What is Ecotherapeutic motherhood?

Bright sunlight comes from a sun that has crept up the sky these last weeks, from its lowly sweep of the horizon in the darkest days to crowning the rooftops and the tallest of trees. Light dances off the glossy evergreen leaves of ivy, holly and privet as we canter to school this morning. Light illuminates the birds as they glide in the sky, their underbellies glossy with reflection and warmth. Everything is in motion: a brisk breeze whips my hair about my face and sends a crisp, brown leaf tumbling across the road, so much like a mouse that I thought at first it was. The breeze blows birdsong first into our faces then snatches it away and fills our ears with the roar of air instead. These first days of Spring are busy busy busy and we are not even privy to the event. We are not even expected to notice. Yet we do. The girls chatter and laugh at the banishment of Winter. They coo in delight at the crocuses in abundance in a neighbour’s garden, at the tiny daffodils and narcissi in bloom. Every year they are expected and every year they delight.Wild garlic just showing tiny green rolls in a garden are sagely discussed. They love to forage and intend to snack on them soon.

Then to school they go, to indoor classes, maths, music, art and writing. They too will have their moments in the sunshine. As I turn towards the day ahead my mind turns to the familiar contemplation of what I shall do. More specifically: which route shall I take in my daily walk of the dog and of Baby, fast asleep in the sling? The wind plays with the dog poo bag, sticking its corner out of my pocket. The rustle alerts me to its imminent take-off and I quickly stuff it back inside. Baby snores gently at my chest. I tuck his blanket around him a little better. This wind has fingers.

Dog goes bananas as I change into wellies and head off with him into the garden. Such joy! His delight creates in me a frustration because he’s just so daft (he’s knocked into the recycling box, now the gate, skidding on the muddy path down the lawn, stood on a chicken) but also a half-noticed envy of just how amazing life is for a well loved, well walked dog. At the bottom of the garden there is a little path and I ask him “Well then, left or right?”He looks at me from eight meters down the path to the left, so I suppose that’s the way we are going today.

Past the willow. How lucky we are to have one at the bottom of our garden. Not since I was a little girl did we have a willow. It stood at the corner of our house, by the veranda. No doubt it was planted, maybe a hundred years ago, to make the house look a little like a settler’s house on the banks of the Murray river in the searing heat of nineteenth century Australia. That beautiful willow eventually got too big for its home and had to be felled. I remember that day so well, such a sadness to say goodbye to a tree, even one that was slowly but crushingly lifting our house up and making it warp. So this one here is special. Catkins formed weeks ago high up above our heads in the canopy. This wind has brought a few down to the ground and the girls have been stroking them agains their faces, wondering how many they’d need to harvest to weave them into a soft jumper. I pick a catkin up. It is soft like the fur that sheaths the ripping sharpness of my cat’s paws. They poke out of dark brown husks, curved, cracked shells that have kept the delicate fibres protected from Winter’s worst ravages all these weeks. Now to be split and discarded to fall, pecked at by inquisitive chickens.

As I walk the wind accompanies me. I know that in a few minutes I’ll be warm with the exertion of the land: up hill and down dale. Carrying a steadily growing baby in the sling is keeping me fit. Yet shadows between the bushes keep the air cold and the ground is still packed down hard and barely above freezing. Air circles around my neck and my skin feels the sting of the wind. I keep my hair down and think (again) of how fortunate we are to have hair that keeps growing on our head. In a post-glacial world of northern Europe I’d have been glad of the extra insulation, as I am now.

The path emerges into sunlight and suddenly the air warms. I raise my face to the sun, feel the last shivering fingers of Winter release me from their grip and I sense my soul fully accept that this, here, now is Spring. I smile. I feel the smile cascading down into my body and my limbs, lifting me up from the heaviness of mine and Baby’s weight, into a lighter, brighter season, where adventures beckon. My pace quickens as I come as close to running as I can without bobbing the baby about too much. Birds are chattering incessantly about my ears: long tailed tits chirping, blackbirds scolding and wooing in turn, a lone thrush in the tree outside my bathroom has been entertaining me of late as it tries mimicking the birds it hears. My favourite call in its repertoire that it is perfecting is that of a curlew. I was quite convinced at first. I watch two robins love-fighting in a hedgerow. I am absolutely here now. I am watching you, I want to say. I am here. I feel it too.

I walk and walk. Each footpath I come across I take. Further and further I go because I don’t want to go back. I take the risk that Baby will wake up and I give thanks (again) for my on-board feeding machine. In fact, I wish he did wake up just so that I can find a rock and feed him. To feel this day shape my motherhood, to be bathed by the warm light as the coldness of the rock beneath me fights to keep me from getting too comfortable. Winter still holds the rocky realm. But it doesn’t hold the trees, nor the birds; the becks bubble and trickle, bouncing light about so carelessly while the creatures within them feel that the waters are perceptibly warmer today than yesterday. It doesn’t hold me either. Winter tries to get to Baby and for a moment I’m horrified that one of his bare legs has escaped from its wrapping and is cold to the touch. Small beings need great care. He fusses in his sleep as I tuck it back in.

Sooner or later I have to return home. That is part of the deal.

Walking home I turn my mind inwards to my thoughts. Ecotherpy is an off-shoot of ecopsychology which is the study of the world, the Earth, our humanity and the lack of connection that has sprung up between people and their environment. It says that the Earth is a being and that it influences us just as much, if not more, than any other person in our lives. I have a relationship with this world, just as intricately woven about me as my relationship with my mother. In fact, my relationship with the Earth is deeper, more eternal, more critical than that with my mother. Because I simply cannot live if the Earth falls sick and dies. I die too. Much as I love my mother, her destiny is not my own. Yet I am the Earth and She is me. 

It’s very easy to enjoy the delights of the Earth in this unspoilt, beautiful, empty place in the high Pennines. It takes a jump of understanding on a rational level to willingly open myself up to the realities in the rest of the world; open sewers leading into the Ganges, from which people fish then sell these in market places, deforested lands choked with acidic soils which will never sustain crops again, salinated swathes of Australia which were left after disastrous land management, so salty that it contaminates water supplies, and of course the imminent threat of fracking on our doorstep. How will we eat? How will we drink? How will we breathe? These are vastly terrifying questions that I must admit I can only glimpse at out of the corner of my eye most days, because on the days that I have seen them, stood facing them and brought them fully into my awareness I have broken down and sobbed in grief.

So this is ecotherapeutic motherhood, I suppose: to know that this Earth is both my delight and my greatest fear, delight that reaches way beyond myself into the wide reaches of the future, when I am no longer here and the breeze that plays about my face today has recycled itself into a terrifying cyclone, knocking down trees in Indonesia. So if anything, ecotherapeutic motherhood is giving me a sense of perspective.

Coming home, Baby is stirring. As I extricate him from the sling and he is crumpled up into a little warm ball of himself, slowly stretching out his arms and his head, I tell him of all that there is out there. How I ventured three miles, maybe not even that, from our door and I found the world to be filled with life. How I found that Spring comes again and again to our world and demands sleep to be banished before it. How that the Earth Herself gives cues, perfectly in time with the Sun, for collaboration. We mustn’t just walk through this world unknowingly, un-noticingly, as if we do not matter. True, things will go on around us in our blindness, yet it’s amazing out there and all we have to do is go out and surrender to it.


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