Monday, May 30, 2011

Meditative Woodland Walk at Longwood Gardens...

Many public gardens and arboretums across the country contain backcountry trails in addition to their more public offerings. These woodland trails offer up quiet and solitude and are a great way to get away from the bustle of the crowds.

A newly created and specially designed meditative woodland walk at Longwood Gardens in Chaddsford, PA. encourages you to temporarily leave the more groomed gardens behind and come into the forest. The idea being to walk or sit quietly and take in the woods and see what nature can offer you.

My husband and I recently recently took advantage of the woodland walk at Longwood Gardens and it didn't take long until the voices of people were replaced by birdsong, hot pavement replaced a dirt path, cool shade overhead. A welcome respite!

I thought the trailside banners, filled with contemplative quotes were a nice touch, reminding you to be quiet and listen, slow down and notice.

I especially loved the above quote. "What did the tree learn from the earth to be able to talk with the sky?" Makes me wonder what we humans could learn from the earth in order to be able to talk with the sky. That if we humans could become more in touch with the natural world, the sky could teach us many things about what really is important in life. I envision our rootedness in the natural world leading us to reach higher and higher, searching for a new way of living in the world.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Not Going to the Dogs...Why Off-Leash Parks are Needed.

So many little time. The trail above that my pup is gazing upon may soon close to her. The local park board has decided to place a nature center in an old farmhouse on the property and wants all dogs off all the trails, relegating them to a small, fenced, grassy area instead. The fear is that these wild "beasts" may threaten or harm children participating in activities at the nature center.

For years and years, local dogs have enjoyed romping along many of the off-leash trails in this park, swimming in the creek, and meeting up with other pups like themselves and now suddenly all of that is going to be taken from them. Just because they anticipate that the park will soon be overflowing with children attending the nature center. A nature center located just a few feet from a parking lot which is located at a different entrance than the one the dog owners use.

Based on my experience of visiting nature centers while living in Illinois, nobody really uses the trails surrounding them. Typically mom and dad pull into the nature center parking lot, trudge the few feet up to the entrance of the center, walk in, look around at the stuffed animals tacked onto boards, look out the windows at the bird feeding station, trudge back to the car and call it a day spent in nature.

By comparison, dog owners come to use the trails. They love the out-of-doors and understand that their dogs have a huge need to spend time running free in the wild. No amount of walking a dog on a leash will accomplish what an off-leash experience can. I know my dog can only go a few days without running off-leash before starting to go stir crazy, needing to let off steam. I believe many of the problems people have with their dogs could be avoided by simply allowing them to have a good run every few days.

So why take the park away from the dogs entirely? Why take away the community created by dogs and their owners enjoying the park and each other? Isn't that part of the mission of create places outdoors to be in community with one another? I certainly understand the need for children to spend time outdoors too and welcome any opportunities to encourage that long forgotten pastime, it's just I don't think dogs should have to pay the price to make it happen.

How about allowing dogs in the early morning and evening when the nature center would be closed? A simple solution I think. Lets provide opportunities for all of us to get out and enjoy our local trails and not exclude some at the expense of another. Both children and dogs need time spent in the natural world, free and unfettered.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Capturing Nature Through Art...

All of the rain we have been receiving lately has made the view outside my window look more like something an Impressionist painter would capture rather than me with my camera. Just as the Impressionist Claude Monet used short, broken brushstrokes to barely convey forms, our locally heavy rain upon my window obscuring the landscape beyond, along with cloudy skies overhead, has achieved somewhat the same effect. The picture above was taken with my camera while the picture below shows an example of Impressionism.

While not a true Monet, the painting above was done by an artist influenced by Monet's painting called "Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies." Last year while visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I visited an exhibit containing Monet's work and was taken with the beauty and vibrancy of it. Reading about Monet, I discovered that he tried to capture the light, color and atmosphere of the natural world into the pure expression of paint on canvas. Monet perceived his art as the result of his relationship with nature saying, "All I did was to look at what the universe showed me and I let my brush bear witness to it."

What pulls at us humans to capture the natural world through photography, painting, singing, writing or in many other forms? Maybe it is our disconnection from it, a desire to be more in relationship with it...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rain and Wind Today...

I want to go outside and cry with the earth. Let my tears slide down my cheeks while nature's tears wash them away. Empty myself of all the sadness that wells up in me at times, reminding me of the hard places I have walked. Fill up the creek that runs through my yard, flowing away, letting go.

I want to go outside and feel the wind in my hair. Shout my painful stories into the air and know they have been heard as the trees dance and sway in reply. Repeat my tales over and over again as they are whisked up and away, no human hearing, yet nature knowing.

