Sunday, February 21, 2021

Winter: Nature Journaling Week #20

Yikes. 3 weeks have gone by since I last journaled. Last time, I examined the differences one can see in 24 hours. Now, I can also see what a difference of 3 weeks does in winter.


On January 30, we had 9:53:37 of sunlight. Today, on February 21, we have 10:51:22. That’s almost another whole hour!! And it shows. Birds are starting to sing like it’s spring. It’s still light out as we set the table for dinner. And while there’s still a solid blanket of snow out there, it feels different.

I never journaled about my feelings on winter as I had about fall, so I decided today was the day- before I slip again and find myself in yet another season. I’ve been hiking quite regularly- I just haven’t recorded anything. So today, I have the opportunity to reflect. My entry is light on art and heavy on words.

A Promise.

Yesterday truly felt like a promise. Everything felt like it was alive. Sure, the rocks by the spring-fed stream were cold and in many cases snow-covered. But there were brilliant green watercress floating at the surface. There were robins mobbing us with their chipper calls. There were tracks EVERYWHERE- big and small, reminding us that although we might not see them, there were many life forms around us. 

My face became sun and wind-kissed. That fiery ball warms both organic and inorganic things, stirring us all to move.

Just BE.

I found myself stopping regularly along the trail. Stopping. I noted that in my journal because I find that to be more and more important the older I get. Regardless of the season, we do so much better by stopping. Looking. Listening. Feeling. Smelling. All the senses need an opportunity to feed us their vital information!

Textures, sounds, colors, and movement sink into our awareness the longer we stay open to it. It wasn’t until an hour into the walk that either of us noticed the half-moon high in that brilliant blue sky. We didn’t realize there was a huge squirrel nest in a nearby oak tree until we’d stopped to admire another mass of robins.


Experiencing that trail yesterday was all the richer for the company of a friend. Whether in conversation or quiet, we can connect with “the other”- and that’s vital to our own living. We can start to realize “the other” isn’t so “other”. In mutual participation, we can capitalize on the combination of senses, thoughts, knowledge, and ideas. Sharing experiences binds both the place more closely to each of us and us to each other. Again, I was reminded yesterday that we are truly stronger and richer together amongst both our species and our environments.

My goal is to not let another 3 weeks slip by without journaling. I also wish you all time and opportunities taken to connect with our natural world and one another.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Difference 24 Hours Makes: Nature Journaling Week #19


Everything can change in 24 hours.

In recent days and months, we’ve been repeatedly reminded of that. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not, but change is constant. Today, I wanted to define the differences in weather we’ve experienced locally. 

I’ve done a Venn diagram once before. They are helpful tools to outline the unique characteristics of two things and those that they share in common. Weather can be fairly easy to define. But sitting with the concept, one is nudged to recall that everything is dealing with that weather. How does each living thing do it? How does each type of life react to changing conditions?

I didn’t pose any questions, but I should have. Do animals feel up when they have more serotonin in their systems? How much does sunlight affect them- do they have moods? What do they experience as they wait through a storm?

I confess that I didn’t climb a local hill the other night to observe the Wolf Moon because I was afraid I would disturb some animals that may have hunkered down somewhere to make it through the single-digit dark hours. I stuck to the sidewalks. We can each share the world and give each other some space without losing anything vital.

Sun, sky, snow, & green

I took time to describe what I felt each day. I question what all those creatures feel today versus yesterday. The storm nears the longer I sit here, but I’m safe and warm while those animals and woody plants adjust as they can to the wild fluctuations.

24 hours can change a lot. Perhaps I can use this as a gentle reminder that we humans should be willing and able to adapt as time goes by. We sometimes get used to getting our own way. Perhaps it would be good for us to practice being more in sync with our surroundings and being more accepting of what is and what lives around us.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Vital Basics: Nature Journaling Week #18

Another back-to-back weekly journaling! I’m feeling more together and motivated to open that book. I’m still working inside but hopefully will do an outdoor session soon.

