We’re told not to judge a book by its cover but we all do it, at least in the literal sense. Why else is Waterstones full of vibrant, juicy covers begging to be picked up and admired? So, when I saw a whale on the front of this book, it enticed me enough to read the blurb. And what a hook: “Far from home and with no real hope of survival, Ruth finds herself climbing into the mouth of a beached whale alongside a stranger.” Without wanting to sound like a T-Bird, tell me more.
Ruth’s life has become a hamster wheel of alcohol, bed hopping and a sense of something missing. When her latest relationship becomes claustrophobic, she decides to break the monotonous cycle she’s found herself in and travel to New Zealand. Here she hopes to fulfil a childhood dream of working with whales, but apocalypse strikes as soon as she arrives – don’t you hate it when well-laid plans get disrupted? Together with a stranger she meets on the beach, Ruth climbs into the mouth of a beached whale just before the blast hits. This saves her life, but now she has to figure out how to continue living.
This is only half the book, though. Alternating between chapters set in post-apocalyptic New Zealand are fragments of Ruth’s old life and the events that led to her trip. Somehow, there were close parallels between a dystopian world and the everyday routine of a young woman living in London, made sharper by the interwoven timelines. Like all good protagonists, Ruth has many flaws, and this makes her feel real. She makes human mistakes, and despite also building a shelter from whale ribs and making clothes from dried deer hides, her story resonates.
For me, part of this connection came from the book’s setting. I’ve never been to New Zealand, but “the breeze from across the water” and pulling “the salt-stiffened collar of the fleece towards her ears” were familiar sensations. Rather than obvious seaside description, Kate Sawyer uses thoughtful observations of a coastal landscape that essentially apply to any sandy beach in the world. Although my life in England wasn’t nearly so troubled as Ruth’s, I know exactly how being pulled somewhere feels; in her case it was to the whales she’d studied as a child in London’s Natural History Museum. The wonder of that place is something I can definitely relate to.
Dystopian stories have never interested me much, but I loved The Stranding because it was so much more than that. In fact, the apocalypse element was a back-seat theme for me. I felt that the backbone of the story was a woman’s pursuit of happiness and finding the courage to break a cycle and start a better life. And in Ruth’s case, it’s a life she could never have predicted.
I’m always looking for ways to restore my wonky work-life balance. We’re all capable of working too hard, but I often teeter on the edge of burnout and as a freelancer I really feel the pressure of having all my responsibilities on my own shoulders. Also, when your home and office are the same place, it’s far too easy to blur the boundaries between work and rest spaces, making switching off even harder.
My mental state is constantly lifting and dipping and this winter has been one of the dips. I’ve struggled to be inspired and have felt exhausted at times, despite sleeping well. I throw myself whole-heartedly into my work, but then it ends up taking over and my body has to force me to stop.
I was messaging my good friend Jeni about this recently and she sent me a post by Nicola Jane Hobbs, who’s a stress and rest researcher. Nicola defines rest as “anything that makes our nervous systems feel safe enough to switch off our stress responses so our minds and bodies can move into a state of recovery, restoration and growth.”
There are many different types of rest and Nicola says we should match them to the kind of stress we’re feeling: “I like to ask myself: What type of stress have I experienced today? What kind of rest do I need? If we’ve been in a loud, overstimulating environment, we can offer ourselves sensory rest with loose clothing and gentle music. If we’ve been busy all day working through our to-do lists, playful rest – romcoms, board games, making pizzas – will help us recover.”
This really resonated with me because my concept of rest had been purely physical. I consider myself lucky that I’m a heavy sleeper, but sleep is only one of the ten distinct types of rest that Nicola outlines in her post:
Physical rest – sleep, stretching, mindful movement
Playful rest – anything fun and unproductive eg watching films, board games
Ecological rest – walking, wild swimming, car-free days
Altruistic rest – giving without expecting anything in return eg volunteering, random acts of kinds
As much as I try to move away from my to-do list and take breaks, it doesn’t happen as often as it should. Rest isn’t indulgent. It’s not generic either, and should be tailored to our needs.
A big problem area for me is my eyes. If I’d been born a century earlier, I’d have written my book on a typewriter or even by hand. Instead, I spend the majority of each working day staring at a screen and have the headaches to prove it. Using Nicola’s model, I should increase the amount of sensory rest I get, so one of my resolutions for 2023 is to take more breaks with my eyes closed, use a heat mask, and write more by hand. It’s slower, but kinder to my eyes and so much more fulfilling.
