Following a childhood spent in the mountains of Wales, Catrin has travelled, worked and lived all over the world. The former global vice-president of Beauty and Personal Care at Unilever, Catrin now specialises in helping businesses and start-ups define their purpose and transform their brands as forces for good. Catrin now calls Sydney’s Northern Beaches home, where connecting to nature plays a central role in her daily life.
What’s your favourite thing to do in nature?
I walk. I walk and walk and walk. On the beach, by a river, up a mountain, in a forest. I am never happier and nowhere am I likely to feel more joyful, more at peace or to see things more clearly than when I am out walking. You may have heard the quote (Hippocrates apparently) “if you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another.” Well, that’s me. If I’ve got a problem to solve or I am worried about something, I walk. If my mood or my energy is low, I walk. And when everything is great, I walk.
Describe your connection to nature: what positives does it bring to your life?
I am sociable and love being out in the world and spending time with people. However I am also an introvert and find that I need time by myself to recharge my batteries. So while I am often in nature with others, I really do love to be in nature on my own. Alone, my awareness is heightened and I feel as though I am absorbing an energy source unseen and unknown from the nature around me. My thoughts seem clearer and my best ideas seem very often to happen. Perhaps there is a kind of stripping away of the clutter of daily life, the tech, the connection, and the busy-ness. I’m sure there’s some science about the logical thinking part of our brain switching off in nature, and the more sensory parts of our brain switching on. This certainly feels true for me.
When working overseas, even in the midst of a hectic schedule, I make time to find some nature, an open space, or a park. And I have been lucky enough to have carved out chapters in my life where I have travelled more adventurously to some pretty isolated places, spending weeks immersed in the wild. I have learned that it doesn’t take long for nature to work its magic. Even if it’s just a stolen moment in some far-flung place, nature brings me into the present and I very quickly feel changed for the better.
What are your fondest memories of spending time in nature?
I was born in Abergavenny, a beautiful spot nestled in the mountains of South Wales, and my much-missed dad was a geography teacher. He loved being outdoors and exploring, and many of my childhood memories are of walking, camping, swimming with him, my Mum and my sister. They say that teachers never really leave the classroom, and this was certainly true of Dad, with whom we had a kind of non-stop geography lesson about what was around us wherever we were. If we were walking alongside a river it would be all about tributaries and oxbow lakes; if we were up a mountain it would be scarp and dip slopes and glacial valleys. Even when we were on a train we would be answering his questions about the landscape we were passing through. Our holidays were full of escapes into nature, camping expeditions when we were younger and more adventurous holidays as we got older, like the weeks we spent hiking in the Swiss Alps one summer.
Out of the childhood that Mum and Dad created for us was born a deep love of nature, which has continued on into my married life. My husband and I love to adventure together and experience nature, and we have camped, walked and swum our way across Australia, the US and Europe. In a much lower-key way, our daily habit is to go out for a walk, usually beside the ocean, and debrief on our day and our mood, and make our plans. As I have gotten older, I have come to believe that this deep connection, this deep need for nature, is in all of us.
Many of us are time-poor and might not get out into nature as much as we’d like. Any suggestions for a quick nature-based pick-me up? Something sensory, experiential…?
I can relate! I spend a fair bit of time at a desk, and so I have found ways to bring even small fragments of nature into my daily life. I have filled our house with plants. I love to nurture them: I chat to them—I am convinced they can hear me—water them, feed them, inspect them. I do this most mornings when I get up and it feels like an instant hit of nature.
If I have a big day at work ahead of me, I will make sure I have something natural and beautiful in my line of sight. Just a little bunch of flowers—nothing fancy—just something cheap and cheerful from the supermarket does the trick, or I will go find a little flower, maybe a frangipani or a little bit of jasmine, and have that on my desk. When I get stuck, or if I need a little break, I will just take a moment to focus on my little bit of nature on my desk, and it somehow clears my mind.
According to research, even looking at an image of nature or reading about nature has a positive impact on us. I confess that I do a lot of reading that is nature-oriented. I have just finished Rewilding the Urban Soul by Claire Dunn and before that it was Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. Phosphorescence by our own Julia Baird is a bedside staple: if I have had a busy day and need a little nature hit, I will dip into one of my favourite chapters.
I feel like it’s cheating a bit, as I live by the beach, but if I haven’t managed to get away from my desk in the day, a night time walk can be utterly magical. The nights when I head out for a wander in the moonlight are the ones when I have an amazing sleep. I imagine this would be true wherever one lives, perhaps especially in a city where the relative peace of night-time and the darkened sky offer the chance to experience the sights, sounds and smells of nature on quite a different frequency. There’s so much beauty in the quiet of the night and at these moments I catch a true glimpse of my place in the world—small and insignificant as I am—yet part of a much greater whole. I find tremendous peace in that.