Updated: Apr 16
We can get closer to nature, while we keep our distance.
Photographs: Lindsey Scaife / Catriona Turner / iStock
Text: Catriona Turner
One of my favourite things to do here is visit the Esbjerg Dyrehaven (deer park). It’s just a short bike ride from our house, so on a dry weekend day with nothing else planned, we’ll pack a picnic and set off on suburban bike paths which lead to rocky tracks through the woods. After visiting the friendly deer, we’ll pedal back to a rustic playpark to spread out our blanket and eat our madpakke.
From my first visit there, I was impressed by this haven of calm and natural connection in the middle of the urban environment. Ever since, the image of a stately, serene deer, surrounded by untamed greenery, with the imposing skyline of the jack-up rigs of the harbour in the background, evokes for me a moment that is essentially Esbjerg.
Feeling lifted As you read this, it is officially spring in Denmark. You’ll be used, now, to seeing spring flowers pushing through grassy verges, you’ll be wiping down the garden furniture and the barbecue, rediscovering what your neighbours look like, and – hopefully – feeling some sunny warmth on your skin.
"If you're lucky, at the Dyrehaven in Esbjerg, you'll see something special: a pure white deer"
As I started writing these words, there was still a biting chill in the air, but the winter storms were behind us. High storm tides had caused flooding around the harbour in Esbjerg, and tall barriers had been erected along Hjerting Strand as children marvelled at the height of the waves crashing towards the boardwalk. The storms were, of course, disruptive, damaging, and constraining. But coming as they did towards the end of winter, they also felt like fresh air: blowing away, lifting, and clearing what had been a dark and heavy winter. Even as the gusts unbalanced us, the mornings were lighter. We were arriving home at the end of the day to houses not-yet-lit with lamps or candles, relishing the lifting of the dark and the coming of spring.
When I returned to these words, my deadline approaching, it was another gloomy day. Stormy and gusty, yes, but also the first of Denmark’s COVID-19 lockdown. The season felt heavy again.
I’ll be waiting a bit longer to hit some of my spring bucket list items: art galleries; museums; taking the train to towns in Jutland we haven’t visited yet. Plans for travel to conferences and festivals are uncertain, if not already cancelled.
But, when I visited our local Fakta on day one, I was still able to buy big bunches of tulips and daffodils to brighten up our home, where the sun was streaming through the windows this morning. Friends were posting photos of crocuses blooming in parks across Denmark.
Connecting to Nature
We can still be outdoors, in nature, where it’s easiest to keep our social distance, like gleeful introverts. Just beyond Hjerting, the nature reserve Marbæk Plantage, part of the Wadden Sea National Park, is a serene combination of beach and forest, with mossy carpeting, birdsong, reflective lakes, and sunbeams radiating through tall trees.
If you’re lucky, at the Dyrehaven in Esbjerg, you’ll see something special: a pure white deer.
Of course, it’s just a genetic anomaly, but it’s hard to ignore our instinct to make symbolic associations. White can represent purity or new beginnings. We might think of unicorns, and the idea of believing in something fiercely innocent, or suggestions of magical protection.
As you read this, our social distancing likely continues. But we can still get closer to nature, watch its regrowth, its springing back to life. We can look forward to when the heaviness will lift again, and to another season of new beginnings.