Category Archives: Nature

After The Storm

During the most recent ice storm, waffle sized snow pellets fell from trees and crashed onto my roof and skylights. I rushed from room to room to make certain that the jolting noise did not forecast an implosion of shattered glass and leaks inside. For two hours, the glass and seals held. I was grateful for dry floors and ceilings, the absence of drip and drip lines.

Afterwards, as I walked down the driveway to search for the Boston Globe, my smoke bush seemed off balance. One of the main branches had slit in two and crashed sideways into a pile of snow. Thankfully, plants regenerate. I was grateful to reflect upon how this corner shrub, exposed to the street, had been assaulted and felled by snow and rain yet regained its stature time and again.

Now on alert, I took note of three large severed branches off the tulip tree. A thick limb rested on the Daphne whose spring-fragrant branches were wrapped and secured to wooden poles. The shrub, a favorite, with a lifespan of five years, had survived double. Each year beyond the five had seemed miraculous. The felled branch means breakage near the root and likely a certain death knoll. For now, I am grateful the Daphne still stands.

Yes, there were many others— branches split in twos and threes, their jagged arrow shapes beseeching skyward. I am grateful for Jon, my go-to tree expert with eyes that scan and note the unusual— a cut, a misshapen turn in the crown, a thickening of branches, a sign that the tree is vulnerable to wind or ice. He comes by yearly to assess the tree line, recommend trimming or removal to keep us safe from trees uprooted or splitting off into a side or roof window.

Around the corner, up the hill, my neighbors were not so fortunate. The street, my access route for getting around the city, was roped off for days. Yesterday, at dusk, I did a double take as I drove to the top of the street and passed a four-foot wide ball root of a massive double oak tree lying in a driveway. I was grateful there had been no news of injury and more grateful for the many trees surrounding that remain rooted.

Here, in the Boston environs this past week, two massive Nor’easters moved up the coast pummeling high winds, massive tides, torrential rain and a mix of ice and snow. Houses were swept away. The sea raged for days, flooding roads, houses and trees, taking electric wires with them. On the 6:00 news, a street in a local suburb, without power for five days, finally had a visit from the electric company.

In contrast, my inconvenience is minimal. How can I not feel grateful to be among those who were sparred, to be able to cook my meals, sleep in a warm bed, to awaken safe in my home. Another Nor’easter is nearly upon us. I’m uneasy about high winds and the possibility of outages but grateful to be forewarned and as prepared as possible.




Nature Teaches

Amaryllis Nagano
January, 2018

Every December, as the winter Solstice nears and daylight recedes too early into darkness, I search my garden catalogue for the perfect balm: an amaryllis bulb. I pour over amaryllis flowers in bloom—vivid red, lush white, soft peach, striated cherry. Each one is regal on its tall stem. Each one beckons: choose me.

I began the ritual decades ago when my mother was alive, a widow in winter, struggling with children and grandchildren grown, a husband buried. The first time I brought Mom a potted bulb, she was intrigued. Mom listened intently as I explained the importance of bright light and careful watering to bring the plant to bloom. The table by the picture window where she sat to watch the birds at the feeder was perfect.

I recall the phone calls, the delight in her voice, as she described the two graceful green points peaking from the soil, their bulging growth, their transformation on stalks into eight perfect blooms. By mid-March, the blooms died off and long arching leaves rose from the base of the stems, lifting Mom through to the end of winter.

She and I never did take the step to sink the leafy pot into the spring soil, to let it thrive in the summer months and re-build its bulb. The extra chore, to return in the fall at the exact right time, to lift the bulb, repot, set it into a cool place to rest (but to make certain it did not dry out entirely), seemed too challenging.

Since Mom’s death in 1994, I have continued to choose a new amaryllis every December. Coming onto a full year of Trump, I shied away from the very bright reds. They seemed too celebratory, too brilliant for my heart. Drawn to the lime green, there was just the one, I was too close to the sadness of the season. Softness in color, some green, some white, mostly blush, seemed right. I ordered the Amaryllis Nagano.

As I write, the Nagano, now in full bloom, sits on a wide bookcase ledge facing a south picture window. Within days of arriving, I hand mixed moistened soil in a wide vat, packed it into the base of a pot, set the bulb and fanned the roots on top, layering the soil just below the neck of the bulb.

Perhaps, it was my anticipation, how much in this fitful, unpredictable political and environmental climate, I needed a sign that growth was possible. In six days, the green tips emerged. Thankfully, I have a little instrument that measures wet and dry and protects me from over watering and causing rot. Like Mom, I feel delight as each bloom opens and reveals its striated color and green throat. Like Mom, I am sad as each blossom fades and dies off.

