A Romantic Walk in the Snow

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An unusual November storm covered our world with a three-inch blanket of snow. The next morning, I was eager to bundle up for a walk in the woods where I knew a magical scene awaited. My husband pointed out the record-low temperature more than once, but I wasn’t dissuaded. Sensing my excitement, or perhaps fearful for my safety, he decided to come along.

Under a cloudless azure sky, our woods was a sparkling white tangle of trunks, branches and twigs. We navigated the slippery trail, ducking through crystal curtains that bowed to the ground heavy with snow and icy autumn leaves.

The deeper we walked into the woods, the more enchanted it became. The orange breast of a robin blazed against a snowy thicket, animal tracks lured us to follow, and bright red berries popped against a silvery white backdrop. Glittery snow gently blowing off trees sounded like far-away music. Sharp air filled our lungs, and the smell of pine was intoxicating.

We walked in silence, sometimes raising a gloved finger to point at the beauty around us. Since we’re both retired, we spend nearly all our time together. We know each other so well, we often avoid words and just read each other’s minds.

We could have filled the frosty air with talk about the past or the future, but all that mattered was enjoying the present. I know that’s what my husband was thinking. After all, it was he who taught me that important lesson.

He held my hand, and every sight and feeling seemed magnified. Watching our feet move together through the snow, I remembered our first walk in the woods. It was spring, and we were teenagers.

We’ve traveled down so many paths since then, both together and alone. Had he seen my watery eyes, he would have laughed and teased. He knows sweet, simple moments easily make me cry.

I love my solitary walks in nature, but I’m glad my husband joined me that magical morning. At the end of an hour-long hike in the snowy woods, every corner of my heart was full, and I wasn’t a bit cold. §

Resting Like a Fallow Field

IMG_1762The cornfields lining the country roads to our home lie fallow now. Barren squares stretch out like a patchwork quilt gently covering the land while it settles in for a well-deserved nap. The scene makes me want to snuggle under a cozy blanket and enjoy this time of year when nature encourages us to rest like the fallow fields.

Fallow periods are traditionally used by farmers to maintain the natural productivity of the land. Leaving a field inactive for a time allows the soil to recover, restore and rebalance itself.

You see, the land becomes depleted and unproductive if it isn’t given a chance to rest. Can you relate? Could you use a fallow period? Maybe this stretch of time before the holidays arrive is a good time to recover, restore and rebalance yourself.

You might be in a season of life when rest seems impossible. Stressful jobs, child-rearing, caregiving and other challenges can be exhausting. Just keeping up with the daily news is taxing. Even fun-filled celebrations can leave us feeling a little worn out. The dormant fields are encouraging all of us to use these quieter, darker days as a time to replenish ourselves.

Here are ten ways we can follow the fallow fields  ~

  1. Be still. Being busy isn’t necessarily being productive. Sit in complete stillness a few minutes each day to let your body and mind recharge.
  2. Stay home. Sometimes we stay on-the-go out of habit or fear of being bored. Be it ever so humble, home should be the most comforting place in the world.
  3. Renew your spirit. Read, pray, sing, create. Do more of whatever renews your soul.
  4. Turn down the noise. Do what you can to quiet your surroundings. Unplug at least once a day and experience total silence.
  5. Say no. We aren’t obliged to say yes to every invitation or request. Graciously decline an avoidable situation that’s likely to be more draining than fulfilling.
  6. Eat well. When a field lies fallow, the soil regains its nutrients. Be sure to consume healthy foods to replenish your own nutrition.
  7. Take a walk outdoors. Not only is walking good exercise, the crisp air is a great way to clear your head.
  8. Practice self-care. Get a massage, a haircut, a manicure, or try some at-home spa treatments. Take time to take care of yourself.
  9. Go to bed early. Sleep research shows human beings have a natural circadian rhythm that mimics the sun’s rising and falling. Shorter days are a good excuse to get more sleep.
  10. Observe nature. Take a closer look at nature. Appreciate its beauty. Be inspired by its simplicity. Learn from its wisdom. §

To subscribe to The Simple Swan, just click on the “Follow” button on this page (or at the bottom of your phone screen). Type in your email address. You’ll get an email to confirm your subscription. Once you’ve confirmed, you will get one email a week with my latest post. Thank you! 