Last week, Juncos and the other creatures at the bird feeder inspired me to think about interactions and connections. One of the things all the living things outside are dealing with right now is snow. It’s a cold habitat out there, but not just cold. There’s water out there. Snow is water in its solid form. But I also have a heated birdbath, so there’s liquid water, too. Icicles have hung on my house eaves. That was natural water that moved from snow to liquid water and back to a solid. A much more substantial solid, but still composed of the same molecules.

I decided to spend some time with water. It’s a unique molecule with both positive and negative regions that allow it to do all the things it does. Ice floats because it has less mass than liquid water, for example. Salts can dissolve in water because the pieces are drawn to the charges of water molecules. Every living thing requires water in some amount and form. As I flip back through my journal, I must understand that.

The creatures here right now, especially mice and voles, can use solid water as a home. A layer of snow insulates the ground from major temperature fluctuations that occur in the air. We’re basically blind to this subnivean zone life unless we catch some tracks as they occasionally come to the surface to raid dropped birdseed.

Water is so important and so complex, many journal entries could be made. I like the water cycle and added it. It’s another reminder of how life changes constantly and how everything is connected. We depend on that change and those connections. If water only fell and didn’t rise as vapor, the skies would eventually become dry. If water didn’t flow underground, we would eventually become submerged. If we lose the ice at our poles, we may lose the thermoclines that power winds that direct our climates. If our water reserves become polluted, the mechanics might still work, but will we be able to drink it? Consuming water is necessary for all life.

Simple things are important. Writing about water reminds me of that. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Winter Guests: Nature Journaling Week #17

 I ended my last essay at the end of 2020 for a call for unity. Then the US Capitol was invaded on January 6. I also went through a mental crisis personally and am on the path to recovery. I think this week's journaling ties in with all that. We all need others. We all need community. 

It’s been over 2 weeks since I journaled last, and I spent time looking at my book this morning. Wow! It really felt good. Things I wrote stood out to me like messages from the seasons to current me and they made me smile. Good memories returned to my present mind and that filled with me good feelings. And I was reminded of things I still want to do, as well. 

Anticipation is an amazingly healing feeling. 

It’s cold and snowy out, and we can also anticipate spring in a few months. Until then, we have a different world out there inhabited by creatures adapted to winter. Dark-eyed Juncos are one such species that live here only during the cold months and I decided to focus on them today.

These birds hang out at feeders and landscaping shrubs so are easy to observe. And, they give off a happy vibe, at least to me. They hop and flit about. They scour the ground for seed and scatter into our arborvitae as the snow lightly falls.

As I’m sitting here, a Cardinal couple joins in the feeder activity. Cardinals are bigger than Juncos, but both have the chisel beaks best suited for cracking seeds. Now, a downy woodpecker is at my feeder, chiseling nuts and mealworms off the block. Its work will help the Juncos score some more food as crumbs fall to the ground.

I read that Juncos hang out with other sparrow species. I saw that as well today as a number of birds hopped on the ground and used the birdbath. Watching this morning, I saw a busy community.

There’s a dance going on out there. I’m reminded again that Life is a dance. Trillions of lives across millions of species all interact at some level- together. Life’s always changing and that should encourage us instead of frightening us.

There can be anticipation. There can be hope. If we’re open to that truth of community. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

2021 Nature Resolutions: Nature Journaling #16

A DORK (Delightful Overthinker of Random Knowledge) friend asked today if any of us had read anything by Barry Holstun Lopez. We had not. Another DORK shared a link to the NPR remembrance they did of him this week, as he passed on Christmas Day after a long battle with cancer. That brief piece inspired me to complete the nature journaling I wanted to do this week.

2020 is almost gone and we typically look back and ahead to what we hope for and aspire to in the coming new year. I have much to say on those in but wanted to pull my nature-based thoughts out separately and place them down in my journal and in this blog.