Upon seeing the plant in bloom, a gardening friend asked if I were going to rebuild the bulb. I’m grateful for her question. It seemed apt as the women’s movement grows, the metaphor of embracing and taking on the more complex task of rebuilding and cultivating possibility for sustained growth.


Grateful for a Mitzvah

photo by Marv

Just recovering from a miserable cold, the day had not started well— 51 degrees inside, heating oil tank empty. Hours later, thanks to the tech providing 10 gallons of fuel, I left home at near sunset to shop for groceries. Ninety minutes later, while placing my bags in the cargo trunk, a man’s voice called out, “Did you know your tire is flat?”

I engage with a lean, dark haired young man pointing to my rear tire. It seemed unbelievable that the day would end like this—a flat tire, out in the cold.

“Do you have someone you can call to fix it?” he asks.

“Yes. I can call Triple A.”

The man’s wife, from the shadows, comments, “You’ll have to wait at least 45 minutes or longer.”

“I can fix it, if you would like,” the man continues.

“He likes to help,” she explains.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Mary and John,” she answers.

“What’s your name?” John asks.


“Faye’s a beautiful name,” he says.

I step up closer, wanting to believe, but needing to check this stranger’s offering. “”Where’s your tire?” he says with a smile. His sincerity is undeniable.

“You’re sure? You really want to do this,” I ask as I push the bags of groceries toward the back. John lifts a panel to lift the tire.

“Oh, good,” I say, “It’s full sized and not a doughnut. Have you fixed many flats?”

“It’s been awhile. I think I can do it. Where’s the jack? Do you have a tool kit?”

I need to think fast, much too fast given how long it’s been since I’ve rummaged in the hidden cargo pockets. I hit gold and retrieve a bulky cloth packet.

John is quick, finds the jack, unties the packet’s ribbon and grabs the lug wrench. After raising the car, he fastens onto a bolt. It does not budge.

“You’re in good hands, not to worry,” Mary says. “I have a quick return,  and will be right back.”

“It’s cold,” John says. “Maybe you should go into the store. I can come get you. Or if you’d like, you can sit in my car.”

I’m in the moment, dressed for winter, needing to stay engaged and present. John doubles down. The wrench gives way. Within seconds, he twists all the lug nuts except the last. “Where’s your lug key? Mine’s in my front compartment.”

“Key?  I am clueless.

“It’s round. One lug is locked, for prevention. Otherwise, anyone can lift your tires with a common wrench.”

I search my glove compartment. No luck.

Undaunted, John returns to the packet and locates the lock key.Within minutes, he replaces the tire, stows the tool kit and damaged tire.

Mary, just back, says, “I knew he could help. He loves to pay it forward.”

“Yes,” John continues, ”I love to help. But most people say no. I’m so grateful you let me step up.”

His words touch me deeply. “In my faith, we call it a Mitzvah,” I say.

“What does Mitzvah mean?” John asks.

“A way of giving, of helping another in need.”

Mary says, “We are joining our friends soon. We’ll tell them John did a Mitzvah.” I assume their friends are Jewish; I’m grateful to deepen their connection. We hug.

John grins, comes towards me, arms open for an embrace. “I love you, Faye. Thank you for letting me help.”

I step into the arms of this generous man and without hesitation say, “ I love you, John.”

To say that John and Mary came into my life at just the right time is an understatement. Mary commented that because she had to return only an item, she had wanted to park close to the door, but John decided, in the moment, to pull in right beside me. Was the fact that I was an elder, on my own, tending to groceries, a fact that drew him to me? Mary had informed me his Mom had died when he was a teen. Their kids in college, I imagined they were close to my kid’s age. Whatever instinct drew him to me on that cold night, I was grateful.








On Boundaries & Me Too

Sally Brecher’s Olin Birches

A friend recently mused how she was unable to feel gratitude these past two weeks, especially in the face of the Harvey Weinstein story and the implosion of the “Me Too” response. Her comment gave me pause.

How was it, in spite of all the awfulness, I am able to come up for air, take deep breaths, seek and find moments of gratitude. It’s about belief. I believe in balance. I believe nature provides balance and in as much as human beings are part of the natural order, the striving for balance is dormant within us.

The challenge, as I try to describe through this blog, is in the seeking and recognition of meaning. For each of us, it is different. To my friend, a talented artist whose soft edged images of slices of white bark trunks invoke the impulse to touch, I am grateful. Her talent in seeing and transmitting what she sees invokes my connection to nature.

Is this not how as human beings, we are wired? Has not the Me Too outpouring of the experience of hurtful boundary violations given rise to the opportunity for hidden voices to be seen and heard?

