Thoughts for the Coming Winter

It sometimes seems it’s all that we can do to keep on going.  That fateful Thursday several weeks ago news poured down like the actual rain.  Quite apart from the sad passing away of the Queen, there were many other things that became apparent on that momentous day.  You can say a lot of things about our new government and its reaction to our pressing social and environmental crises.  Whatever our response, whatever the need to challenge proposals, we can only hope that, economically, we’ll see increasing sense or a least a hastening of the day till we get a government worthy of the name. 

As for the energy crisis, some kind of corrective has been on the cards for years, which makes it no less galling how relatively unprepared we are for it by the unambitious scale of action this last decade or two.  But it doesn’t seem a completely irrational hope that we can still emerge somehow stronger or in a sense a little more honest out of all of this; living more within our means while rising to the challenge to source our needs with greater concern for the climate.  As we know, if any of this is in any way medicinal, right now it doesn’t feel like a particularly palatable brew.  But there may be some consolation knowing that our trials are not in vain.

With all that said, it’s worth considering at times like these that we always have options.  While not everything may be as we like, we can still take steps to attend to our psychology.  We should do what we can to not let ourselves be dragged down by the sometimes obviously quite sobering prospects that appear to face us this coming winter; recently at least, any rational analysis of the news has threatened to become quite overwhelming.  Perhaps the best thing we can remember is that, despite the habits we may have regarding news and media, saturating ourselves with updates and bulletins and articles remains just that – a choice.  If that sounds indulgent or callous or reckless, consider the words of Howard C. Cutler in his writings based on conversations with the Dalai Lama on the practical ramifications of a positive state of mind; “it is unhappy people who tend to be the most self-focused and are often socially withdrawn, brooding, and even antagonistic.  Happy people, in contrast, are generally found to be more sociable, flexible, and creative and are able to tolerate life’s daily frustrations more easily.”  Crucially for any crisis, experiments show that those in a better state of mind are more likely to help out others in need. 

And therein lies another choice – developing a practical response.  That means we can focus on what we can do – not paralyse ourselves with concern or despair over those things that may be beyond our control.  A calmer mind is better placed to look at given options, to be inventive in any given circumstance, look for the ladder at the end of any allegorical alleys.  It can give us the strength to continue, drive for change and better circumstances, to be more kindly disposed to those all around us, bolster our capacity for patience and compassion.

Is it too much or too fanciful to believe there is a counterforce to all our woes, some spirit or will out in the ether or within each one of us that seeks and can serve to ameliorate all this?  A force that wishes us to continue, a will to carry on? Is it too lofty a notion to attempt to meet any hardship with grace, to bolster ourselves with silver linings, the things we still can be grateful about?  None of this is intended as a call for happy-clappy, Maoist sunshine state mentalities that justify sticking our heads in the sand.  But we can seek to respond to these times as effectively as we are able, even if that just means keeping our heads above water.  Anything that helps us get through each day, overcome the difficulties we can, helps give us the wind in our sails even in apparent adversity, is not as abstract or denialist as it may sound.

We know all too well what we’re faced with this winter.  Recent announcements regarding general help with our energy bills head off the worst of what we might immediately have faced.  But we shouldn’t pretend that it’s going to necessarily be easy.  It may offer some relief to reflect that if we can hold fast this coming winter, we may be in a much better place come the Spring.  Weaning ourselves off Russian energy was long overdue in any case and there should be no doubt that current events are certainly catalytic for greater energy security – it’s a question of how we respond, how we make the most of this as yet largely unnavigated opportunity, whether we shoot ourselves in the foot or look at it as a chance for benevolent change; encourage the take up of renewables with ever greater alacrity and, yes, first and foremost insulate our homes.  For all the need for better policy on high there are things that most of us can still do; if downsizing and cohabiting seem tall orders we can still seek every avenue for greater efficiency, make a shift to green power wherever we can, lobby for government grants – such steps at least would represent some progress despite the storm of the crisis we face.

While not negating what many may be going through or the blistering injustice regarding the attitudes of some of the cabal apparently running the show, the old things still count; fortitude and bloody mindedness, helping out our neighbours, keeping heart.  We live in changing times; some things must be laid to rest before we can bring in the new.  The kind of transition we face will be determined by our capacity to strive for every avenue of renewal, to think creatively, to seek to bare the world up as our culture transforms; with force of will, resolve and single-mindedness.  Perhaps it’s best to concentrate on that which lies immediately before us – to bolster and harbour and strive to endure in the knowledge that a brighter day may somehow lie in wait if we can just bring it to bare.

The Children’s Forest – Planting a Vision

A new initiative seeks to inspire the next generation to take a practical  environmental role and harness the power of the imagination

It seems there’s never been a better time to plant trees. As the realities of the climate crisis become more undeniable by the day, efforts to mitigate its effects only grow ever more urgent. The crisis plays upon all of our minds, not least those of the children who, untrammelled by the myriad distractions and seeming justifications of work and the adult world, see the problem all the clearer. But not all children are old enough, or of a disposition to join school climate strikes let alone begin to grapple with the complexities that should be occupying all our minds. It’s vital they are given active roles to help tackle the crisis. And tree planting fits this bill ideally.