 

 

6 Ways Feeding the Birds Feeds Our Soul

My husband taught me the joy of feeding the birds. Initially it was his interest, and I stood back wondering if it was worth the effort. It wasn’t long before I was convinced the time and money we spent caring for our feathered friends was returned many times over by birds who bring us year-round entertainment and a peaceful connection to nature.  

Whether you live in the city or the country, maintain an elaborate system of bird feeders or just sprinkle bread crumbs on your window sill, feeding the birds can feed your soul in some unexpected ways.

1. Kindness – When we do something nice, no matter how simple, it increases the goodness in the world. A single act of kindness can have a long-reaching ripple effect, sending good vibes throughout the planet. Watching the birds gleefully flock to their freshly filled feeders and bird bath, makes us want to keep spreading good cheer.

2. Connection – Over the years, I’ve watched the birds from kitchen windows and backyard porches with family and friends of all ages. Watching the birds creates a sweet and common bond over the wonder of our shared world.

3. Learning –  When we watch the birds, we naturally want to know more about them. Is that a bluebird or an Indigo bunting? Do orioles prefer oranges or meal worms? Did you know a woodpecker’s tongue is so long it wraps around the inside of its head? There is so much to learn! 

4. Beauty – In our flashy bigger-is-better world, we can miss the subtle, natural beauty of things. When we take time to notice a bird’s intricate coloring, delicate shape, and  sweet song, we begin to appreciate the genuine beauty in the world we sometimes take for granted.

5. Simplicity – A few seeds and a little fresh water is all a bird needs. It makes us stop and think about what we really need to live a healthy, happy life. Watching the birds mindfully eat, chirp, nest, and fly can encourage us to strip away the pretenses and live a simple, authentic life.

6. Charity – Remember the bird lady Mary Poppins sang about? “Come feed the little birds. Show them you care and you’ll be glad if you do. The young ones are hungry; their nests are so bare. All it takes is tuppence from you. Feed the birds. Tuppence a bag.” We all benefit when we share our blessings, not just count them. §

The first Sunday of each month, I’m sharing a previously-posted story. It gives me a chance to tinker with something I wrote a year or so ago and more time to write new stories the rest of the month. Maybe you missed this post the first time. Even better, maybe you’ll think it was worth a second look. 

To subscribe to The Simple Swan, just click on the “Follow” button on this page (or at the bottom of your phone screen). Type in your email address. You’ll get an email to confirm your subscription. Once you’ve confirmed, you will get one email a week with my latest post. Thank you! 

 

Letting Go of Leaves and Things

On a crisp autumn morning I shuffled into the kitchen in my robe and slippers and stopped. Something was different. Our home was flooded with bright golden light. Through the glass doors, the rising sun, usually filtered by thick woods, was in full view. Falling leaves cast confetti-like shadows on the floor and walls. They danced and swirled through the air singing, “It’s time to let go…”

I was suddenly inspired me to let go of a few things myself. The trees showed me the way. I remembered how their budding leaves thrilled us when they appeared in the spring. How they shaded us all summer and graced us with their autumn colors. Soon their leaves would lay on the ground like faded and forgotten toys.

I was reminded most things in life aren’t meant to hold onto forever ~ that’s what people and memories are for.

I spent the day searching our home for things to let go. By afternoon the pile on our kitchen table included a cheap shirt that looked shabby after one wash, a miracle cream that wasn’t, two scratchy throw pillows, an avocado slicer that works no better than a paring knife, old towels, a pair of uncomfortable shoes, a couple decorative doodads, a stack of magazines and a few good books someone else might enjoy.