In The Boston Globe, October 21st column, “Me Too? It Was Started By Her,”Christela Guerra interviews Tarana Burke, who “originated the idea a decade ago through her work, particularly with young women of color.” I was grateful to read about Burke’s original intentions.

In many regards Me Too is about survivors talking to survivors. It was never really about amplifying the number of people who are survivors of sexual violence. It was about survivors sharing empathy with each other. But when I talk to young people, I use pop culture to promote the idea of Me Too all the time. We have to have something that reaches the masses.

Empathy is key. As a therapist, I specialized in treating women who had been sexually abused as children. Many came to therapy because of symptoms, the source of which they had dismissed or forgotten. Me Too is a call to women to speak out on serious boundary violations, which require the empathy of others to bear witness for healing.

As a woman of 85, I have experienced sexualized verbal and physical assaults. My first incident, at five years old, I was chased around my dining room in the presence of close family who laughed as my father’s friend grabbed inside my dress and placed his hands far down my back to grab the “bugs” inside. I screamed; everyone laughed. Boundary violation, Yes. “Boys will be boys,” the unempathic and uninformed explanation.

“Me Too,” is about candor, a space where people can say, in their own words, what has caused them fear and hurt, bewilderment, shame and grief. What of the difference between harassment and assault? Burke, to her credit, does not discriminate. She states,

If your Me Too was about sexual harassment versus sexual assault but it’s traumatizing to you, then it’s important for you to be heard and seen.

 The memory of strange and icy hands on my back has never left me. It likely planted seeds of gratitude for empathy and the humanness in a response that says you are not alone.







Faye in Reflection

Given the preponderance of awfulness—awful violence, awful weather, awful words, awful politics— over the past two weeks, I turn to a consideration of simple, effective gratitude strategies that can be helpful in shifting our attention away from the negatives that swirl around us.

  • Intentionality is the key
  • Decide on a practice
  • Make gratitude a habit
  • Select a strategy

In this post, I will review 4 four key research-based principles for turning gratitude into a lasting habit recommended by The Greater Good in Action Website

  • COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS. Select a dedicated notebook. At the end of the day, write in detail about three things, large or small, that went well. Spend time with the details of the why and how each event left you with a sense of appreciation, happiness, or well-being.

Over this past weekend, my 13 year- old granddaughter, Zoe, accompanied my son, Craig, for a visit. One night, she prepared caramelized onions and asked, if I had a pair of protective eye goggles she could wear while cutting onions. “Will swimming goggles work,” I asked, pulling a wide framed pair from my catch-all drawer. Goggles in place, she cut and prepared the Vidalia onions like a pro. I experienced such pleasure in watching how carefully she positioned the cutting knife and how patiently she stirred until she perfected the texture.

  • MENTAL SUBTRACTION. This is a “what if” exercise that results in expanding the sense of positivity of a positive event. Consider a positive event such as a job opportunity, the meeting of a friend, an educational achievement. Reflect on what your life would be like without them.

Where would I be without this blog? Without the blog, I would not have the ongoing inspiration or motivation to continue to expand my dedicated gratitude practice and to step up on a regular basis to impart what I am experiencing and learning. The effect is a sense of aliveness in the challenge of daily living in these unprecedented times.

  • I’ve written at length about my practice of soul tracking where I suggest choosing a place in nature and paying attention to what attracts you— sights, sounds, smells— and pausing to reflect and savor. Researchers have coined this process The Savoring Walk—noting a 20-minute walk by yourself once a week, ideally a different route each time, has lasting effects one week later.

I am grateful for my winding garden path and tiny frog pond. Every day brings new possibility as unexpected lily blossoms open in October and tall zinnias continue to bloom. A ten-minute very slow walk can shift my mood and leave me content and happy for hours after.

  • SAY THANK YOU. All forms of acknowledgement of appreciation to others can make a difference to both the giver and the receiver. Research indicates that the effect of writing and delivering a gratitude letter has the greatest positive impact on happiness one month later.

 Dear Readers, Thanks to each and every one of you for reading this post and bringing the possible practice of gratitude into your life. I hope you will choose one strategy to try with the hope that you will find a measure and contentment as you embrace a practice. As always, please share your experiences in a comment.



As I age, gratitude is more present and possible. When I turned eighty, I was nervous about the future, how to live my life fully as an Octogenarian. I met the challenge of that birthday by committing to a daily gratitude diary. It compelled me to practice, to call to mind and appreciate the what, wherefore and how of a gratitude practice.

