Thursday, January 27, 2011

Natural Frame of Mind

Without giving it much thought, as yesterday's snowstorm came to a lull just before midday, my son Ryan and I pulled on our boots and jackets and set off in a northeasterly direction across a tract of woods towards my son's homeschool resource center where classes were being held despite the storm. Ryan's desire to finish a chessboard he was working on in wood shop, my lack of desire to drive over hazardous roads to get there, and both of our excitement to spend some time in nature prompted us to make the decision to walk to school instead.

Before leaving, we checked google maps, committing to memory our planned route through mostly wooded areas with a few homes and farms on acreage. Taking into account our estimated 1.5 to 2 miles to cover and allowing for mistakes along the way, I figured the journey would take about an hour, just enough time to get to Ryan's wood shop program on time. After heading out, it didn't take long for us to be in the thick of the forest, climbing over logs and ducking under brambles, heading up hills and over creeks. Forging your own trail in the woods takes time and travel is slow.
Normally traveling slowly, spending vast amounts of time rambling through the woods in a beautiful setting would be welcomed by me. I would embrace it and revel in just being. Being in nature, with nature.

But yesterday, I found my thoughts filled with bothersome questions. Why did I think this walk was a good idea, a good adventure? As I found myself beginning to feel tired walking through the deep snow, I wondered how far we had to go yet and asked myself if it would feel worse to turn around and go back home or were we almost to the school? I continually asked Ryan to stop frequently to check his compass to make sure we were not going the least bit off track. I just wanted to get to our destination by noon when Ryan's wood shop program was set to begin. I let the pressure of time and the discomfort of wondering if we were taking the best route, get in the way of properly enjoying my time in the woods with my son.

As I think back on it now, I see that just being in a natural setting doesn't guarantee a more mindful "living in the moment" experience. It doesn't suddenly make you forget the pressures of your life and open up to the beauty around you. You need to be in the right place in your mind as well. Bringing all of life's irritations and frustrations into the woods with you will simply make you continue to be frustrated and irritated. Going into the woods and surrounding yourself with nature may make you take pause and lessen some of the pressures you have, but it will not erase them. Just like meditation requires you to still your mind in order to get the most out of it, so does being in nature. Still your thoughts, open to the beauty around you. Listen, go slow. Look, breathe, appreciate.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow Day Today? Nope! Seriously???

The weather folks got it wrong this morning...telling us we would get a few flakes of snow that would turn into rain by 8am. The morning commute was not expected to be bad and consequently very few schools in our area closed their doors, sending buses and cars onto slippery roads as the accumulating snowfall went against the weatherman's predictions.

A few smart schools, realizing the roads were rapidly deteriorating, did make the decision to close their doors just in the nick of time, but my son's school was not one of them. Wanting to check out the road conditions myself, I strode out to the road in front of my house and took the picture above. What the picture does not show well, is the tree-lined steep hill that drops away from my house, covered in snow and very slippery. The road in front of my house is like many in this area...curvy and hilly, interesting to navigate on even the best of days.When I lived in the Chicago area, it wasn't a big deal to head out onto snow covered roads because every road was straight and flat. If you went off the road, about the only thing you'd run into was a 7-Eleven parking lot or up onto a sidewalk in a neighborhood. It felt safe to get out onto the roads in even the worst of conditions.

As I listen to the local road and weather reports, tales of huge traffic jams fill the newscast. Pictures of cars sitting on snow covered roads abound. With the snow still steadily falling outside my window and a major snowstorm predicted for tonight, I think I will keep my son home from school today. Make a nice breakfast and put on a kettle of tea. Enjoy your day!

Just after I published this, my son's school put a message on their website stating that staff was having difficulties getting to school and that the road in front of the school was VERY bad. I am sure they wish they had made to decision to close. Hope everyone gets there safely.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Weather Not Fit for Man nor Beast

Morning dawned with a steady delivery of freezing rain, splashing against my kitchen window and casting a gray hue to all my eye could see. Wishing to postpone my time outdoors facing the elements with my Labrador pup, I downed a second cup of coffee, fortifying myself in anticipation of the cold and wet to come.
Nasty, is the word that best describes what I felt as I stepped outside. A cold rain fell upon my shoulders as I quickly adjusted my umbrella with one hand as my dog Dakota strained upon her leash with the other. Slipping and sliding my way to the side yard, I opened the frozen gate and let my pup free. Some branches of a white pine had come down under the weight of the ice and Dakota was curious as to why there were many more sticks than normal for her to chew on.

Walking for both pup and I was made more difficult given the crust of ice upon a layer of snow. Once your foot (or paw) broke through the ice, it tended to cause you to slip as your other foot broke through the ice and repeated the process. Dakota, who loves dashing through the snow, wasn't quite sure what to make of this new way of walking, especially because of the way the ice impeded her progress. She finally worked out a sort of hop, skip system which tended to make her look more like a rabbit than a dog, but moved her about efficiently.
After a brief stay outside, both dog and I decided we had had enough and headed for the gate, ready to embrace the warm and dry interior of the house. Sometimes weather is too bad even for a normally foul weather loving Lab.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Naturalist Training Words...

