Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Connecting with nature refreshes

Recently I listened to an interview of Micah Mortali by Tami Simon, of Sounds True. Mortali, who is director of Kripalu schools, spoke about the practice of “rewilding,” which he explores in his new book, “Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature.” The interview reinvigorated my determination to take winter as it is.
Everyone has a strategy for dealing with winter: snowshoeing, skiing, sitting by the fire, reading, When I mentioned to a neighbor how I felt about the short days, she suggested that going outside every day might lift my spirits. She also shared that she and her husband focused on indoor projects during the winter.
 Getting outdoors and doing projects indoors are both wonderful ideas. At this moment, I have several projects lined up on my to-do list. Though winter is half over, I’ve not started one. The quickest way for me to get over the fact that I haven’t done something is to take up something else. The Mortali interview was timely.
Don’t get me wrong. I am often outdoors during the winter: shoveling snow, slogging to the compost heap, trudging to get the mail and, of course, driving to various activities. It is the attitude of getting something done that I wanted to shed. Winter is actually a very beautiful season, and I want to learn to enjoy it, not merely survive it.
Mortali spoke about human rewilding. In essence, this is people connecting with the outdoors, becoming intimate with the land on which we live. When I am outside on my land doing stuff, usually my ears are plugged into an audiobook. I am intent upon the chore, which in winter usually involves moving snow out of my way.
Becoming intimate with the land on which I live is different. Instead of focusing on chores, the intention is to look and listen. This is not as easy as it seems, especially during the winter.
One day, I cleared snow from the edge of my deck and sat down on the steps dressed in insulated pants and boots, and a fleece hat and gloves. Though I was outside, my mind was still on what I should have been doing in the house: job-related and domestic responsibilities divided my attention. However, I wanted respite.
I looked up at the trees. The snow perched on branches in white piles. Every few moments, the wind caused clumps of the white stuff to blow onto the ground and onto my face. The snow felt soft, and dry and cool. The sunlight dappled through branches and the sky turned from bright blue to gray to blue again. I forgot that it was cold and damp and the deck was filled with snow that needed to be removed. I felt calm and clear and connected to the world around me.
How restful it was to just sit and watch and listen, to meet winter on its own terms and to see and feel how absolutely wonderful cold outdoor air can be. There was plenty to do inside my home: laundry, emails, dishes, meals, papers, vacuuming, calls. There is always a reason to stay inside until it is time to get into my car to go somewhere else where I will sit inside doing other important things.
But outdoors, oh, outdoors, so much is going on!
On another day, I watch as two squirrels run up and down the pine tree. I lose sight of them and I wonder whether they made the leap onto the tree in my neighbor’s yard. It’s amazing how easily animals can disappear from view while remaining right in front of you. I’ve often looked out my window at a yard filled with leaves, only to realize that some of the leaves are birds pecking. Sometimes I lose sight of a bird only to see it right there, unmoving, perhaps even looking at me.
This day, dried leaves flow across the top of the icy ground, then pause before they are blown to another place. In the distance, the hum of some machine begins and I at first feel annoyed. Then I accept it, embrace it, bring it into my meditation of listening. Listening without judging, just being calmed by the sounds of life.
One late afternoon, I sit in a chair facing the setting sun. Rather than thinking about how early the sun is setting, I embrace the shift of time by becoming a part of it, watching the light change, feeling the cold come.
Last night, I stood on the deck in the rain as cool water dripped on my face. I heard the rain falling onto the melting snow. The musicality of it soothed my nervous system. The beauty of doing nothing but listening, listening to the drip-drip of water, feeling the cool rain on my face, my hair, and listening. I could almost see the wind sliding among the trees in a quiet whoosh that served as a soft string serenade beneath the song of dripping water. The sky this early evening had not yet reached its peak blackness. The whole experience lasted a few minutes, but it held an eternity of sound and solace for my soul.
Ruth Farmer is a published essayist and poet. She directs the Goddard Graduate Institute in Plainfield, and is sole owner of Farmer Writing and Editing (ruthfarmer.com).

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