Mental health is as important as physical health and I’m pleased it’s gaining more awareness in mainstream media, but there’s still not enough. Making little lifestyle changes like focussing on different types of rest is a way of integrating mindfulness into our daily routines.
I hope you find these tips as useful as I did. Some day maybe I’ll take my own advice and look after myself a little better. One step at a time!
The following article was featured in my latest issue of On The Wing magazine, which you can read here. I often see Aberdeen unfairly shrugged off as simply ‘The Granite City’. As with many urban places, there’s so much more to Aberdeen than grey buildings. Here are six of my favourite spots for nature enthusiasts to explore.
With its deep rocky dells and hip-high bracken, this is what I call a Jurassic forest because it doesn’t take much imagination to picture a dinosaur poking above the foliage. Beeches, birches and rowans line interweaving trails – look out for a Neolithic cairn and a stone monument hidden among the trees.
Like in all good parks, kids and dogs have open space to run around, but away from the play park area you can sit in a variety of gardens and hear nothing but birdsong. You can also explore Robert the Bruce stone cairns, a sculpture trail and Scotland’s oldest maze here.
Hazlehead Avenue, AB15 8BE
David Welch Winter Gardens
Within Duthie Park, this warren of greenhouses contains tropical flowers, roses, ferns and a squadron of carnivorous plants. I spent an unholy amount of time in the Arid House, where there’s every sort of cactus you could imagine. With more than 750 species, this collection is one of the largest in the UK.
Polmuir Road, AB11 7TH
Open: daily all year round
This small headland forms a curved dell just past Aberdeen’s harbour. A range of seabirds gather in the shallows by the rocks and it’s a great spot to see bottlenose dolphins too. Watch in cosy comfort from the excellent Liberty Café, located within the historic structure of Torry Battery.
Greyhope Road, AB11 8QX
Sitting beside a dangling loop of the River Don, this is the largest green space in Old Aberdeen. Splashes of colour from dramatic flowerbeds, a high quality river footpath leading to a pedestrianised arched bridge, and several concealed features of historical interest make this more intriguing than your average park.
Don Street, AB24 1XS
University of Aberdeen Zoology Museum
Scales and fur and feathers oh my! The lower gallery’s skeletons draw the eye first, but also make sure to check out minuscule amphibian bones, corals and a troupe of fish you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley. The upper gallery is an ornithologist’s delight, featuring everything from goldcrests to golden eagles.
Christmas always ends up being a hectic whirlwind, but this year I think we’re all looking forward to a bit of festive cheer. However, the festive season can get wasteful and very expensive, so I’ve put together a list of tips for making this Christmas a green one.
While I try to limit my online shopping, it’s inevitable that I’ll order something now and then. Luckily, the cardboard packaging is perfect for trimming down and transforming into homemade cards – ready to be decorated with photos and messages.
If you keep your cards dinky, you can make several from one piece of packaging. For even more crafty points, save the Christmas cards you receive this year and cut them out to decorate your homemade cards next year. You can make your own gift tags this way too!
There’s an ongoing debate about whether it’s better to have a real or artificial tree. While there are pros and cons of each, for fresh trees it’s best to find a locally grown one that supports local businesses and reduces the pollution associated with delivery. To find out where the local retailers are near you, check out the British Tree Growers Association.
To prevent your tree from going to landfill after Christmas, look out for tree recycling schemes which are offered by a lot of local councils. It’s also possible to rent a tree! After enjoying your tree over the Christmas period, you return it to the grower who replants it ready for next year.
Once you have your tree, you’re going to want to decorate it. We’ve all seen the countless decorations on display at garden centres but beware: lots of these ornaments are covered in glitter – a harmful microplastic which should be avoided.
For more sustainable decorations, why not make paper chains using brightly coloured cardboard from cereal boxes and other packaging? You could also gather some natural materials such as holly, ivy, pinecones or small pine branches to make your home both festive and wild.
While swapping gifts can be loads of fun, I’m sure we’ve all received some we’d sooner exchange for something else… To avoid any awkwardness on Christmas morning, get your loved ones gifts that are fun and practical – reusable metal straws or plastic-free shampoo bars perhaps.
We’re all guilty of a little overindulgence at Christmas but that’s perfectly acceptable – it’s Christmas after all! Although, we should be aware of how much food we end up throwing away.