Are there things in your home you’d like to let go of? Worn-out things. Useless things. Ugly things. Broken things. Meaningless things. Uncomfortable things. Too many things. Perfectly wonderful things that don’t suit your season of life.

Don’t over think it. It’s kind of like raking leaves. There are lots of ways to tackle the job. Just start somewhere.

It’s amazing how letting go of a few things can change our perspective. With the clutter gone, I saw our home in a new light. I appreciated its bones. I noticed a subtle shift in the way the rooms felt, in the way I felt. I think I even found a little clarity under some of that stuff.

That evening I watched the sun sink below the horizon. The clear autumn sky seemed endless, and my view of the lake was unobstructed. Bare trees stood like graceful sculptures, and I thanked them for showing me how to let go. §

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Squirrel’s Guide to Happiness

A squirrel crossed the road slowly due to the heavy load it was carrying. In its gaping mouth was a hickory nut the size of a billiard ball. He stood on his hind legs and bounced his head back to get a better grip on his work. He labored forward again in a precarious balancing act just as a garbage truck came flying around the corner. Making a quick decision, the squirrel dropped the nut and scurried to the other side of the road.

As the truck zoomed by, the nut blew down the street. Running towards it, the squirrel uttered a two-syllable squawk that sounded like a martial artist’s battle cry, “Kiai!” He pounced on the rolling nut, tucked it awkwardly into his little mouth, lumbered across the road and made his way through thick underbrush.

At last, he heaved the giant hickory nut inside a hollowed out tree. The squirrel let out a satisfying sigh, raised his furry paw in a rewarding fist pump and smiled at his cache of nuts. He spent the rest of the morning frolicking in the leaves, swinging from bird feeders, leaping from limb to limb and generally enjoying life.

Watching that tenacious squirrel got me thinking. What would happen if the same squirrel decided collecting nuts was too difficult, boring or unimportant? What if he waited around for someone else to gather nuts for him, tried to steal another squirrel’s hard-earned nuts or devised some greedy plan to gather all the nuts in the woods for himself? What if, in some esoteric philosophical meltdown, he realized he’d be much happier if he wasn’t a squirrel at all?

Okay, that’s a little nutty, but couldn’t we all learn something from that joyful critter as we search for a life of meaning and satisfaction?

The self-help section of our library holds dozens of books with similar titles ~ Happiness, True Happiness, Real Happiness, Stumbling On Happiness, The Happiness Advantage, The Happiness Project, The Art of Happiness, How Happiness Happens and Happiness Now! (The exclamation mark is actually a demanding part of the title.)

Happiness is a hot topic. Yet, statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health are increasingly grim. Maybe we’re putting too much focus on this happiness thing. Maybe the more we humans intellectualize the intangible idea of happiness, the more elusive it becomes.

That squirrel reminds me of a few folks I’ve known who never seem to give much thought to the idea of happiness, yet always seem content. People who do what needs to be done at home, at work and in the community. People who find enjoyment in the simple things ~ hard work, hot soup, cold beer.

People who, at the end of the day, let out a satisfying sigh, raise their hand in a rewarding fist pump and smile at their own cache of nuts. §

 

 

 

 

 

Things Unseen from the International Space Station

“There it is!” a woman said pointing to the dusky western sky. “I see it!” chimed another. Half a dozen others looked up to watch the bright light of the International Space Station move steadily from one horizon to the other.

At one point, it shimmered strangely directly above the small group of people who gathered around a glowing fire outside an apartment building on a chilly October evening in an ordinary town in America’s Heartland.

It was an impromptu get-together of residents including three widows, a single retired teacher, and a gentleman and his wife who needs constant care. Two others joined them, adult children each visiting their mothers from out-of-town.

Whether they were companions that evening out of chance or destiny, a feeling of fellowship passed over them as odd and surprising as a space station hovering 250 miles above.