Rain and wind, cleansing me, clearing me. Healing me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Beyond the Fence...

Only this one time will I willingly litter. Cover the newly arrived plants of spring with shredded bits of myself, words describing the parts of me I'd like to release to the earth. Words written on a piece a paper soon to become compost, providing for the soil rather than robbing me of the energy to truly live. Slowly the wind and rain will work their magic and the molecules of me bound up in those words will give way, allowing me to open up to new directions, clearing the way for new possibilities. I wonder what will grow there on that ground along the back fence, the seeds of my words fueling it?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lack of Community = Excessive Video Game Use

Over the last two years, my son has experienced three different forms of community, resulting in three different ways he has related to video games during that time. While living in Illinois, he had a handful of friends between his homeschool community and neighborhood and during that time he played video games a few hours each day. A move to Connecticut where he struggled to make friends at all, resulted in a huge increase of his playing, so much in fact that he rarely wanted to do much of anything else. Finally, a move to Pennsylvania, where Ryan has many, many peers his age at his disposal at his homeschool resource center and church, finds him rarely playing video games at all.

Due to this experience, I feel that if teens are not getting an adequate amount of real community, they will turn to the fake community found in video games and other forms of social media. I know when living in Connecticut, I was happy my son could turn to video games and play online with his friends, providing him with a lifeline of sorts. But I always felt like his life was so out of balance. Plugged in yet not connecting face to face. One dimensional contact, lacking in the texture of life.

When teens are able to have adequate face to face contact with their peers, they have an aliveness about them. They branch out and experiment with all of life, investigate new passions and discover who they are. Something a screen can't give them.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Work of Trees...

Outside the sun is fading, days end, sunlight cast on just a few trees. Other trees already resting in the shadow of nightfall. All day these trees have been at work- CO2 in, oxygen out- giving life to the world. This example makes me wonder what I gave to the world today. Did my work give life to the world? Does preparing a meal for a new mother or playing a game with and talking to my son count? Is this life giving work? Should my life's work give to the world? If so, what should my life's work be? Maybe I should ask the trees...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Welcome Home!

My current home is not my home but soon I will be home. Almost a lifetime of waiting for this new place that I have no intention of leaving. A settling in soon coming, allowing me the time to figure myself out. Ever since I can remember, my home has been in transition. Moving from place to place, learning along the way. Piece by piece, picking up bits of knowledge to guide me. A collection of experiences.

My home today is filled with the treasures of my journeys. Past gardens dried and pushed into glass jars, seaglass collected along rocky shores, pinecones picked up in memory as tears of loss fell onto them, old treasures scavenged from flea markets as I wondered about their past lives. Books and birdhouses, Indian pottery and children's art adorn the walls. Cloaked in old wool blankets, I am reminded of where I have come from and where I am going. One foot in the past, the other in the future. Michigan to Virginia, Oregon to Massachusetts, Colorado to Georgia, Illinois to New York then Pennsylvania. World's apart each step. World's waiting each step...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Bat as Spiritual Guide, Animal Totem

I've been sleeping with bats since I moved into this house last October. Well actually, given the fact that bats are nocturnal and I am not, we really only rest together each night between the hours of 5:30am and when I wake in the morning. Taking into consideration that the bats also leave during the winter months to live somewhere warmer than under the the shutter outside my bedroom window, gives us even less time to be together.

But together we are, and only two feet separate my pillow from their roost where they hang upside down quietly during the day and cause a racket in the very early morning when they return from foraging all night. They outside and me inside the house. Apart yet together.

Living and sleeping near these bats is the closest I have ever come to being with any wild animal and because I feel that everything the universe offers up has relevance, I wanted to understand what wisdom or meaning bats were connected to and why suddenly I found myself in such close proximity to them. What I discovered immediately resonated with me. Doing a quick search on bats as animal totems, I found that because bats are highly sensitive to their surroundings, they are considered by Native Americans as a symbol for intuition, dreaming and vision. Some other words associated with bat animal symbolism are- illusion, rebirth, inner depth, communication, journeying, and initiation- all words associated with the focus of my life as of late.

Bats as totems encourage one to pursue spiritual growth by letting go of ego, doing inner work, renewing thoughts on a regular basis, and loving enemies as ourselves, all leading to the rewards of self-improvement. Because of bats ability to see where others can't, there is also a psychic component to this totem.

Since moving into this house last October, surrounding myself with the natural world outside my windows, and living just feet away from bats, I feel as though I have been on a spiritual journey of sorts, yet not able to pinpoint or understand it. Recognizing the bats as some kind of sign offering up direction on my journey allows me to see my path more clearly. To offer up a hint of understanding that quite possibly I am on the right path. Going forward, I just need to continue to lean into what the universe is bringing me and see where it takes me.