To minimise waste, it’s a good idea to eat all your freezer food during December to make room for leftovers. Everyone knows about turkey sandwiches, but there are lots of other good leftover recipes around including vegetable tray bakes, turkey curry and countless soup flavours.
Has anyone ever been pleased by what they’ve won in a cracker? Let’s be honest – it’s all tacky plastic tat! A very refreshing trend that’s growing more popular is homemade crackers – this handy guide is easy to follow and doesn’t require many materials, but you can experiment any way you like. Making your own crackers not only cuts down on single-use plastic but also gives you the freedom to choose the gifts. And maybe find some better jokes too.
Do you have nifty ideas for an eco-conscious Christmas? I’d love to hear them!
I couldn’t help a slight eye roll when I read the shower of adjectives on the cover reviews of this book: “powerful… inspiring… mind-blowing…” But it actually ended up being all of those things for me, even the last one.
If Women Rose Rooted is a combination of three topics I care strongly about: nature, women and Celtic mythology. I’ve been directly involved in the first of those since childhood – the natural world is the basis for everything I do, both professionally and personally. But the other two have slowly gained momentum in my mind since moving to Scotland.
In 2019 I was earning minimum wage in the town I grew up in. It was where I’d gone to school, met my best friends and spent every weekend, but I didn’t belong there anymore. I didn’t realise just how much I didn’t belong there until I stayed with my parents for a week in their new house in Moray, northeast Scotland.
After days spent walking along beaches and through forests, spotting red squirrels, stonechats and grey seals, I returned to England with a crash. Scotland had shone a harsh and revealing light on the current state of my life. My writing had dried up, the camera was gathering dust, and most importantly I wasn’t happy.
One morning before work I sat in my car in a multi-storey car park and cried. Proper ugly sobs. I splashed my face with cold water to stop my eyes puffing up in front of the customers.
I felt a toxic mix of emotions: disappointment about leaving university and returning to the same place I was in before; physical and mental discomfort from spending eight hours a day staring at the same four walls, not making any progress in my career whatsoever; longing for a place currently out of reach; and shame that my situation was a lot better than some and I should be grateful I had work at all.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling of displacement, like I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Scotland was beckoning and each day the pull grew stronger. I made a playlist of inspiring songs and that worked for a while, but I knew in my gut I had to move.
And the universe, being its freaky-deaky self, confirmed that for me when the shop I was working in closed and we were all let go. Everything in me lifted – I swept up my belongings and bolted north.
The effect was immediate. Words flowed out of me, I took hundreds of photos and I walked for hours through my new home. Now, 21 months later, I feel rooted to land for the first time in my life. I’ve developed a fierce love for the place I’m in and the inspiration I soak up from it. I’ve found my home.
Last month I saw If Women Rose Rooted in the library, its back to the wall so its front cover faced me as I browsed. It had been on my list for a while so I gave it a go. Several pages in I felt the strange sensation of someone I didn’t know seemingly talking about my own life.
“I am sitting in a car,” the author Sharon Blackie writes, “outside an ugly office building in a small town… for which I have absolutely no affection. I have no affinity for this part of the world; my internal compass points north and west, and my feet literally feel as if they are in the wrong place.”
It’s in this moment that Sharon hears the Call. Unfortunately for her it comes in the form of a panic attack, but it was this experience that beckoned her to change her life. A year after that incident, she spent two weeks in Ireland and writes: “For the first time in my life I felt as if my feet were in the right place.” The parallels with my own situation were undeniable.
Memories of my own Call came flooding back. I count myself extremely fortunate that my own experience of what Sharon calls the Wasteland was mild and brief compared to hers. I’m grateful that I recognised what I needed to do and was able to do it a lot sooner.
So my new roots continued to grow in Scotland. I was in a place I felt I belonged to – one that resonated with me. After walking the same trails over and over, I picked up on seasonal changes happening around me. I followed the rhythm of the tides and learned where yellowhammers might be and what time of year to expect long-tailed ducks. I tuned into this amazing new place, and that is the essence of Sharon’s book.
“Once up a time,” she writes, “the people of our Celtic nations knew that our fate is inseparable from the fate of the land we live on… There is a Gaelic word for it. In Irish, the word is dúchas; in Scottish Gaelic, dùthchas. It expresses a sense of belonging to a place, to a certain area of land; it expresses a sense of rootedness, by ancient lineage and ancestry, in the community which has responsibility for that place.”