From lawn chairs, they tracked the space station as it came into sight somewhere over Montana and five minutes later faded out of view over West Africa. Comments circled around the fire pondering ever-advancing technology, the future, and their own smallness in the universe.

As they stared into mesmerizing orange-blue flames, there was quiet conversation against a backdrop of nature’s nighttime noises and constellations that grew brighter in the darkening sky.

Inside the space station, roughly the size of a football field, a six-member crew conducts experiments in human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology. They orbit the Earth every 92.68 minutes gathering data and testing hypotheses.

Despite costly and important research, it’s doubtful the crew could ever quantitatively measure or observe the most important qualities of the human spirit, like those displayed around the small gas fire pit more than a million feet below them.

Strength to carry on after losing a loved one.

Courage to face illness and pain.

Love to care for another person.

Determination to overcome loneliness.

Wisdom to keep learning and growing.

Hope to stay encouraged.

Service to community.

Faith to believe in a better world.

The cameras and crew on the International Space Station have awesome views of our planet, but what they couldn’t see as they orbited the Earth that chilly October evening was the human bond of unlikely friends sitting around a glowing fire outside an apartment building in an ordinary town in America’s heartland. §

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways Nature Inspires Healthy Eating

As a nature-lover, I lean towards a more natural lifestyle. I prefer to wear natural colors, decorate with natural objects, and use natural beauty products. In theory, I like to nourish my body with natural foods. So I feel like a real poser when writing about nature while artfully eating a small stack of Oreos.

Do you have an unhealthy food or beverage habit you’d like to break?

Do you want to make healthier eating a priority?

We have three more months to make good on those long-forgotten new year resolutions. It’s time to rally! Let’s hear it for more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed sugar, fat and impossible-to-pronounce ingredients.

So how can nature inspire healthy eating?

The first step is to spend more time outdoors. Shake off the artificial sights, sounds and smells of indoor environments. Use your senses to get in touch with nature. Take a quiet, meditative walk and consider these five ways nature encourages us to make more nutritious choices.

  1. Nature’s Abundance ~ Most of us get our food from grocery stores, cafeterias, restaurants, vending machines and drive-through windows. Think about the original source of our most nutritious foods. Contemplate the miracle of food growing up from the ground and hanging from branches. Gratefully enjoy the healthy foods nature generously and abundantly provides for our sustenance.
  2. Nature’s Simplicity ~ Mankind has invented some pretty awesome things, which may or may not include double-stuffed Oreos. But when it comes to healthy eating, can anything top the simplicity of an apple? Leonardo Da Vinci wrote, “Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple, or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.”
  3. Nature’s Wisdom ~ In 2018, the U.S. weight loss industry was a 70 billion dollar market. Like so many things, we’ve made eating unnecessarily complicated. In Genesis 1:29, it is written, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'” There is such wisdom in nature, and I trust it far more than any celebrity peddling the latest fad diet.
  4. Nature’s Beauty. When I take a walk, I’m shocked by the amount of litter that spoils nature’s beauty. My trash bag quickly fills up with beer cans, chip and candy wrappers, fast food containers, plastic cups, lids and straws. Imagine how much less trash there would be on our planet if we didn’t purchase the unhealthy food and beverages that come wrapped in all that packaging.
  5. Nature’s Purity. The more time we spend in nature, the more attuned we are to what we eat. We connect with the seasons and cycles of our ecosystem. We notice the artificial colors, fragrances and flavors that are a normal part of the modern diet. We find the junk and gunk in processed foods distasteful. We long for pure, clean food as much as we long for pure, clean air.

Nature has always provided valuable answers and inspiration for our nutritional health. In 400 BC, Hippocrates said nature was the best physician and encouraged a natural diet to prevent disease. The father of medicine is attributed to this piece of advice, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Easy for him to say. Hippocrates was never tempted by an Oreo. §