More Nature in the New Year

Rather than making resolutions, some people dedicate the new year to a well-chosen word to be infused into each day of the next twelve months. The goal is to focus on a word that would improve all areas of life. My word for the upcoming year, perhaps not surprisingly, is nature.

Most of us could benefit from more nature in our lives. The term “nature deficit disorder” was coined by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods. Although not a formal diagnosis, it describes the physiological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature. Research continues to support the positive impact nature has upon our mental and physical health.

Here are ten ways to start 2019 with a closer connection to nature ~

  1. Get outside. Drink your morning coffee on the porch.  Leave the closest parking space for someone who really needs it. Go for daily walks or take up an outdoor sport.
  2. Bring nature indoors. Keep fresh flowers on your desk. Set a pinecone or feather on the mantle. Open the curtains and crack a window for some fresh air and the sweet sounds of nature.
  3. Learn about nature. Do a little research about your natural environment. What kind of bird is that? Is the moon waxing or waning? What species of trees grow in your yard or neighborhood?
  4. Protect nature. Recycling is important, but reducing and reusing is even better. Be aware of little choices. Order ice cream in a cone, and you’ve eliminated one paper bowl and a plastic spoon.
  5. Feed the birds. Discover the fun of attracting birds by providing fresh water and feeding them. You and your feathered friends will be glad you did. Read my post The Joy of Feeding the Birds at https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2018/11/25.
  6. Take an outdoor field trip. Especially during winter, a day trip to the zoo, botanical garden, or state park can feel like a rejuvenating mini-vacation for the mind, body and soul.
  7. Read a nature-themed book. A few old favorites include A Gift from the SeaA Sand County Almanac, The Secret Garden, Walden and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. On sunny winter days, I like to drive to a pretty spot and read in my car.
  8. Use natural products. Toxic ingredients lurk in most household cleaning and personal care products. Try cleaning with pure, inexpensive products like vinegar and baking soda. To learn about clean and safe skin care and makeup, visit my gorgeous friend’s website at http://www.beautycounter.com/natalieschultz.
  9. Grow something. A beautiful orchid or paper white narcissus will fill your home with cheer. Tend a few potted herbs placed near a sun-filled window. Start planning your backyard garden and dream of spring blossoms and summer harvest.
  10. Eat plant-based foods. A sure way to feel more connected to nature is eating foods in their natural state, straight from the ground with no packaging or preservatives. If you stumble upon a doughnut tree, please let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As if Everything is a Miracle

Christmas is a wonderful time to believe in miracles. Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.” 

Consider the ubiquitous trees strapped to car tops, beckoning from store windows, or decorating your living room. While all the earth lies brown and dormant, an evergreen tree remains fresh and verdant, unfazed by winter’s harsh cold and snow. Underneath all the tinsel, lights and ornaments is a miraculous symbol of eternal love and life.

Our fresh-cut Christmas tree stands outside on the deck off the living room. Through unadorned glass doors, we have full view of our tree, simply decorated with an abundance of white lights. We frequently see birds flutter around the tree and alight on branches like a scene from a greeting card.

In my mind, birds carry garland in their beaks and gracefully drape the tree with gossamer ribbon. Woodland animals gather around the tree and sing carols. They are dressed, of course, in winter coats and scarves. And why not? Birds, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes and raccoons are such magical creatures.

Just imagine seeing one for the first time! Sweet, cute, funny and majestic barely begin to describe them. The sight of one flying, hopping or scurrying through our yard thrills me and ignites my fairy tale imagination.

Christmastime brings out the child in us. As we get older, it’s easy to become cynical, to take for granted the miracles and magic and focus on the muck. Perhaps we get a little too big for our britches, too smart and sophisticated for visions of sugarplums and the like. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

With the innocence of a child, take a closer look at nature this season. A brilliant star, a red poinsettia, a silent snow, a newborn baby, all offer tangible proof of the marvelous miracles all around us.

Maybe then we will be inspired to do the very grown-up work of seeing and manifesting intangible miracles of grace, forgiveness, courage, hope, faith and love ~ all of the beautiful things Christmas is really about.

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Solstice Inspires Us to Shine

Growing weary of the dark days? Take heart. The Winter Solstice arrives this week and, for good measure, will coincide with the glow of a full moon. Nature remembers what we sometimes forget. Darkness is always ousted by the light.

This return to light isn’t just a positive affirmation, wishful thinking, or snappy campaign promise. It’s indisputable, mind-blowing scientific fact. In the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day of 2018 comes on December 21. That’s when the sun will be at its lowest point in the sky.

Solstice, in Latin, means to stand still. At the Winter Solstice, the sun reaches the latitude called the Tropic of Capricorn. The southward movement of the sun seems to stop before it reverses direction and begins its path northward bringing longer, lighter days.

The Winter Solstice also marks the beginning of our astronomical winter. (As opposed to the meteorological winter which began December 1.) Some may bemoan the upcoming season, but we can choose to find peace in the quiet beauty of winter knowing that spring is on its way.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this year the Full Cold Moon will reach its peak during the Winter Solstice. That might mean more when you realize the next full moon to peak during the Winter Solstice isn’t until 2094! I don’t know about you, but I think we could all use that extra dose of beauty and light about right now.

