Air after Rainstorm

I have been posting less frequently as of late. I thought I would be entering a time of rest and relaxation and have instead learned that I will likely have to begin a lengthy period of intense focus and large amounts of unpaid labor related to my job. I’ve gone through pretty much all of the stages of grief in relation to this. I was at first furious and then depressed that my plans had been dashed; I’ve now adjusted to the news as best I can and finding glimpses of gratitude.

In the context of this time of transition, the weather where I live has been equally unpredictable and out of sync with what it would normally be for this time of year. Today, though, we’re getting late-spring heavy rain. I went outside during a break in the downpours and was blessed by the intense earthy and floral perfume that seemed suspended in the saturated air. I have a pine tree and I noticed drops of water clinging to the end of each needle–the moment before, now and after co-existing in the surface tension.

The most joyous part of my meditation was the birdsong. It was bursting from trees in every direction and I felt that I’d stumbled into the middle of a sing-off between rival bird groups. For once, there was more non-human than human noise where I live and I relished the moment. How is nature showing up for you today?

Biking and Birding (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Shelter-in-place has led my pup and I to discovered a local pond teeming with birds! I’ve been biking to it with him nearly every day. This morning there was a wide variety of birds which I greatly enjoyed.

  1. Canadian geese: There is a nesting pair right beside the pond. One of the pair sits on their nest every time I’ve gone past, while the other goose stands guard, facing the path down which I ride my bike and looking like it is contemplating attacking my dog and I every time we ride by. One day, it was sticking its tongue out, which I believe is meant as an aggressive gesture. I’ve told myself it knows who I am now as it doesn’t seem to give me much mind.
  2. Mallard ducks: There are multiple pairs of ducks in the pond; I love watching them take flight and paddle around. I haven’t seen any nesting yet.
  3. Egrets: Today I felt very blessed to witness a pair of white egrets taking a brief pause in the pond before flying on. I live near lots of protected areas so they aren’t the rarest sight, but they are not something one can find every day. They scared me as they took off across the road next to the pond as they flew very low near the vehicles.
  4. Red-winged blackbird: These are not my favorite bird as they can be quite aggressive. In the past, I’ve had them swoop near my head much closer than any other bird where I live. They sit on the top of stalks and reeds and have a loud call. The one I saw today seemed less attentive than they normally are and didn’t seem to notice my presence.

I am really grateful to be able to have found an area I can visit in a five or ten minute bike ride that holds such an abundance of nature. I noticed two small trees had been felled beside the pond and was upset that a person had caused damage to a place that is fast become special to me, but I then saw the circular chew marks and realized a beaver must also be making the pond its home! I hope I continue to make regular trips to the pond even after shelter-in-place is lifted, as watching the plants and animals change over the seasons seems like a worthwhile enterprise to me.

A Shift in the Wind (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

I’ve been experiencing brief moments of intense grief since the pandemic began; today’s was a doozy. A friend whose baby shower was cancelled stopped by to pick up her gift. I stood by the window with my pup. He was so thrilled to see her and then seemed saddened when she left again right away. The realization that I won’t be able to spend time with her in person before she gives birth and may not get to see her newborn baby till who knows when really hurt my heart.

It’s been humid and unseasonably hot for a few days here. I walked outside a few minutes after my friend left to discover a sudden change in the weather. The wind was swirling the tree buds in every direction and the temperature had dropped considerably. I felt my grief surrounding me instead of locked inside me, as though nature was responding to the exchange that had just taken place. I came inside and snuggled with my dog as I re-calibrated my equilibrium, not quite the same person I was earlier today. Each loss, each moment of grief, however small, registers a note in the symphony of our life that we ignore to our peril. Witnessing nature play the melody for me was truly a gift.

Attuning to Nature Sounds as a Slow Living Practice

If you have access to a sense of hearing, what sounds come to mind when you think of busyness? What do words like hectic, stressful and crowded bring to mind? I hear cars engines running, a cacophony of harried voices, the smell (wrong sense, I know) of pollution and footsteps stomping down the sidewalk or hallway in a clipped pace.

