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 Pup in a Basket (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

After finishing my work this morning, which went well but felt chaotic, I needed to stretch my legs. I went outside with my dog at apparently the same moment everyone else in the neighborhood decided to do the same thing, which results in him barking left and right as there was nowhere we tried to walk that didn’t have another pup present. It was not relaxing!

I came home and regrouped. I decided to put him in the basket of my bicycle and go for a short ride. I’ve purchased a trailer for him but am not convinced I can attach it to my bike without breaking the entire wheel system; luckily for me, he only weighs 10 pounds and fits easily into my basket. We biked past another dog and he ignored it! It felt so good to have the warmth of the sun hitting my skin and the cool breeze blowing on me as I navigated the streets in my subdivision. I came home feeling refreshed and my dog has been napping ever since!

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?

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?

Time Enough (In the Cards)

Today’s card invited reflection of how the pace of my life is going. I decided to focus on how I hold my sense of presence and time in situations where others are present. I believe that my experiences here will guide me in finding places where I connect with a felt sense of safety.

I went out to a restaurant with a group of friends last night and noticed a moment pass where I would normally feel like time was “up,” where I’d become impatient and want to leave. After my reflection on having PTSD, I believe this surge of anxiety occurs when, as a result of either internal or external stimuli, I come to view the experience as containing threats from which I want to flee. At dinner, in the moment this would have happened, my internal system instead read “you are safe” and I was enveloped with a wonderful sensation of calm and a near-hallucination of a clock shutting off. What time it was and how much time there was left in the encounter weren’t my most pressing concerns.

In almost every other social setting, I feel as though I am in a race where the goal is to survive until time runs out. Maybe I’m trapped on a level of the simulation or my programming is broken! In all seriousness, the intensity of needing to rush through and have whatever is happening end is overwhelming. I look forward to events much more than I enjoy attending or remembering them.

I do not believe I am able to engage in mindfulness or present-moment awareness in the presence of others for any length of time. As soon as at least one other person is in the same room as me, I lose my connection to my body and my sense of time becomes at least slightly distorted. Every day when I leave my job, I find myself waiting for myself as I leave the building, crawling back into my skin and inhabiting my breath and my rhythm for the first time in hours. Who I am around others is often only a shadow-shell of my true self.

My experience of time is less affected in outdoor spaces, where the elements help me reconnect with my body and remind me of shifts outside of my own reactions to stimuli. If waiting rooms were parks and grocery stores outdoor venues, I would perhaps respond with less rage. Small, confined rooms such as medical offices are especially taxing. I recall a few moments where I felt highly connected to friends; most of them occurred in green spaces with people far and few between.

This reflection has enabled me to note a direct connection between where I am and how intact my perception of time remains. People are not the only variable; fresh air and a luxurious amount of room in which to rest or walk about also play major roles. What factors affect how you perceive time? To what extent is your connection to your body impacted by the presence of other people? In which spaces do you feel safest, where a sense of more than enough time and place are pervasive?