Mr. Lopez wrote extensively and focused on slowing down to notice what is really there. I’ve been doing that with my journaling, but I hope 2021 finds me doing it more consistently and for longer periods of time. Truly seeing. Truly noticing. Truly documenting.

Barry Lopez was intimately aware of both personal and global despair and devastation. Can I demonstrate grace in 2021? Can I not give up? Mr. Lopez spent 30 years on his last book and was inspired by the beaver in his local waterways to keep going back to the tasks at hand. Can I try to help build some things in 2021 that will make others and myself feel safe, loved, and capable as Mr. Lopez hoped to do in his life?

I hope 2021 is a year of light for people. I think it could be a year like an acorn cracking from its shell and sending out that first tiny but vital taproot and leaves to face the elements. Nothing guaranteed. But the potential for some amazing living down the next couple of centuries.

Personally, I hope to savor many sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and textures in wild spaces. I want to spend some time under the stars and in a waterfall. I hope my circle challenges and grows with me. I want to read at least 5 nature-themed books from 5 different authors, including Mr. Lopez.

These are all wishes, not demands. If we can only have one thing, let it be a sense of unity. We can each inspire one another if we understand we’re together. Let’s do this.

Monday, December 14, 2020

A Bigger Life: Nature Journaling Week #15

In last week’s essay I focused on my questions about who or what is the reason for this world we inhabit. Some claim it’s all been created for humans with us at some apex of existence. I argued that we’re just a single result of a number of key pieces coming together, none of which would be possible without the sun.

I wrote:

Tiny details add up.

Tiny things allow big things to happen.

I touched upon some different species, including trees, birds, and fungi all being connected back to the sun. Then this week, two things popped up for me that reminded me of or taught me anew on the big concepts I’m struggling with here. 

The first block of information I received this week was a New York Times magazine piece by Ferris Jabr entitled The Social Life of Forests that a friend shared with me. I had read and enjoyed Peter Wohlleben’s NYT bestseller The Hidden Life of Trees and written about it in my main blog in October of 2019 in a piece called Humility From Trees. Reading that essay again is a shocking reminder of what I’ve been wrestling with for so long and how it’s supported by all these other minds. Back then, I didn’t even know Wohlleben’s work was a product of Dr. Suzanne Simard’s pioneering explorations. My loss.

Scientific exploration has revealed that trees and fungi form partnerships known as mycorrhizas. There is actual communication and positive interactions between multiple species within forests. From the NYT article:

“By analyzing the DNA in root tips and tracing the movement of molecules through underground conduits, Simard has discovered that fungal threads link nearly every tree in a forest — even trees of different species. Carbon, water, nutrients, alarm signals and hormones can pass from tree to tree through these subterranean circuits.”

Further research is showing other species in other habitats are doing these things as well. 

Jabr’s article does caution that we can’t call all interactions between species and individuals as perfectly commensal in nature. Dr. Toby Kiers, a professor of evolutionary biology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, says reality might be closer to “reciprocal exploitation”. A tension is maintained- together- by the collection of lifeforms, described by Jabr well thusly:

“Such reciprocity does not necessitate universal harmony, but it does undermine the dogma of individualism and temper the view of competition as the primary engine of evolution.”

That friction-filled connection between seemingly separate things is further explored in my second block of information from this week, the November 25 On Being Podcast of Augustin Fuentes: This Species Moment. Fuentes brings up the concept of “holobionts”, a term that was coined in the 1990s by Dr. Lynn Margulis, which describes how every one of us is an ecosystem of a number of species that live together for long periods of time and rely on one another to exist. Fuentes repeats the story of how a human body contains so much non-human DNA that if the human portion could be sucked out, there’d still be enough stuff left to see the human shape we know. 