I was born and raised in England but I have both Irish and Scottish lineage and feel drawn to wild Celtic places. I was pulled north to the windswept coast of Moray and I already feel fiercely protective of it. I spend every day working on something to do with nature, whether it’s writing, photography or filmmaking, but I still feel a sense of helplessness that I’m not doing enough. Our planet is sick and I want to do more, but I don’t know what.
Once again, Sharon Blackie leaned out of her book and seemed to speak directly to me. One of the many incredible women she interviews is Scilla Elworthy, who founded an NGO to initiate effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers, and co-founded Rising Women, Rising World – an international community intent on building a world that works for everyone. She’s been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
When speaking to Sharon about her work with Rising Women, Rising World, Scilla says this: “Investigate what breaks your heart. Then ask yourself whether that is where your passion lies, think about what your key skills are, marry the two – then you have your initiative.”
When hearing the Call, leaving the Wasteland and restoring balance to your work, health and daily life, it’s important to find the unique part of yourself that you can bring back to the world.
“It is easy to get disheartened,” Sharon says. “So many of us go through stages of feeling helpless, or believing there’s nothing that can be done. But there’s always something that can be done, no matter how small… The Journey is about accepting that we each have a responsibility for the way we live our lives, for our footprint on the planet.”
Reading that was another comfort, especially as COP26 is still present in my mind. No single person can save the world, but we can all make small changes and inspire others to do the same.
Author and needleworker Alice Starmore, another of the women Sharon talks to, says: “It’s hard to care for what you don’t know.” I aspire to educate and inspire people through words and images, and I will continue to use them to celebrate and encourage the protection of nature.
And even though I’ve been watching and studying wildlife in some form for most of my life, there are obviously still things I don’t know as well. The world of plants and trees is still largely a mystery to me, as are moon cycles, stars and geology. To set my new roots even firmer in the ground, I need to continue learning about the land I belong to and share it with others.
In all the Celtic myths and legends Sharon shares in If Women Rose Rooted, the women knew the land and were deeply connected to it. In our pursuit of progress, we’ve forgotten the importance of being rooted and we’ve lost touch with our heritage.
There are many cyclical elements to Celtic tradition and these circles still surround us today – day and night, the lunar cycle, seasons and tides. Instead of a circle, we’re currently living on a straight line which cannot be maintained. Rediscovering our history and stories will help curve that line back into a circle.
I didn’t expect so much to come pouring out of me when I started writing this. It’s rare for a book to affect me so deeply, but with so many parallels between Sharon Blackie’s Calling and my own, I found myself stunned at many moments while reading this book. I would recommend it to any woman who has lost her way or recently found where she needs to be. We all have work to do, but with each small step we can make change.
I’ve struggled with work-life balance a lot in the past. Freelancing has many advantages, but it’s difficult to leave an office when you live in it. My living and working spaces are blended together and I find it hard to switch off. Weeks have gone by where I haven’t taken a full day off, and sometimes I work long into the evening just to get another job done.
After following this pattern for the past two years, it’s no surprise that I often teeter on the edge of burnout. Earlier this year it got particularly bad. I was exhausted and lost control. Wildlife filled me with dread, not joy. It became almost a chore, linked to deadlines rather than passion.
I realised that wildlife was overwhelming me. I couldn’t even switch off with social media – Facebook and Instagram were plastered in birds. I finally started paying attention to self-care, which up until then had been a luxury rather than a necessity. My work-life balance was shot, but once I was aware of that I could work on sorting myself out.
I kept my little crisis mostly to myself. I certainly didn’t share it publicly – I thought it might make me look unprofessional. But the truth is, mental health is as important as physical health and I knew I shouldn’t bury it. I wouldn’t be alone in this and I thought maybe other freelancers might benefit from my experience.
I want this blog to be honest, and for the past few months it’s been sporadic and a little rose-tinted compared to how I’ve been feeling. As well as the adventures I get up to around Scotland, I want to share tips and advice that might resonate with others. So here goes: three tips for a healthier work-life balance.
1. Celebrate your successes
Freelancing can be lonely. I spend almost all my working week alone and the majority of my projects are my sole responsibility. It’s easy to get swept up in struggles and stresses, but dwelling on the negatives is damaging.
