploring the world around them.