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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

Lessons from an Oak Tree

 

“Incoming!” my husband announced as we sat on our deck enjoying the fall evening. Covering our heads and beer mugs, we listened to the familiar sound of an acorn, dropped from a hundred feet above, hit the roof with a crack, bounce off the patio table, pop up several feet, strike the wood deck, ping off the metal railing, and land near the fire pit twenty feet below.

We’ve been under acorn siege since late August, so we’re getting used to the constant bombardment. A month ago, without warning, an acorn hit me square on the noggin, knocking off my glasses. Mike regretted laughing at me when he saw the nut-sized knot and bruise on my forehead. It was a painful demonstration of Newton’s theory of gravitational force.

Since this is our first fall living in the woods, we’re not sure if the abundance of acorns is typical. I do know oak trees have what’s called ‘mast years’ when they produce a bumper crop of acorns.

Scientists are a bit baffled by the phenomenon. Most experts agree masting has nothing to do with the upcoming winter forecast, but it remains one of nature’s mysteries.

In a non-masting year, oak trees produce just enough acorns for birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and deer to store and eat. In a mast year, an oak tree can produce 10,000 acorns! With more acorns than critters can possibly eat, there are plenty of leftovers for acorns to potentially become trees.

Oak tree, I get you. Sometimes I’m more productive than others, and there’s no rhyme or reason as to why. One day I can walk two miles, clean the house, paint the dock, grocery shop, check in with family, and write a chapter of my great American novel. Other days, I’m still in my pajamas at three pm convincing myself frozen pizza counts as dinner.

Some scientists believe the ebb and flow of acorn production help oak trees keep themselves in balance. Sometimes the tree is focused on reproduction; sometimes it’s focused on growing. That’s a little mind-blowing! An oak tree ~ a symbol of patience, strength, and endurance ~ is wise enough to keep itself in balance, without explanation.

Let’s take a cue from the mighty oak. It’s perfectly natural to have days, or even years, when we kick it into high gear and times when we need to take it easy. Following our instinctual wisdom is nature’s way of keeping us balanced so we don’t go completely nuts.

 

Taking Time to Reflect

 

There are magical times of the day when our lake transforms into a looking glass. A mirror image of clouds, sky, and trees is painted on the silky smooth water, doubling the ethereal beauty. Dawn and dusk are the enchanted hours, when all of nature whispers, “It’s time for reflection.”

Have you ever reached the end of a week, a month, or a year, and wondered where the days went? They all run together, and experiences and lessons from one day are smothered by the next.

We need time for reflection.

When my children were young, I asked them nearly every evening the best and worst thing about their day. It was a way to stay close to them, but I also hoped it helped them reflect on their day, celebrate the good, and grow from the challenges.

As a literature teacher, I discovered my students needed encouragement to process what they read. Discussion and reflection allowed them to personally connect with a story or poem and apply the theme to their own lives.

I must admit, my own reflection time is often in front of a mirror where I scrutinize superficial bits I fully know don’t define my worth. That’s not the kind of self-reflection we need. We learned that cautionary tale from Narcissus, who stared at his own reflection until he withered away.

Self-reflection refers to serious thought about our character, actions, and motives. The beginning or end of the day seems the best time for clear reflection. You may prefer to journal, walk, pray, or simply ponder.

I would not be so bold as to tell you what questions you should ask in daily self-reflection, but I will share mine as a springboard for your own ~

  1. What are my three core values? (Yes, this requires intense contemplation.)
  2. Today, how well did my thoughts, words, actions, and interactions align with my core values?
  3. Tomorrow, how can I better live in alignment with my core values?

“Self-reflection is the school of wisdom.” ~17th century writer Baltasar Gracian

 

Hurry Never – the joy of slowing down

My hands were full of fall treasures after my morning walk ~ a heart-shaped leaf, a perfect acorn, and a few stems of pretty white wildflowers. I worked through my chores accompanied by soft jazz, stopping frequently to watch hummingbirds dance around our feeder.

I drove to town slowly enough to spy three deer and a chubby groundhog enjoying the afternoon. At the grocery store, I made way for shoppers frantically pushing their carts and invited a mother with a cranky toddler to go ahead of me in line.

I haven’t always moved through my day so leisurely or with such delightful awareness. Even after my children were grown and I was no longer teaching, I still found myself rushing. I walked, drove, talked, moved, and acted as if there was a sense of urgency, when there was none.

I had a hurry habit, a habit that isn’t merely a symptom of our fast-paced, modern world. It seems the want to rush has been a problem long before our time.

These words were written in the 1600s by Saint Francis de Sales, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” 

In a similar message, My Symphony, a poem written by William Henry Channing in the late 1800s, reminds us, “Hurry never.” Now that I’m older, I’m discovering breaking the hurry habit can improve life in at least these five ways ~

1. More Beauty ~ The more we slow down, the more we notice nature’s beauty; the more we notice nature’s beauty, the more we slow down. No matter where we live, nature is waiting to help us pause in awe and wonder.

2. More Good-Feels ~ When I catch myself rushing, I can feel my heart race, my muscles tighten, and my breathing constrict. Right now, take a deep breath and relax your body from head to toe. Doesn’t that feel better?

3. More Pleasant Interactions ~ Being in a hurry can cause us to seem rude and self-centered. Slowing down makes us better able to be more compassionate, patient, and aware of others.

4. More Productivity ~ It may seem counter-intuitive, but hurrying doesn’t always help us get more done. In fact, rushing often results in mistakes, accidents, and bad decisions.

5. More Elegance ~ There’s nothing attractive about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. When we slow down, we can glide through our day with more grace and composure ~ like a swan.