I found this idea on a post by Sarah Townsend from @thecopywritersday – all you have to do is write a list of things that are going well. It can be successes at work but it can also be a great book you’re reading or a morning ritual you enjoy. I tried it and ended up writing more than I expected. Here’s my most recent list:
Some are more frivolous than others, but it doesn’t matter. Concentrating on those wins shifted my perspective and the things stressing me out suddenly looked less intimidating.
2. Find an unrelated hobby
Part of the reason I was burning out was because I was overwhelmed by work. Wildlife is my greatest passion, but it reached a point where I couldn’t go for a walk without taking photos for Instagram. My enjoyment of wildlife was at risk because it had become my entire existence. I needed to do something unrelated so I started embroidery and wild swimming. One is a new skill, the other is great exercise, and neither requires a screen.
Embroidery is naturally repetitive and takes a lot of time, but seeing a piece of art come together one thread at a time is so rewarding. As for swimming, I get a rush of energy every time I take the plunge and it puts me in an entirely new environment. Watching waves ripple at eye level and feeling kelp brush against my stomach were totally new sensations and I was addicted straight away. After each swim or embroidery session, I return to work refreshed and with my love of wildlife still intact!
3. Declutter your surroundings
This is the trickiest of the three for me but it’s something I’m really trying to do more. The most obvious form of clutter is physical. Because I work on lots of different projects at once, I have an unfortunate habit of stacking books, papers and boxes on the floor around my desk and before I know it the carpet’s disappeared. ‘Tidy home, tidy mind’ is a cliché for a reason – it’s pretty accurate. Nowadays I try to work on one project at a time, so there’s less stuff around me at once and I can concentrate more effectively.
Decluttering can also include less tangible things. Scrolling through Instagram is a good example. I’m certainly not trying to suggest boycotting social media, but limiting its use is a good habit to get into. Recently I’ve started having a look at lunchtime and again in the evening when I’ve finished work.
An article on Becoming Minimalist uses a swimming analogy. It’s the idea that when you swim in a river, it’s impossible to catch up with all the water that’s already gone downstream. You simply enjoy the water that surrounds you at that moment, and the same can be said for social media. Have a paddle, then get out of the water. And if you can, have a paddle in actual water because that works wonders!
Freelancing on my own was a huge step up from studying with the support of tutors. I’ve always worked well by myself, but I didn’t realise I’d need to adapt my lifestyle like I have. It’s a constant learning curve, but I’m working on it.
I hope this blog was helpful! Do you have any tips for a healthier work-life balance?
Painting always takes a backseat for me. Writing and photography take up all of my creative time and energy, and as a result I barely ever get round to painting even though I love it. The second I actually set out my equipment and get started, I spend hours doing it!
The other obstacle is the fact I’m a raging perfectionist. I aspire for photorealism on every piece and it just doesn’t happen. What I should be more concerned with is that my worrying is stopping me from doing what I love.
So, determined not to get bogged down by perfection, I painted a few sketches with my usual combination of watercolour and fineliner pens recently. Sure they’re a little rough round the edges but isn’t creative expression what art is all about? If we could all paint a bird to look like a photo, every piece of artwork would look identical. Naturally this is just me making an excuse for my lack of technical skill, but joking aside I think art should be about having fun no matter what the end result looks like. And everyone knows practice makes perfect.
For the past few weeks I’ve fallen in love with photography even more than I was before. My new camera has now arrived but the adapter I need to attach it to my lens has been out of stock for weeks, so the camera’s still in the box for now!
Luckily for me I’m still borrowing my friend’s camera and I’ve had it slung across my back on every one of my walks. Winter is my favourite season – wildlife is still abundant in the colder months and there are some particularly special overwintering birds to enjoy.
A prime example of a stunning winter bird is the brambling, and I was absolutely thrilled to see one this week! As I scanned a crowd of coal tits, robins and chaffinches my eyes casually brushed past this special winter visitor minding its own business. This resulted in a comedy double take from me. I only had time for a couple of shots before the brambling hopped off the branch. I scanned around but didn’t see it again, although I was more than happy to get even a brief glimpse.
Soon after that the light started to fade and it was nearly time to turn the camera off for the day. I was making my way back to the car when I spotted a last minute red squirrel bounding across the clearing. Luckily despite the gloom of late afternoon there were some lovely sunset colours behind it which complemented its fiery fur.