What do phrases like slowing down, living the simple life, relaxing and spacious stir up? My mind conjures notes of grass blowing in the wind, birds chirping, a stream softly flowing and insects at play on a summer night. I continue to watch live streams of nature scenes from around the world, and, more than the peaceful visuals, I’ve become accustomed to the instant feeling of calm that permeates my body as soon as I hear the accompanying sounds. In particular, the night-time noises from various animal parks in African countries and the rush of waves coming in on Hawaii’s beaches are the most soothing I’ve found.

It is a privilege to be able to enjoy slow living. What we often conceptualize as a simple lifestyle depends on pre-existing wealth or access to funds. I detest tourism to poor areas of the world that revels in the condition of life there as the “cure” to busyness, when, in fact, abject poverty brings its own forms of (often physical) suffering. To be able to be still and to be able to relax into the sounds of that stillness are gifts for which I hope I can be grateful and moments I desire not to squander.

There is nothing that needs to be done or accomplished with the quietness of the natural world. It is ephemeral, broken most often where I live by the machines humans have made. It cannot be stored in quantities and does not hold over from one day to the next. All we can do with it is attend it, open to it, and be in it as fully as the presence it offers us. The pandemic is stripping from me any vestiges of a belief in raw capitalism as a way of life; today I find myself pondering how many billions of dollars humans have spent on products designed to mimic, at maximum expense and minimum function, the enormous wealth that can be found in acts as simple as pacing my breath to the contour of the ocean’s rhythm?

An image of a puppy with white and red fur sleeping on a grey blanket with sunlight from a window landing on it.

Enjoying Nature from Home (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Many of us, myself included, take the ability to go to a park or forest nearby to enjoy nature in the spring and summertime for granted. Even sitting by a window can allow access to these experiences for those with mobility concerns. Today, however, I wanted to share a way to enjoy at least the sights and sounds of nature for any times when we may be stuck indoors by bad weather, health conditions and so on: live streaming!

When the pandemic was sweeping through China, I’d read a story about botanists filming the cherry blossoms opening so that viewers could enjoy them. It struck me as something I hope will continue even after the health crisis passes; there are so many people who cannot easily get out and about who deserve to have a way to appreciate nature. At least one study has shown that even looking at a photograph of nature can lower stress, although I do think there are added benefits to direct participation in outdoor settings to whatever extent possible.

The website I found that feels like a treasure box is explore.org, which is filled with nature cams from around the world. I think my favorite so far has been the puppy cam, which, during the time I’ve watched, has consisted entirely of the puppies sleeping. I can feel my blood pressure dropping after a few seconds as I relax seeing how calm and snugly they are.

Overall, my anxiety has been spiking to the point that I think I would have a hard time sitting outside for an extended period of time, because my hyper-vigilance wouldn’t let me concentrate on my breathing and my senses fully. As soon as it fully warms up, I am going to try to go out and see how it goes, and I have been really liking going for short runs with my dog, where my anxiety gets worked out through physical exertion. Even though the great outdoors remain open to me, I consider observation through live-streaming as another tool in my self-care toolbox. What is your favorite live-stream of nature?

Seneca Rocks in West Virginia--rocky cliffs rising from green trees into a sky with clouds

When I Wept at the Beauty (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today’s card prompted me to recall a pleasant memory. What came to mind was a memory of one of the first times I experienced nature as something more than scenery but instead as a revelation. I was in graduate school and decided I needed a bit of a break. I drove, by myself, several hours to a small cabin rental in West Virginia. What I discovered in that state was breathtaking (and contrary to the aspects of West Virginia that are typically emphasized).

My travels took me through switchbacks, which are curved roads up and down mountainsides. I felt uncertain as to whether I could successfully navigate my way to my destination. Finally, I arrived in an area that opened skyward, and, looking to my right, saw a shear rocky cliff jutting out of a mountainside, surrounded by dense forest. I felt tears welling up in my eyes because I had never seen anything so awe-inspiring in nature. I *think* it was Seneca Rocks but I’m not certain.

Once I reached the vacation lodging, I found that the cabin was perfect. It was secluded enough to allow for privacy, but not so isolated that I felt alone. I was able to draw and cook and spend time in inner work in a way that I had never before accessed. It was my own spiritual retreat.