Without that “other”, we cannot function as we do. Our bodies are intimately reliant upon other species to survive. For example, we’ve discovered our gut biome either helps or hinders our overall health and some are calling the gut a “second brain”. Fuentes points out another “other” we need: other people. Fuentes brings up this concept of a “social ecosystem”. I love this quote on what we’ve discovered about how important our connections to other people are for us:

“So that means that over evolutionary time, the bodies, the structures of being human have adapted to and integrated themselves into the system where the social is everything. The psychologist Michael Tomasello says this great phrase: “a fish is born expecting water; a human is born expecting culture.””

This really made me stop to think. We expect culture? We need social interactions? I can grasp the notion because I can quickly list people I depend upon and those I help. Those relationships are extremely important to me and I think of and do things for these people constantly. 


Are we living in a healthy forest...

I look at where we are today as a country here in the US and see that “social ecosystem” in damaged and fractured forms. From a distance, I can see insulated towers of people, supporting folks they consider “acceptable”, but not an overall healthy network or web that can take hits and weather storms. If we could be a huge, dynamic, and diverse forest ecosystem of 328 million organisms, right now we’re shriveled islands sitting in a horrible desert of distrust.

...or a choking tangle

I am comforted with the knowledge that ecosystems can bounce back when given the opportunity. With purpose and effort, what is still alive can flourish anew. Perhaps even in spectacularly new ways.

So, I’m looking at all this stuff and remembering my now years-long obsession with the phrase “we’re stronger together” and going, “Hmm, isn’t this interesting?” Physical connections. Social connections. Life is clearly not a simple case of “survival of the fittest”.

That belief and operating with that as a guiding principle has caused a lot of pain over the years. 

A lot more pain and suffering than believing and living with the idea that there are multitudinous connections and ways we relate to both each other and the entire planet.

That’s why I’ve journaled today on the holobiont and connection.

We really *are* stronger together. Our planet appears to be a working testament to that.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

It's All About The Sun: Nature Journaling #14

I dispute the idea that Earth revolves around human beings.

None of us- none of THIS (waving arms around wildly)- would exist without that fireball star in our sky. Our world revolves around the sun. That’s why I decided to devote a page of my nature journal to it.

I missed another week of journaling last week. In my defense, I did draw and create. I had a great time creating a holiday card for some folks in the one BTS fan group I belong to. The process helped me think about others around the world and how we’re linked. Another great example of that idea I fall back on: we’re stronger together.

My journaling page covers some facts about sunlight and why it’s THE link to everything living today. My Nature Dork group went for a great hike yesterday and we appreciated some amazing trees that have spent decades building chlorophyll, sugars, and starches. In winter’s reduced light and temperatures, most of them are basically sleeping right now. But, come June when we’ll have about 6 more hours of daylight every day, they will be churning out the products of photosynthesis with gusto.

I love the reality that in places north and south of the equator, our daylight varies over the year. We get our 4 seasons because this planet not only revolves around the sun, we tilt away and toward it. Those details have allowed for a range of habitats and inhabitants to evolve around the globe.

Tiny details add up.

Tiny things allow big things to happen.

Our walk showed us tiny fungi and insects alive and working. Without insects, we would have few fruits to eat. Insects are great food sources for things like birds and mammals. Without those fungi, trees would never break back down into soil components for new plants and trees to use. And we can’t forget the billions of microscopic lives we can’t see with our eyes. Without them and their operations, who knows what else would perish? 

Fun fact: in a teaspoon of healthy soil, there are more microbes than people on Earth. You can read more hereWe are learning more and more about these hidden worlds and it’s awe-inspiring. 

Humans are capable of a broad range of things. We can build and we can destroy. But are we the apex? To me, that would mean we would stand above and alone.

I find myself saying that's just not the case when we look at the facts. I might be wrong and will have some serious explaining and apologizing to do in the afterlife according to some. I prefer to think we’ve evolved just enough to always be learning what’s here, appreciating it, and nurturing it. We’re kids in a classroom filled with potential and wonder to both discover and share with one another and everything else that's here.

All awaiting spring