It’s easy to get a bit jealous of all the snowy wildlife photos buzzing about social media at the moment. I’ve had a few dustings but nothing like the drifts that have settled further south.
But even these light snowfalls are stunning to see and still manage to transform the landscape with both sight and sound. The pristine white is the most obvious change but there’s also a very specific silence that accompanies snow, as if nature is pausing to admire it too.
Over the past week or so, long tailed tits have suddenly become one of my favourite birds. They’re ridiculously photogenic and for such tiny fluffballs they have so much character! I usually hear long tailed tits before I see them.
After a combination of high pitched squeaks and cheeky raspberries from above they suddenly all appear at once, barrelling around in one group. The other day I saw a group of twenty individuals in the same tree and they made an absolute racket!
And most recently, I had a fantastic sunrise walk down to the harbour to see some overwintering ducks. Sunrise wasn’t until 8:45 (another excellent thing about winter) so I could saunter down to the harbour in time for golden hour.
Waves were crashing against the sea wall so all the gulls and ducks had come in to shelter in the calmer water. As well as a very vocal heron and a gang of eiders there was this beautiful pair of long tailed ducks, which only visit Britain during winter.
I lay down on my front – no doubt getting funny looks from the fishermen – so I could get almost eye level with the long tails. I’d seen a couple of distant males before but never a female so it was fantastic to see them both so closely.
Isn’t winter just the most magical season? For me this is the highlight of the wild year, where walks are filled with crunchy frost, golden leaves and with a bit of luck, some snow. Even without snow though, there are some stunning birds to see during winter and I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks bring.
I was determined to make the first day of the year full of wildlife so I headed to my favourite woodland spot to try my luck seeing red squirrels. As usual I was met by a gust of coal tits, brazenly unafraid of me, and once I’d settled down the more timid characters began to emerge. There were blue tits, great tits, siskins, dunnocks and chaffinches. Blackbirds rustled beneath the trees and a plucky robin perched within arm’s reach of me, gazing with that analytical expression typical of its species. I was soon in my element: enjoying the peace and quiet, tucked up warm against the cold and surrounded by birds.
A black and pink troop of long tailed tits caught my eye as they appeared one by one, hanging together off the branches. Mike Tomkies described them as “flying crotchets escaped from nature’s music sheet”, which I think is an impeccable piece of writing. And so true – long tailed tits have crotchety proportions with a golf ball body and a huge staff of a tail. But what enchants me most about them is their tiny little faces. Eyes and beak are all crammed into the exact same place, giving them a ridiculously cute expression. I love how they always travel in packs too. Despite being such dainty looking birds they soon dominate a space with both sights and sounds. One of their calls reminds me of a raspberry being blown. The next time you see long tailed tits listen out for it. A cheeky raspberry from an even cheekier bird.
Then I heard a different snap of sound on the breeze: the trill of a crested tit. I’ve only recently learned what a crestie sounds like and now I hear it regularly, often in places where I would never predict them such as over the most heavily pressed forest trails. I don’t always see them, but the beauty of recognising birdsong is it gives you the ability to meet a bird without actually clapping eyes on it.
And suddenly there it was. I’m hesitant to use the word “icon” because it’s become a cliché, but in the case of a crested tit there’s no other word for it. Found nowhere in the whole of the UK apart from the Scots pines forests of the Highlands, it’s a really special bird. I find cresties are also a real challenge to photograph on account of the ants in their pants. I’ve got a few photos of them now, but I’m still waiting for THE crestie shot.
As I sat marvelling, a bigger bird appeared and I almost clapped with happiness. A great spotted woodpecker landed right there in the open, which I’ve never seen before. If they’re not fifty feet up a tree they’re concealed behind so many branches that there’s no hope of a decent photo, but it seemed that today was my lucky day.
Although of course I was pleased to see so many birds, I was secretly hoping for a glimpse of red fur too. I waited patiently, watching countless tits and finches come and go, until eventually I turned to see what I thought was the robin again but was actually a red squirrel, standing two feet from my boots. It hopped leisurely across the pine needles to the tree and shimmied up the trunk, pausing just long enough in the crook of a branch for a photo before heading off. A very fleeting visit, but I was thrilled. When wildlife comes to me (rather than the other way around) I get an overwhelming feeling of acceptance. Both squirrels and birds alike must trust that I won’t hurt them and feel relaxed enough to come close, and that is a really special thing.