That is the thinking behind a new initiative affiliated with the Forest School Association. ‘The Children’s Forest’ project seeks to give children an opportunity to plant trees and tend them in future, offering a sanctuary for both those planting trees and the children of all species. Positive envisioning is key to the scheme. As part of the initiative, children are given the opportunity to play in and observe existing woods around them, really coming to experience the outdoor world in all its depth and beauty. From there they are encouraged to form an inner picture of woodland in their imaginations, to picture woodland in all its richness that they can then utilise to inform their vision of the future forests they will help create. They then bring it to life with art, poetry, writing and theatre. The actual planting and tending, with an emphasis to also restore and protect existing forests, follows on from these key creative processes; what has already taken shape in the mind’s eye is given added impetus on its path towards physical embodiment.

Growing up as Protectors

The benefits for children in all of this are numerous. The Children’s Forest gives a structured means by which children of all ages can engage with engendering hope and creating a better future in a very tangible way. It roots them in the reality of living woodland and gives them a clear stewardship role, empowering them to grow up with a perspective and identity of caretakers and protectors. It also gives them the mindset of respect for all species, be they animal, plant or those of the trees themselves.

The initiative gives children the opportunity to come together in their role as creators and protectors, not just with their immediate peers but with those of all ages and backgrounds and as part of a global network, working together with a unified vision and goal. In the same way it also gives landowners and Forest School practitioners opportunities to meet and work together as it does for any others wishing to be affiliated with the project; helping young and old alike improve their ‘social capital’. And it gives everyone the chance to learn about and build relationships with those other cultures; those of the trees themselves and the myriad of creatures they support.

A report by English Nature; ‘Nature and psychological well-being’i, helps confirm what we may already feel about spending time outdoors. Indicators of mental well-being such as trust, tolerance, participation and feelings of safety are boosted by less stressful environmental factors. In an article entitled ‘Are cities bad for your mental health?’ for ‘Psychological Medicine’ in 1994, Glyn Lewis and Margaret Booth state that mental disorder is far less prevalent among those in urban areas with access to gardens or green spaces than those withoutii. Just as levels of mental disequilibrium are lower in children and young adults living in rural areas as opposed to urban ones, we can only extrapolate the benefits for all children of spending time in the woods; and not only ‘passively’ appreciating them but playing an active role in their welfare. For example, Dr. Roger Ulrich of Sweden’s University of Technology cites immediate psychological benefits derived from contact with natureiii just as Professors Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in ‘The Experience of Nature: a psychological perspective’iv and ‘The restorative effects of nature: towards an integrative framework’v helped show that time outdoors helps with ‘attention restoration’.

It takes on an added dimension of course with the state of the climate. A report by The Health Education Authority in 1997 states that positive mental health helps us endure pain and sadnessvi. It also affects our ability to deal with change, transition and life events. Time spent in nature and caring for it help all of us deal with new horizons, just as the psychological benefits of engaging to pragmatically address any issue, rather than simply worrying about it, are well attested by anyone involved in engendering practical change.

Duty to Future Generations

As with other efforts to improve the wider psychological health of our societies, prevention of problems is better than their cure. Time spent in the woods, and actively helping address the environmental crisis, can be seen as a collective ‘immunisation’, helping to propagate positive mindsets. If we are serious about continuing to engage with the climate crisis and going forward as part of a robust and healthy culture, we need such inoculations as much as ever. Picking up the pieces further down the line is at best a false economy and a dereliction of duty to future generations, just as Iroquois culture so famously calls us to consider the impacts on our actions on the ‘seventh generation’ down the line.

Perhaps the initiative’s emphasis of ‘positive envisioning’ holds more potential than might at first appear. As the great writer on traditional culture R.J. Stewart reminds us, we have imagined our way into the ecological crisis, changing the reality of the perfect planet into one shaped by our own mindsvii. Centuries of pollution and denigration took their root first and foremost in a shift in consciousness, from the conception that ourselves and the land are separate entities. Just as they are responsible for our collective plight today, our minds may also be able to help steer us towards a better future, informed by a vision of a restored world, rich in everything it once was and could still be. Perhaps, first and foremost, we have to be willing to simply imagine potential. Realising it remains the true task of our time.


iNature and psychological well-being.’ English Nature Research Reports, 2003.

iiAre cities bad for your mental health?’ Psychological Medicine, 24: 913-915. LEWIS G. & BOOTH, M., 1994

iiiVisual landscapes and psychological well being.’ Landscape Research, 4: 17-23. ULRICH, R.S. 1979.

ivThe Experience of Nature: a psychological perspective.’ Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. KAPLAN, R. & KAPLAN, S., 1989.

vThe restorative effects of nature: toward an integrative framework.’ Journal of Environmental Psychology, 16:169-82. KAPLAN, S., 1995.

viMental Health Promotion: a quality framework.’ London. HEALTH EDUCATION AUTHORITY, 1997.

viiEarth Light.’ Mercury Publishing, 1992. R.J. STEWART.

This article was first published in the Autumn 2021 issue of ‘Permaculture’.