I recently shared this photograph on social media along with the words:
Back into my favourite quiet place. Finding peace and (counter-intuitively in a woodland) space
Looking back at this, I wondered whether anyone else felt the same about woodlands. Not so much whether they were a favourite place for peace and quiet, more whether anyone else found space in what tend to be, after all, enclosed areas.
Just to clarify my thoughts on the first part: as an outdoor photographer, I love walking, exploring and observing all types of landscapes, seascapes, rivers, lakes, towns and cityscapes. And all of these can offer stress-easing, shoulder-dropping, personal-recharging quiet places. I used to work in the City of London. Despite the bustle and pace of life there, the City had – still has, fantastic parks which provide welcome sanctuary. Yet, if asked to name a favourite among the different types of outdoor locations, I’d have to say woodlands is the one.
If you walk through a woodland or forest yourself, you no doubt appreciate that the trees and canopy act to block out, or at least dampen, neighbouring sounds, whether from local roads, railway lines, nearby towns or industrial units. You probably also appreciate that, while you may share the woodlands with a few other people, it’s seldom with many people and often there is no-one else there at all. In my experience, other outdoor areas don’t provide quite the same level of peace, tranquillity and you-time (though here in the south east of England that may be because of the ever-increasing housebuilding and population).
Regarding whether woodlands provide you with the feeling of space, let me try to explain. For me, this doesn’t mean swing-your-arms-around-in-a-circle space, it means space away from things that impinge on my senses. Space away from ‘regular life’: traffic, the telephone, computers, household jobs, shopping, television, and yes, other people. Space for the mind to be by itself, away from otherwise unavoidable distractions, some of which run counter to your natural state of wellbeing. Space for your senses to absorb the sights, sounds (including silence), smells, feel and taste in the air of nature. When I’m walking in woodlands, and stop to take stock along a trail, the trees and canopy give me a cocoon in which I can, in a sense, exhale and relax. I don’t get the same feeling of space in the other, more distracting, eye-scanning, noisy, less personal spaces.
From a photography point-of-view, woodlands also make me concentrate and think harder about what I love to do. Woodlands don’t give up their stories easily. And as many better woodland photographers will tell you, the aim is to find some order in the chaos. This is most likely to be revealed to you when your mind has space and isn’t being distracted by regular life outside of this beautiful world.
So, the next time you think you need space and decide to go for a walk to find it, why not head for a nearby woodlands? You may not get more literal space, but I propose that you’ll discover more personal, you-time space. And when you do, why not have your mobile’s camera ready, or dust off that old camera in your cupboard, and see if you can capture your own photograph of some order in the chaos?