Cath German celebrates welly boots, what you can learn when you pull them on and why this is important
In our house, wellies are an essential piece of kit. Life is not complete without them and defective wellies (ones that grow cracks and let in water) are not to be borne. We wear them for almost everything, throughout the year, for who knows when you might find the most lusciously squishy, muddy bog, or a deep, dank puddle that calls out to be explored. In fact, my youngest daughter once owned a much beloved pair of wellies which she wore throughout one of the hottest and driest summers on record, hoping it would rain, demonstrating a keen lesson to us all – always be prepared.
I actually managed to live without wellies during my late teens and early twenties, and I think back mournfully to all those puddles I didn’t jump in and streams I couldn’t wade through during the sad, wellyless years. Wellies are essential mama-gear too you see, for who knows when you might have to rescue a marooned child or traverse watery depths as a guide to an intrepid explorer. Really, there is nothing quite so satisfying as wading up a stream or squelching through some mud that sucks and slurps beneath your feet as they stay dry – although I won’t say warm – wellies can be rubbish at keeping toes toasty. Wellies reconnect you with the earth (bare feet would be the ultimate aim here, but sometimes one has to be practical about the cold) and allow you to get out and about whatever the weather throws at you.
It was when my eldest daughter was tiddly that I got myself wellies so I could join her on her adventures and I’ve never looked back. I love wellies. And what I love most about them, to coin a much overused and cliched phrase, is that they bring you ‘closer to nature’. They are the 4×4 of footwear allowing you to off-road and get a bit more out of a humble walk.
We spend a lot of time outdoors; we’re happier out there. I notice that most of the niggles and grumps and stresses dissipate as soon as I bundle everyone out of the house, be that into the garden, onto the beach, or into the woods and fields. When we’re out there we like to notice things – birds, trees, flowers, animals, clouds – and when you start noticing things, you start identifying things, naming them, connecting with them and caring about them. For my husband and me, both keen bird-watchers, bringing up our children to know about the world around them is of great importance. But while we both know a bit about birds, and I can pick out some common flora and the most obvious trees, when you start really looking, you realise (and it is very humbling) how little you actually know. I’ve learnt so much more through having children and being part of their unbridled passion for the world – being quizzed about tiny flowers and wispy clouds forces you to engage and notice and learn, or relearn, alongside them. We often go out with a field guide, or remember things to look up when we get home. It opens up a new level of awareness for the girls, inviting them to engage all their senses when we are out.
The publication of the beautiful book The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris, brought poignantly to the public eye the terribly sad fact that our ability to notice and name our fellow creatures is a skill that is gradually slipping away, as those simple nouns are lost from our common vocabulary:
“Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children.
They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed – until one day, they were gone.”
The publicity surrounding the book launch highlighted that British children now spend, on average, less time outdoors than prisoners, and that many of them wouldn’t know a wren or a kingfisher if they saw one. Adults are apparently similarly ill-equipped; we’re losing our knowledge of and our contact with nature. Macfarlane argues that we need to know the names for species in the living world around us because we are losing it at an alarming rate, with over 50% of species in decline. If you can’t name something, you can’t connect with it, you don’t care about it, you won’t fight to save it. But we desperately need people who care, people for whom the natural world is meaningful. These are the people who will protect it.
However, all is not yet lost, and we mustn’t give up hope, for “there is an old kind of magic for finding what is missing, and for summoning what has vanished. If the right spells are spoken, the lost words might return.” And there are wellies. And puddles, and bogs, and streams, and the (often wet) wide world to wander.
So I urge you to put on your wellies and get out there to speak the spells and seek the lost words.
Cath German lives on the South East coast with her husband, three home-educated daughters and a boisterous dog. She worked as a speech and language therapist until motherhood took life in a different direction. In her (very elusive) spare time she is a writer, printmaker and wannabe yogi.
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, Hamish Hamilton
Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder by Richard Louv, Atlantic Books