Are the world’s troubles troubling you? Perhaps a loved one is going through a difficult time. Maybe you are experiencing a dark time in your own life. The Winter Solstice can signify a turning point, a time to release the darkness in favor of the light and positive energy.

Nature is urging us to see the light and be the light. So put another log on the fire, burn the candles, and string up those holiday lights. Bask in the promise of the stars shining in the night sky and the one atop the tree. Fill yourself with warm, twinkly light so you can go out and shine.

We already know how, but here are five things I’m working on ~ smile, say nice things, don’t complain, be grateful, and lighten up. In the words of John Lennon, “Yeah, we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun.”

 

 

 

 

The Great Amaryllis Race

One Christmas when my children were quite young, they were unexpectedly fascinated by the big red flowers that bloomed in pots at their grandparents’ home in Wisconsin. Grandpa Bob, a crusty farmer and Marine, patiently explained how he forced amaryllis bulbs to bloom for the holidays.

The next year, and for many years after, my children and their grandfather participated in a holiday tradition known as the great amaryllis race. Shortly after Thanksgiving, they each opened a box containing a pre-planted amaryllis bulb, and the race was on!

I watched my children stare at their pots of dirt whispering magic words, wishes, and prayers urging the bulbs to sprout. Within a week or so, green pointy stems nudged out of the dirt, thrilling them to no end.

They carefully watered their plant, moved it to the perfect light, turned the pot to encourage the stalk to grow straight, and expertly used the thin stake to keep it from falling over. Day by day, centimeter by centimeter, they watched their plants grow.

Throughout December, my children regularly called their grandparents from Florida with the amaryllis report. “Grandpa,” my son would excitedly say into the telephone, “mine is the tallest!” Getting out a ruler, his older sister would object, “No, they are both exactly four inches tall.”

Eventually the slender green stems reached more than a foot. By Christmas day, the buds at the top magically unfurled revealing two, three, or even more separate flowers that burst opened into five-inch wide, scarlet blooms.

Whose amaryllis grew the fastest, biggest, or with the most flowers became secondary to the miracle of watching a pot of dirt transform into something so beautiful. Though they did feel sorry for Grandpa Bob whose amaryllis, year after year, never seemed to do as well as theirs.

There’s no greater joy than seeing your children excited about something so pure and wonderful. I don’t know if I ever thanked their grandparents for starting that special holiday tradition, but I am forever grateful. At a time of year when kids can become materialistic and self-centered, the great amaryllis race taught my children important values including patience, care, faith and hope.

The metaphors are too plentiful to do them justice, but aren’t we all a little like that amaryllis bulb, so full of amazing potential? We must root ourselves in good soil, provide optimum conditions to grow, and patiently wait until we fully bloom into all we were meant to be.

 

 

Nature’s Cure for the Holi-daze

 

The most wonderful time of the year can quickly turn into a frenzy of shopping, decorating, hosting, toasting, and to-do lists as long as the lines at the stores. Even though my tiny tots are grown and I’m no longer teaching excited middle-schoolers, I still have to be careful I don’t spin into holly jolly overdrive, turning the holidays into a holi-daze.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order,” wrote John Burroughs, a late 19th century essayist. Our senses are the miraculous way we process the world, but too much merry-making can cause sensory-overload. A mindful walk outdoors provides a cleansing reset to help us experience the simple beauty and true meaning of the season. 

Bundle up and take a senses-soothing stroll with me where all is calm, all is bright. 

Look ~ With the abundance of twinkling lights and plastic decorations, it’s easy to lose sight of the winter wonderland around us. Notice the elongated shadows, the haloed clouds, the bare trees standing like sculptures. Do you see what I see?

Listen ~ Be still and pay attention to the sound of the wind rattling the last of the copper leaves, birds in the distance, a squirrel’s silly chatter. Listen very closely and you may even hear a song high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea.

Smell ~ Does the air smell earthy and fresh? Lean into an evergreen tree and inhale its aroma. Rub its foliage between your fingers to release the fragrance. It’s even better than a holiday-scented candle. 

Taste – Elves may like to stick to the four main food groups of candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup, but all those holiday treats can lead to a month-long food coma. Take a long walk and give your taste buds a break. Catch a few snowflakes on your tongue, but whatever you do, don’t lick a frozen flag pole!

Touch – The stagnant, indoor heat can make us sluggish and lethargic. Go outside to feel the chilly air on your cheeks and the ground below your feet. Pick up a pinecone, a spiky gumball, or an acorn and feel its shape and texture. Though the sense of touch refers to physical sensations, give some thought to how you’d really like to feel (and how you’d like to make others feel) this holiday season.

It’s ironic we often turn the anticipation of a silent, holy night into a time of stress and consumerism. A reflective walk in nature can calm our senses and help us more consciously celebrate this peaceful season when all of heaven and nature sing!