I’m not one for gratitude lists. A list, in its very form, is brief, shorthand. I needed to widen the context, to assess and ponder the meaning of my choices. The diary, all those lines on the page, cried out for descriptive language, mined from the senses, the story of my encounters. At the end of a year, I had amassed 8 notebooks of gratitude writing. Some notations took the form of short essays. Some explored definitions, where I searched for truth of a word, of language chosen. I followed what fascinated me, the usual and unusual, reflections in the moment, from memory.

At the end of a year, trusting my ability to “show up,” I turned the daily practice into a weekly blog— a commitment to friends and potential readers to write and share 500 words about the experience of gratitude.

Now, in this era of Trump, I write bi-weekly—sadly, a necessity so as to distill all the political and emotional input and pull out a meaningful kernel or two to explore and amplify. I am grateful to subscribers and followers on Facebook.

As I write, I keep my readers in mind. I feel supported, less alone. It’s curious how, as I age, I am far more able to discern, take notice and note grateful encounters. By putting pen to paper, I am challenged to shape the story of each encounter.

Earlier, this past week, a childhood friend who suffered a mild stroke remarked on her experience in rehabilitation. As she began to learn to use a walker to regain strength and balance, she assessed her good fortune at being on her feet and moving on her own. She was not wheelchair bound nor was she bedridden. She was able to read, talk, recall, laugh and complain.

I have learned that gratitude accrues as one ages. It’s inherent in the landscape of the odds as Carl Reiner, age 95, explains in HBO’s documentary If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast . “ I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section and see if I’m listed,” he jokes in the film,

I am privileged to have many younger writer friends, the result of having graduated from Pine Manor’s Solstice MFA program in my mid-seventies. During the course of two years, I worked with three different mentors on creating and crafting long personal essays, mostly memoir of family and my professional work. Ageism was nowhere in sight. I was an aspiring writer among other aspiring writers. This past weekend, I attended my 12th Solstice residency as an auditor in several classes where I was again a student—learning and refreshing my dedication to the craft of writing. I am ever grateful for the generosity of a program that invites return and renewal.


First Lilies

Near sunset, the Solstice sun blazes late in the day. Facing west, I am grateful to sit on my marble bench, a fireplace hearth from my former home secured on two cement blocks overlooking the garden pond. From this vantage point, three tall Japanese red-throated lilies rise above the budding green shoots of the lily bed. They are parade masters setting the pace for the vibrant blossoms ahead.

Over the last two decades, my soul tracking practice has demonstrated how gratitude comes with ease during the season of summer growth. Science is now proving the connection between nature and our well-being. Yesterday, John Douillard, a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, posted an article on The Life Changing Benefits of Forest Bathing. He cites 4 scientific articles, which attest to how our conscious immersion in nature can make a positive difference in our mood, state of mind and relationships to others. He writes,

The Science is Convincing

Four studies were done measuring the psychological effects of nature immersion. They found that those who regularly “bathed” in nature were more pro-social, focused on supporting others, and those who did not spend time in nature were more self-focused and self-centered. The group that spent more time in nature were also found to be more generous in their decision-making. These studies suggest that nature immersion supports a more community-focused, giving mindset.

In another study, after just a 4-day nature immersion and a disconnection from any type of technology, creativity and problem-solving skills were enhanced by a whopping 50%.

In other studies that were part of the Attention Restoration Theory (ART), nature immersion was shown to boost executive processing and cognitive functions such as selective attention, problem-solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking.

The effects of forest bathing were measured by comparing the inflammatory markers of 2 groups of ten healthy adults. One group was immersed in a city and the other group immersed in nature – both for four days. The nature-immersed group saw reduced oxidative stress, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and less inflammatory markers along with greater signs of energy and vigor compared to the city-immersed group.

Day lilies provide excellent practice in mindful immersion. After coffee, I arrive at the lily bed early when the petals first open to feed on light. I steady my gaze and relax my breath as I focus with deliberate intention on the shape, color, smell, and overall aesthetic of the blossom before me.

A peach and striped lemon lily appetizer, a prelude to the main course, appeared two days ago. I photographed it, to savor deep in winter when the season of white pervades. Douillard reports that in another study, many of these nature immersion benefits were mimicked by exposing a group to a virtual reality nature experience. This suggests that if you cannot regularly expose yourself to nature, having pictures and murals of nature in your living environment may deliver some of the nature immersion benefits. I have found that pictures from nature, especially those evoking contentment, can buoy the spirit.

If I were a flower, I would be a day lily. Swelling until I burst, petals splayed with color— yellow edged, pink center, black stamen—I raise my face to the sun, quenching my thirst for light through the long day until the chill of dusk causes me to shrivel and wane.