Tag Archives: nature is nurture

NATURE PACKS A PUNCH

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.

 

Plants: My Trump Winter Balm

Gaillardia & Gerbera
on the Windowsill

Two weeks ago in the Northeast, in the midst of the Russian /Flynn /election connection and the endless Trump twitter maelstrom, spring temperatures warmed the ground. Clumps of daffodils began their stretch to maturity. Lily leaves peeped out. Buds appeared on shrubs. I embraced the warm air.

Spring in February, a seductive distraction, seemed too soon. Within days, a  snowstorm blanketed every bud and plant with soft snow, a coating that is protective. After the spring thaw, some leaves will look fragile and need to be cut. Thankfully, the blossoms will emerge intact and open.

The seduction of spring stuck. Just as the plants began to stretch upward in the warming earth, I culled my garden catalogs and began to fantasize about rich colors and new plantings for my garden.

There is nothing more appealing to a winter-shut-in-gardener then the  sight of red, yellow, peach and pink primrose plants at the entry to the super market. My first choice was a red plant, my second choice, yellow. Primroses are easy plants. They like “wet feet,” meaning that every few days they require watering from the base up. It’s easy. I simply pop the plant into a bowl of water and let the plant infuse what it needs. I then place it in the sink to drain out the excess moisture.

The next week, I was tempted but hesitant to buy a bright orange gerbera. My prior efforts at growing gerbera in summer have resulted in wilt. But this was a winter experiment. I had the intuition to water my orange beauty the same way I watered the primrose. Gratefully, the plant has thrived and produced multiple blooms.  My hope is to set it in the garden along with the yellow and red gaillardia with its effervescent blossoms.

My gaillardia and gerbera plants on the sunny windowsill draw me into a practice of mindfulness. Every day I check each leaf, each bud for wilt, aphids, any sign of distress. When a blossom fades, I cut it off to engender more nourishment to new buds. A drooping blossom signals the need for water. Rotation helps the plant stay tall, otherwise it bends too far  into the sun. It’s about reading the signs.

As a child, I enjoyed  the freedom to indulge in flights of imagination and play in the backyard. Often, my dad joined me as he trimmed shrubs or cut the lawn. During World War II, I watched as he chose a half moon shaped tool to cut the edges of a bed and turn the soil for planting tomatoes, green beans and peppers. Every summer day, he tended his garden. It was part of the war effort. My father was a careful man; he understood the signs. At the right moment, he invited me to pick a lush tomato to bring to the table for supper.

I am thankful for the lessons of my father: gardens and plants engender beauty, food and connection to the earth; nature is nurture. Especially during this extended Trump winter, I am thankful.

 

Seeing Red: Lesson from the Birds

Apple Blossom Tree Berries, December, 2016

December 12: Boston Globe headlines: CIA finds Russia Worked to Aid Trump: secret report sees ties to hacked DNC e-mails given to Wiki-Leaks.

Upon lifting the shade, I notice three red plump robins leaping about on the branches of the evergreens outside my bedroom window. The fact of their plumpness in early December, the question of what they might be foraging to feed such ampleness, gives me pause. The morning is chill-bone cold, the result of the Polar Express winds roaring through. The garden, the pond, the soil are frozen.

Within minutes, I notice more birds— blue jays in fast flight, their striated wings propelling them across the line of evergreens and back towards the front garden, out of my vision. Soon, there are more: grey and black chickadees, a small flock of black birds, all hurried, appearing excited, fleeting towards and away from the evergreens.

It is the lone red cardinal, on the ground, in flight across the evergreens to my neighbors yard and back again to the front garden, that propels me to a front window. He joins the fat robins, lights on a limb of the apple blossom tree loaded with small, fleshy red berries thawing in the low sun.

I am grateful to delay reading the stories behind the headlines, to resist flocking to the maelstrom surrounding the Putin/Trump bond, Trump’s cabinet choices.

I am grateful to focus on the wisdom of birds, their attraction to acts of nature for their nurture. According to Mother Nature Network, birds are attracted to fruit bearing trees and pick fruits that persist on the tree; the smaller the fruit, the easier it is for the bird to eat.

I dress, grab a coat and my I-phone. I am compelled to see the red berries, the branches, close-up. I face the sun, click on a hazy image, walk more slowly, the sun at my back, to take three more shots. The last, close in, is the best. I want to show the red wet, spongy flesh, like the cranberries I simmered in a wine sauce for Thanksgiving dinner.

In due time, I return to the headlines and delve into the stories. All day long, I flitter in and out of the news, attracted to the possibility of Russian involvement, its meaning in terms of the election, the electoral college, the authenticity of the results. I have lived through red scares—McCarthyism, the Cuban missile crisis, the Cold War and now, the Cyber-insurgence, the war of undo influence.

This morning, the birds have flown, the evergreens are quiet; the grey squirrels are back. I am grateful for the lessons learned: to pay attention to the unusual, to take the time to pause, to notice, to dig for meaning. Sometimes, there is delight in red.