I am drawn to the colour green.
It’s an additional nutrient my body needs to stay alive.
I grew up in a village, surrounded by trees, fields, winding country paths, and gently rolling hills. My childhood was in many ways far from idyllic – as an undiagnosed autistic girl it was hardly ever going to be so. But I have fond memories of my surroundings, and of my being in them, living in them. Paddling in streams. Stomping across fields. Scrambling up piles of rocks. Gathering blackberries. Riding my bike along narrow, hedge-lined country roads.
This affinity with nature influenced my university choices. Being unable to drive means that the proximity of amenities and (relative) convenience of public transport has always kept me city-dwelling since l left my parents’ home, but I’m fortunate that my particular city is hilly, tree-lined, full of green spaces, and very close to dramatic, wild countryside. It’s 18 years since I first moved here to study – once I’m comfortable somewhere, I see no reason to leave. Perhaps that makes me unadventurous; more likely, it’s simply me and my autism, and my need to avoid too much adjustment, too much for which I must undergo a torturous, protracted process of planning and preparation.
Whatever. This city works just fine for me. I might need earplugs at times when I’m walking its streets, but otherwise, it has what I need.
When I spend any length of time somewhere flat, grey, or lacking in trees, I feel depleted. Malnourished. Sickening for something.
I keep a house plant on my desk at work, and a large, photographic poster depicting a forest path on the wall next to my computer monitor. Just so that I always have available the anchor of something green. Something natural.
Whenever I’m out in a built-up urban environment, I’m scanning the view in front of me as I move through the scene, searching for a tree. Something to grasp hold of visually; something that – in the natural, flowing movement of its branches in the wind, the colour of its leaves, and the texture of its bark – grounds me, earths me, helps me find my centre. Whilst some details jarr and overwhelm, others – those found in nature, and in trees, especially – are therapeutic.
On my walks to and from work, I take time to note what’s going on. New growth in spring. Young leaves, bright and soft. Older, darker, tannin-filled mature leaves. The lifecycle of flowers. Developing fruit. Leaves changing colour. Decay. The sculptural artistry in twigs and bare branches. The birds, invertebrates, and mammals that populate this world. So much to notice. Every season bringing a different sensory boost.
Were I the most accomplished, skilled visual artist on the planet, there would still not be a paintbrush, pen tip or sharpened pencil fine enough to capture all the minute detail of everything that I see in front of me. I cannot help but notice every blade of grass; every clover leaf; every individual, tiny frond in a carpet of moss; every wind-ruffling ripple on a lake.
It’s not that my eyesight is brilliant. I’m a little shortsighted, with a fairly pronounced astigmatism in each eye. I would not be able to manage day to day without glasses or contacts. But they do the job of making things clear enough. And then my brain seems to take in so much of what’s there – the image generated in my mind is ultra-high-resolution. Part of me wonders whether my visual processing peculiarities exacerbate my (on the face of it, pretty mild) eyesight problems. Because I take in so much, and lack the ability to filter, seeing without additional synthetic lenses is, maybe, like looking at a very low-resolution image of a vast, rich landscape. So much in view, captured with such a frustrating lack of clarity.
On bad days, when I’m tired, anxious, or stressed, the details can be migraine-inducing – just like any other form of information overload. The strobing of sunlight – dappled through trees, or zoetrope-flashing through park railings – can be dizzying and nauseating. I have to look away. I’ve previously alluded to the fact, also, that – for me – flowers appear to glow. And it’s true. Certain colours, contrasted against a green or dark background, shine out like fairy lights or lanterns. I know that not everyone experiences colours in this way. On a day when I am relaxed, well rested, alert and well, I revel in this light show. The visuals accompany the songs in my head. I have no need for psychedelic drugs when the picture in front of me gives me such a ‘high’. But when I’m exhausted, upset, or overwhelmed, sunglasses are the only option to dampen down a headache. The brightness is too piercing.
And yet, at times when a silent, darkened room isn’t an option, green open spaces are still far preferable to human-made environments. There’s always something fascinating to draw me in, soothe me, and give me cause to pause and meditate.
If I’m in danger of being overpowered by my surroundings, I’ll latch on to one thing and immerse myself fully and completely until I am calm again, relaxed but alert. Raindrops on the web of a garden spider. Bees crowding a sedum plant. The geometric beauty of flowers and seed-heads. The concertina un-fanning of new beech leaves. The fractal-like, seemingly endless detail of the fronds of a fern.
And favourite of all, trees blowing in the wind.
All-consumingly mesmerising. Detail. Captivating flowing movement. A timelessness caught in their gnarled, twisted, reaching shape. The soft swisssshhhhhh I hear. Some autistic people say that watching trees in the wind is their favourite visual stim. And I agree. Intertwined with the auditory swisssshhhhhh, and the feel of the breeze on my skin, this visual stim renews me more than almost all else.
I’ll watch from a distance, or I’ll stand directly underneath and look up, awestruck, and dumbstruck.
I have lived in this city for 18 years. And there’s always something new to see, outdoors. Amidst the green.
Nature’s always doing something interesting.