It’s easy to think of a river as a thing… water moving from source to sea, a corridor through a landscape, part of the hydrological cycle, what a boat floats on, or the thing that floods. Rarely do we give ourselves time to experience a river as part of a dynamic, living system. Even when we get outdoors, near to water, our activities tend to be purpose driven… swimming or kayaking, hiking or running, picnicking or looking for lunch, walking or talking. In a lovely blend of forest bathing, wildlife appreciation and creative writing, Emma Capper (nature and forest therapy guide) and Mike Ingram (ecologist) offer an exploration into “Being the Dart” that is both sensory and informative… and includes lime leaf and nettle tea, and blueberries.

At 7am on an unusually chilly Sunday morning a small group gathered at Dartington’s Deer Park. We wandered down towards the River Dart as it winds through woodland–ancient woodland, we learned, because it has existed continuously since 1600. Once at the river’s edge Emma invited us to “drop into our senses” and close our eyes. Being still and quiet, I could smell the earthy wild garlic, feel a particular ray of sun if I shifted from one foot to another and, above all, hear the soundscape… bird songs and calls near and far, with burbling water to my right. When we opened our eyes, back came the flood of thoughts… “where did I put my backpack?”, “which bird is that?”. As my brain re-oriented from taking in the whole, to analyzing the detail, with perfect timing, Mike identified the songs of wrens, robin and blackbird (there used to be many, many more; “Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie”). Marsh marigold, wolfsbane, dead man’s finger (the group instinctively leaned in to see the poisonous ones), a bee-fly. A kingfisher streaked by. No need to identify the other humans, we heard them coming a mile away.

We walked and paused. Looked and smelled. Knowledge was shared in the moment. Then there was time to reflect, write (or nap in Andrea’s case) and share our thoughts… “it’s like nature is proud of itself, asking me to look, showing off”… “water has an incredible memory”…”the selflessness of a plant that propogates with a flood, but may not survive past flowering”. In just a few hours we were beginning to lose ourselves in that place.

“Being the Dart” was inspired by our River Charter pilot project at Dartington. Look for more dates on Dartington’s What’s On Listings or on Emma’s website.