I spent time in nature as well, hiking into the forest until I arrived at a meadow with butterflies and tall grass. There was a stream running beside the campground bubbling with clear water and pale grey rocks. In the evenings, I sat out on the porch of the cabin enjoying the starlight.

I’ve wanted to return to this site again, but something tells me it was a bedrock moment in my life, one on which the whole of who I am becoming was built that cannot be recreated. It was within a few months of this trip that the full extent of my childhood trauma came clear to me, as though I needed to give myself the time and space to allow for its unfurling. As I contemplate the elements of self-care and self-expression that I most cherish, I engaged in nearly every one of them in the span of those few days, save true mindfulness as I had not yet encountered teachings on it. I started becoming myself there; it was the moment of glancing up and seeing the cliff and knowing at my core that there was more beauty than sorrow at the end of it all that inspired me. Even if I never return to West Virginia in this lifetime, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

What place(s) have left you awestruck in their natural beauty? What moments do you look back on as turning points towards a deeper understanding of yourself? Where has Nature met you when you most needed Her to?

Observing Animals in Winter (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

This week is going from bad to worse, as I am now dealing with severe insomnia on top of my stress related to attempting to get ADA accommodations. I had a moment of joy, though, as I was driving, when I glanced up and saw flock after flock of Canadian geese flying in formation across a cloudy, mottled sky. I decided to spend some time contemplating ways to connect with wildlife in the winter. Your location will of course determine your options!

1. Widen your perspective

Don’t limit yourself to the ground level or to a visual experience. There may be birds flying overhead, belting out their song, that can capture your interest. Squirrels jumping from branch to branch are another joy. One of my favorite winter memories is standing on a frozen pond watching fish swim underneath the surface (this of course requires knowledge of whether your actions are safe or not).

2. Meet the Dawn and Dusk

Find the times of day where animals are most likely to be active. In general, this tends to be around the time of sunrise and sunset, although there may be unique creatures that will stir at other times. Learn about the winter patterns for your local area.

3. Find the traces

Sometimes it is not solely seeing an animal that might be entertaining, but also trying to determine which animals have visited where you live (if you live in a cold climate) based on their footprints or other signs. I’ve been noticing tracks that are likely coyote near my house; not really the visitor I’m looking to meet but interesting none-the-less!

What do you do, if anything, to enable yourself to watch animal antics in winter? Do you have a favorite spot that tends to yield enjoyable experiences? Do you interact with any of the wildlife where you live?

A green bush covered in slowly melting snow.

At the Edges, Melting (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure card encouraged me to observe an edge and to record what was occurring at the transition line. The wintery mix Mother Nature provided in the last 24 hours proved an easy jumping off point for this encounter. We had snow which turned to sleet, freezing rain and then simply rain. The resulting slush has created minute transition points.

As I shoveled the “snow,” I noticed that it was melted underneath and had turned clear, so that it looked as though I was pushing a mound of congealed water. I made little progress in clearing my driveway as it weighed an astronomical amount and I didn’t have the strength to move more than the bare minimum necessary to open a few footpaths. A lesson I can take here is to consider how deceiving change can be. It may feel as though what’s come before can simply be pushed out of the way, whereas the true burden of what I’ve lived through may only become known to me in attempting to rid myself of it.

I kept getting halfway across my driveway, gliding with ease and thinking “I’ve got this” and then the physics took over and I was stopped dead in my tracks by the pile of accumulated slush. Each time, I had to pause and reconsider how best to dispose of the water ice in small batches. This image so fully captures my experience of trauma. Every time I believe I’m good to go, something trips me up and I have to unpack piece after piece of what had previously felt insignificant.

I was relieved to awake this morning and notice that the precipitation had at least spared the tree limbs and power lines, as I had feared they would be coated in an icy glaze that could knock out the electricity or bring down parts of a tree. I’ve met some borders of growth that have taken an inch by an inch to reach, whereas I’m finding other places in my life from which I’ve been unnecessarily shrinking. It is hard for me to know how intensely to assert myself, as I don’t want to respond with a whimper when I need to roar, nor do I want to knock about when small steps would suffice. Perhaps what’s required is more careful deliberation and noticing of the true state of affairs before I take action–there is no sense shaking a tree that’s already free.