I started my naturalist training program today and for our first exercise we were asked to find an interesting piece of paper, maybe a card or an old map to use as a bookmark. We were then asked to write some thoughts on the bookmark to inspire ourselves as we began our journey of discovering the natural world. It only took me a minute of searching before I came upon a greeting card with the following words:

"Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true. Think only of the best, work only for the best, and expect only the best. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others. Live in the faith that the whole world is on your side so long as you are true to the best that is in you."
~ Christian D. Larson

Amazing I thought! Exactly the words I need to encourage me as I make my way along this path. Funny how the things I need in life somehow always find their way to me.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter Pond Walk

I love how the snow sticks to the branches of trees after a snowstorm, outlining everything in white, giving color and contrast to the browns of winter.
Early yesterday morning, before the wind had a chance to come up and dust off the snow accumulated from our Tuesday night snowstorm, I walked down to the pond and then around it to take some pictures.
The sun had just come up and obviously from the sight of fresh tracks, I wasn't the only one out enjoying the morning.
Something about bright blue sky in the background of newly snow-coated trees...absolutely beautiful! Everything looks so fresh and clean...
Soon after arriving back in the house, the sky began to cloud up and the wind picked up too, blowing the snow off the trees, erasing much of the beauty caught by my camera.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Remember Tree Forts?

My son Ryan and I spent a few hours snowshoeing at the local arboretum today and enjoyed checking out both the natural and man made tree forts.

Ryan was our leader and guide as we broke trail through the new snow that had fallen overnight. He had a penchant for going off trail and checking out the hiding places formed by the low hanging branches of evergreens arching down and touching the ground, making a perfectly sheltered place up close next to the trunk of the tree. A fort of sorts, made naturally by the tree as shown in the picture above.

Dipping in and out of these evergreen forts, we soon came across a different type of natural tree fort, also known as the perfect climbing tree. As we stood under the tree, looking up into its branches placed at just the right intervals for scaling, we envisioned ourselves traveling skyward. If it were not for the snow covered branches, making passage somewhat dangerous, I think we both would have had our snowshoes off in a second and climbing upward - Ryan for the sense of accomplishment I suppose and me to throw off my adultness and act like a kid again. We both vowed to come back when the weather was nicer to fully embrace the opportunity.
Seems the folks that run our arboretum understand the attraction kids have for tree forts because they have created some man made ones through out the park as well. While the forts are closed at this time of year, I am sure they are quite popular when the weather is nicer. I photographed just two of the many forts scattered throughout the park.
My legs are tired and cheeks rosy from my time spent outdoors. It will be nice to heat up some soup and let the evening unfold, a satisfying end to a nice day spent with my son.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Teen Birthday Party Ideas

Items needed: Snow, cold, 35 acres of fields and woods, firewood for a bonfire, and sleds.

My son Ryan spent 6 hours outside this past Sunday night with 20 other teens as they celebrated the birthday of one of their friends. Ryan was told not to bring a present to the party, but to dress warmly instead.

Having never heard of a teen party taking place outdoors, much less on a freezing cold night in January, I didn't know what to expect as I drove Ryan up the long driveway to the farm where the party was taking place. Arriving at the farm, we were met by many other teens dressed warmly and heading out to the barn. Ryan hopped out to join them and as I made my way back down the drive toward home, I wondered if Ryan would end up with frostbite or something after spending so much time outdoors.

At 10pm, I picked Ryan up from the party and soon heard his tales of time spent hiking through the woods in the dark, leaping over streams, star gazing (and even discovering his own constellation), discussions he had which centered around the incredible nature of the universe, and attempts to fill an entire field with snow angels. Wow, I thought! How exciting for Ryan to spend time with his peers, kids aged 14-18, and spend all of it outdoors, reveling in all that nature has to offer.

It made me wonder about birthday parties in general and why we feel we need to entertain kids at Chuck E. Cheese or create special themed parties for them at all. Why not just send them outdoors and let them figure it out. Nature, as Ryan and his friends discovered, is both amazing and entertaining.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Life Without School

A snowfall that fell just as morning broke forced school opening delays of two hours in our area this morning. As homeschoolers, none of that mattered to us. We still started our day in much the same way we always do, outdoors in our fenced side yard, running wildly with our dog. I can remember praying for a snow day when my son attended public school, hoping the roads would be too bad for travel so that the day could be filled with snow ball fights, snow fort building, and hot chocolate.
Invariably in those days, the school superintendent would deem the roads safe for travel and my son would end up spending his day on a seat behind a desk rather than on the seat of a sled- a perfect day in the snow wasted. Luckily, as homeschoolers, we get to decide our snow days and today would have been just such a day if we hadn't had prior arrangements to spend the day socializing with other homeschoolers at a local boys and girls club.
So, after spending some time with our pup outside this morning, we packed up our lunch and headed out, admiring the beauty of the snow sticking to each individual branch of the trees as we rode up and down narrow roadways past forested hillsides and open fields toward our destination.
With cooler temperatures in place, there will be plenty of time to enjoy the snow over the coming days ahead. Maybe we will make Monday our official snow day and spend the day on a sled, sailing down the hill behind our house, or take our dog on a hike around the pond. No matter what we decide, it feels good to know that we are in charge of how we ultimately spend our time. Snowfalls and childhood are finite. I think it is important to make the most of them!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Favorite Nature Spirituality Books

While winter is one of my favorite times to be out on the trail, I also find this quieter time of year to be a great time to sit with a book and read about the natural world. Listed below are a few of the books I am using right now to help me strengthen my connection with nature.

May you find a few of these worth your while. Click on each title you are interested in for more information. Enjoy!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Be Yourself, Don't Go With the Flow...

I don't want to tumble down the stream bed of life, rushing to the reward of being accepted into a big ocean just like everyone else. That option may be the easier, smoother path. One without bumps and bruises, but a long boring glide into a vast reservoir of many other identical drops of water that have chosen the same path.

If I were water, I'd want to be the snowball, formed by a child enjoying his first snowfall. Or the rain fueling crops in a field. The precipitation held high above the earth in a cloud or the water coming from a spring. Different, purposeful, non-conforming. Not going with the flow, but rather impacting the flow...