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The gully project: Day 1

As some of you may have gathered, I am working on a book exploring the connection between nature and wellbeing - focusing on 'neighbourhood nature', the sort of nature we have in our local parks, reserves or even in our backyards.

Ironically, this has meant that I have spent a lot of time at the laptop, and not much time in nature myself - despite my deepening understanding of the benefits of doing so.

So as a means of coaxing myself out into our bit of 'neighbourhood nature' - our gully - on a more regular basis, I have set myself a task. That is, to identify all (ok, so let's say 'most') of the plants growing in the gully over the next weeks, months ... years(?) This way, I am getting all the benefits of being in nature while pretending I am doing something useful (expanding my knowledge of this local ecosystem). And to keep myself honest, I am going to blog about what I find.

So here are the results from Day 1 of The Gully Project. I am starting at the very bottom of the gully and am going to work my way up. (I suspect that I am going to be at the bottom for quite a while ...)

These little seedlings are growing down by the stream-side - an area that is very damp, cool (even in summer) and which gets little sun. Having referred to Dawson and Lucas's "Nature Guide to the New Zealand Forest", and having canvassed expert opinion on Facebook, I am relatively confident that it is a pigeonwood (Hedycarya arborea), which (apparently) is a common under-storey tree in conifer-broadleaf forest, found in lowland and montane forests throughout the North Island and warmer parts of the South Island. It grows to a height of about 12 metres, so these little fellas have a little way to go. It has male and female flowers. Perhaps rather predictably, the male ones are bigger but shorter-lived than the female ones. It produces bright orange berries in spring and summer.

If you have read this far, you may be thinking, this is all very well ... you have identified a plant - but what about the wellbeing side of things?

Which is, of course, a very good question. Day 1 was slightly problematic for two reasons: 1) Gracie (the yoga dog) decided to follow me, braving a very powerful electric fence to do so. So I couldn't send her back, but was a little worried about her nibbling on some dead possums that had been poisoned, and getting sick herself. So I was somewhat preoccupied by this and made the expedition a little shorter than I otherwise would have. 2) I am going to measure any changes in blood pressure before and after each expedition as an indicator of stress levels - however the apparatus for doing so has not arrived as yet. (The hormone cortisol, which is found in the saliva, would be a better indicator I believe, but sadly I am not sure I can access test kits for cortisol in NZ. And just on that, if anyone knows of anyone who supplies cortisol-testing kits in NZ, please let me know!). So, for the moment, I am just relying on self-assessment: Did I enjoy my little expedition into nature today? Yes I did!

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