Planet Earth Games 2020
I hadn’t come across Planet Earth Games until they popped up on my Instagram feed this August. ‘ Protecting people and planet through the power of sport and activity’ is what they’re about and this August they challenged us to get out and about and notice the world around us.
At a time when we’d observed that nature could make a come-back, if human activity was curtailed, it provided some hope and focus in an otherwise bleak year. I wasn’t sure if ‘oldies’ were getting involved but I signed up for some of the challenges anyway.
The challenge for the 26th August was to find an outdoor space with water, turn your phone off and immerse yourself there, then to find an object – plant or animal – and study it and then on return to draw it. Living on a peninsula, we are surrounded by water. I figured this would be something easy to do. I love walking on the beach and for me, it is always an immersive experience. I could be there for 5 minutes of 5 hours; time is immaterial (as long as the tide can’t catch you out!)
When I started looking at the seashore, really observing it, I realised with surprise, that I knew very little about the plants, species and objects there. Despite walking on my local beaches several times a week, there were only a few things I could name: bladder wrack seaweed and kelp, but there are hundreds of varieties of seaweed in the UK. There was a lot about on the beach, unusually for summer, due to a recent storm, and I knew the names of none of it.
There were shells too that I couldn’t name. Shells on rocks, shells in the sand, shells in rock pools. I knew the names of a few, the limpets and mussels, but not the rest. I could guess that some might be sea snails or clams although I couldn’t say so with certainty.
There were tons of pebbles of course. I have a fondness for beach pebbles. I love the smoothness that the crash of waves creates, the various colours, shapes, textures and types, but yet again I know very little of the geology that makes them, let alone being able to name what rock formations they come from.
There weren’t many birds that day. A lone herring gull crossed my path and at least I knew what it was. Ubiquitous as gulls are, I know the names of only a few of them and very little else about them.
There were no crabs or fish in the rockpools that day, or at least that I could see without disturbing rocks. I wondered if there had been creatures in evidence whether I would be able to identify them. As a child I used to love rock-pooling and would happily take my bucket filled with seawater and see what I could find. Hours of delight. I remembered I had a ladybird book of the seashore. I loved that book and pored over it often. I wish I’d kept it, along with my knowledge, which now seems lost in the midst of time and my jumbled brain.
In the absence of anything more exciting I studied a limpet that day and tried to draw it later at home. I found out more about the humble limpet and didn’t realise that something so simple had so much anatomy, so many features. It is true that we live and learn if we keep our minds open.
It might be too late for you to join the #planetearthgames challenge this year, but it isn’t too late for you to take the time to notice what’s about you, to be absorbed, if only for a little while, in something wild and unwired. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that we are organic matter and depend on the natural world for our very existence.
I have since purchased a second hand copy of the Ladybrid book of the Seashore!