Finally, I took a photograph of some of the bushes on my property. I am amazed at how much snow ice they can hold, and the ecosystem they can provide for small animals sheltering beneath them. There have been so many times I’ve been startled by a rabbit bounding out of the undergrowth or a swarm of gnats erupting skyward if I knock into it with my mower. Each bush is a sturdy, non-descript parts of the landscape, but is yet teeming with life and protection. There is a stillness of purpose here of which I am jealous. I wish I could allow life to come to me more than I do; I perceive its edges as places of destination, not as interludes that arrive to me when I’m holding steady.

In sum, nature’s message to me, when I take time to meet Her, is nearly always the following: Be here, still. And I am always grateful for the reminder and the insights She provides. What have you learned from noticing areas of transition in nature? Has snow or precipitation taught you anything? Where might you slow down to see what’s changing?

A dog's footprint embedded in a few inches of snow.

A Study of Stillness (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I recently shared a multitude of ways to practice mindfulness and a reader reminded me to also include photography as a method. As I’ve been gearing up for having to return to work, I’ve felt my creative connection diminishing, so I decided, after an unexpected snowfall, that observing stillness (and movement) through a series of photographs would be a good exercise. The simple act of walking outside for five minutes was transformed by this experience, so I need to repeat it!

A photograph of a branch on a bush with red leaves and berries holding large puffs of snow.
A branch on a bush with red leaves and berries holding large puffs of snow.
A photograph of a maze of tree branches extending from a tree off the side to the right. The branches are covered in snow.
A maze of tree branches in snow.
A photograph of a part of a metal bench with a single drop of icy water clinging to its lower ledge.
A bench with a single drop of icy water.
A photograph of a web of large tree branches coated in snow.
A web of tree branches in snow.
A photograph of the ends of tree branches holding snow.
The ends of tree branches holding snow.

I’m glad I spent a few minutes in nature today noticing where there was stillness and where there was movement. I was frustrated that I couldn’t fully capture the large clumps of snow that kept falling off the trees, perhaps I need to work on making short videos as well. Where can you notice stillness in nature today?

Appreciating the Winter Season (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

It finally feels like the heart of winter where I live, with snow covering the grass and a cold wind blowing. I at first was displeased with having to spend time today snow shoveling, but then decided to take the opportunity to check in with each of my senses in an outdoor setting. My pup accompanied me on my journey.

I started by noticing the temperature. My face was uncovered so it was quite cold, but I soon observed how toasty my hands and upper body felt in my gloves and coat. The sensation of the wind blowing by intrigued me, as it felt as though it was sneaking past my defenses and trying to infiltrate every pore.

The smell was, for once, crisp and clean. Several of my neighbors burn wood for heat, which I hate as the smoke is highly irritating to my lungs and the odor lingers on my clothes after only a brief time outside. They’d given it a rest for once (or perhaps the wind had cleared it away) and I could detect only the scent of the snow.

I forgot to give much attention to what I was hearing, but it was in general quite quiet outside as well. There was a neighbor shoveling in the distance and a dog barked occasionally, seemingly agitated after I’d chopped up the ice on my driveway with my shovel. There were few traffic sounds.

In terms of vision, I felt bored looking at the dead, light-brown grass peeking through the thin layer of snow here and there. I then remembered my flash of insight this fall in regards to including the sky in my observations. I looked up and the most subtle, beautiful set of blues, whites and greys awaited me. The sun was hidden but the sky looked cotton-covered in a soft palette of clouds. I read in the last few months about the Cloud Appreciation Society. I am too lazy to join their ranks but I think they are on to something as I feel so rewarded whenever I remember to look up.

All in all, taking a few moments to connect to the experience of winter, rather than to simply shovel it out of the way, helped me reset my mental state. What is the weather like where you live (thoughts to those in NSW in Australia right now!)? With which sense do you most appreciate colder temperatures? If you practice mindfulness in nature, how does it affect you?