Helpful websites on the topic of bats and bat totems can be found here:

Maybe you have an animal guide or totem. What animas do you see in your midst? Do they speak to you? What could they bring to your life? Consider the possibilities...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Finding the Light in Your Life...

At times, clouds obscure the light. You know the sun is there, tucked behind those big puffy orbs, yet try all you might to see it, the light is elusive. Like the clouds, we have obstacles we must push aside in order to see the passions that light up our lives and make them worth living. Many things stand between us and our purpose, distracting us.

The needs and expectations of those we love must be met. Work obligations, household tasks, our self-imposed to-do list, all calling to us and veering us down a path that feels darker and less fulfilling.

We mutter under our breath as we go about our day, "If I didn't have to do such and such, then I would have time to follow my dreams." But what really stands in our way I wonder? Is it really those tasks and obligations, or are these simply excuses we use because we are afraid to set off on our course? To strike a different balance and all the uncertainty that comes with it. Life, even though it may be slightly unsatisfying now, at least offers up predictability. We know what tomorrow will bring for the most part.

Pushing away the clouds and setting off on a new direction, leaving behind our old ways of living, is challenging but holds the promise of reward, of finding our days brighter with renewed purpose. Staying focused on the light and working to clear time in our lives in order to discover our passions and pursue them is worth the effort, the fear, and whatever else stands in the way. It is a sunny day behind the clouds.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Moving my Nest again...

The bird song was absolutely beautiful this morning as I stepped outside. Singing the praises of this sun-filled spring day. Found an empty nest on the ground under a pine tree which must have been blown out of the branches with all the wind we had yesterday. Wondered about the nest and how the bird that had occupied it felt about being displaced. Having to start anew, despite lots of obvious hard work in getting a home established. I could certainly identify with the bird given all of the moves I have had lately. The starting and stopping, building and rebuilding.
And just like this bird, I will soon move my nest again, down the road a bit from here. This time though, my nest will be durable and able to withstand the test of time. I already have a good foundation going, built from strong connections coming together as I find community in my church and my son's homeschool resource center. Over the course of the summer I will add upon that foundation as I work on my physical nest, making it my own and then shifting all of my belongings into it.

I suppose all of life is nest building really. Adding to one's life stick by stick, grass length by grass length, a collection of experiences to form one's own life nest.

*I don't know what type of bird made the nest I found, shown in the pictures above. I did find a good resource on how to identify bird's nests below. Need to find a good nest ID book though. Not great info from what I could tell on the internet.

Good info on how to research birds nests by Backyard Nature.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Opening to my Life

I sat this morning with my coffee cup in hand, staring out toward the pond and woods behind my home. Listening to the bird calls and watching the wind sway the very tips of the trees. I felt the natural scene beyond my window pulling at me, causing me to stop and contemplate what I was beholding. I tried to focus the thoughts, make sense of them so that I could read their message. No luck. Still my thoughts swirled and still the jumbled haze of all that greenery outside my window pulled at me. Finally in frustration, I got up to retrieve a notebook in order to write the fragments of what was entering my mind, and as I did so, the pages of the notebook fell away to reveal the words "Opening to Our Lives". These words were the title of a podcast I had previously listened to and taken notes on by Jon Kabat-Zinn when he spoke on the Science of Mindfulness.

Here are a few of the notes from the podcast I had written in my notebook:

-Mindfulness- a way of being awake, not about thoughts or sitting in your head.

-The ability to think gets all of the focus in the world. We have never been trained to pay attention, be aware.

-When one begins to become intimate with attention and awareness, it balances out thinking and then imagination and creativity comes out of the stillness.

-Mindfulness equals heartfulness.

-Wakefulness means resting in a kind of awareness that is so stable it is not thrown off by the coming and going of events. No matter if things are going your way or not.

-Be aware by dropping into your body. Thoughts carry us away from the heart of the matter.

-Choose life, awareness, rather than rushing.

-Find out who we are and live authentically in service of the world.

Suddenly, as I read the notes above, I discovered the message the universe was trying to deliver to me. To stop. Slow down. Pay attention and be aware. I have been rushing about too much lately as one obligation in my life has led to another, forgetting to take the time to be mindful. Thankfully, the call to me from the trees was very loud and thankfully I had enough time in my schedule this morning to figure out what was being delivered to me. A reminder to be open to my life by being aware which will in turn allow me to live authentically and in service to the world. A lofty goal I know.