OBSERVE: A Few Ways to Experience Nature

Has the weather started to feel glorious yet where you live?  The season of growth, green plants, chipper fauna and warm air has finally settled in southeast Michigan.  Our dog often races outside in the morning to playfully chase a rabbit into the woods.  My daughters don sun hats on walks (as long as I can convince them to keep the hats on) and we seek early morning rather than late afternoon walks to enjoy comfortable outdoor temps.

Last week I hinted at the themes for the posts I’ll be sharing this week and the two to come.  I want to help you enjoy the outdoors, nature, and even (dare I say it?) social distancing more.  Call it mindfulness, meditation, relaxation exercises or scientific observation.  It will lower your blood pressure, hopefully help you feel a little better about this moment and notice something new about your life and environment in this moment.  To unlock some of the wonder, we’ll start with the most basic approach: observe.  

Look Around

On a hike, as you sit on a park bench, or look out a window. Learn the names of birds, bugs and/or plants (feeling lost, you’ll be amazed what google finds you with simple keys of your region, the color and shape of whatever you’re looking at). Keep a record of what you see, how many, how frequently, what time of day and where you see them.  You might find you really like to watch the sun reflect off a nearby river at a certain time of day, or that mist is worth getting up a little earlier to see float over your town in the morning.  Just a take a look around.

Close your Eyes and Listen 

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What do you hear? Are the sounds close or distant? How do the sounds feel in your body and especially your nervous system (e.g. soothing, jarring, familiar, unrecognizable)?  Are there few or many sounds? Are they of a mechanical, human, animal, or weather-related nature?  

Use your Nose

Smell the air outside. Bend down and smell some flowers. Do you like their aroma? Are the scents familiar? Try smelling different trees: leaves and trunk. Do you notice their differences? Smell the air when it’s dry outside, smell it shortly before a rainstorm and smell the air after a rainstorm.  What smells different after rain?

This is far from comprehensive, but a start to what I do with my girls outside.  Spoiler Alert: we never get bored.  We do have a lot of fun.  We’re learning a lot too. A couple of weeks ago we met our first rose breasted grosbeak.  I didn’t remember its name the next time we encountered one, but my 2 ½  year old quickly set me straight.  Maybe you’ll learn something from an unexpected source next time you are observing too.

SPENDING TIME OUTSIDE

Are you feeling weighed down lately, bored, or even a bit stir crazy (or actually crazy)? Is quarantine still happening where you live and maybe your kids are home with you?  My husband and I both work from home and have two little ones ever-present, so I feel you.  Here’s the thing: we’ve both been working from home for close to three years now, so we’ve had some time to work on and work out the kinks.  A HUGE element of keeping our sanity: 

SPEND TIME OUTSIDE.

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There is tons of research that backs up the benefits of getting outside.  The bottom line: outside time is beneficial. Getting out around more trees = even more calm for your mood and brain.  Getting outdoors and exercising has some additional benefits (especially for your heart, muscles and bones).  But just getting some fresh air improves cognitive performance: i.e. helps your sanity and job performance.  It is also something to do that is not screen time.

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I read and hear about a lot of parents concerned about or even feeling guilty their kids are getting tons of screen time…what else are they going to do?  Let’s just pretend it’s 1820 or 1920 and we’re in quarantine… pre: Netflix and Youtube, Smartphones and Tablets, even PC’s and TV’s.  What did kids do back then? There was plenty more time spent exploring one’s imagination and the incredible planet we live on. 

While reading Richard Powers’  The Overstory this spring, I found the characters Adam Appich and Patricia Westerford particularly intriguing.  They were full of questions and deeply observant of the natural world.  They studied trees and insects with more depth as children than I have, now well into adulthood.  I found them inspiring.  There’s no time like the present to get better acquainted with nature, so with my toddler and infant in tow, outside we go to observe, explore and create.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing ideas for getting better acquainted with the outdoors.  Maybe you’ll try some or even brainstorm more ideas.  Please feel free to drop any further suggestions in the comment section.

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Happy Getting Outside!