I’m driving to work. It’s September and the weather is kind of muggy already at 7am. Right before the light there’s an old abandoned village, or so it seems. This obscure place has become a resting place for a giant white oak that must have died a while ago, but fell not too long ago. I wondered if this tree was special to someone.
The trail turns eastward and the walker, if walking early in the morning, is rewarded with an illuminated morning view of Boston Mine at Harriman State Park (NY). This old iron mine was last worked just before the 1800’s came to an end. With the sun shining so dramatically over this relic, the walker may be seduced for a closer look into the mine, as I was, but do beware of unsteady rocks and saturated ground within. Best to have a quick look and continue on sauntering.
The sun is many things – a star, a giant sphere of energy and hot plasma, the center of our solar system. I also think of it as the star of aesthetics. It is the main ingredient to a beautiful landscape painting with a rustic old barn; if the direction of light is well represented it is likely a success. A light and dark side is key, but what about temperature and feel? The sun painted on the hillside or riverbank adds a feeling of warmth and comfort to the picture, and the viewer may unknowingly start to smile, as a result.
The stage is set by a solar spotlight. This morning the light is cast on what may seem like random spot of dirt and rock. But, this little lit-up soil patch contains millions of organisms – nematodes, algae, bacteria, and many other. I wonder how many earthworms, pill bugs, and millipedes are hiding under the leaves. Is there a salamander under that rock? I’m not typically a stone-turner, but I do get the urge once in a while.
Nope. Just an assortment of bugs scattering about. This time of year, the photoperiod (aka hours of sunshine) is on the decline in the northeast; this patch of soil and its inhabitants now have a big workload of leaves to decompose, as a result. The Jays seem particularly rambunctious nowadays, as their calls have gotten noticeably louder and more frequent. I wonder if they too are concerned about this photoperiod business; never enough time in the day to cache all those acorns, I suppose. Thanks for planting all those oaks, my friends.
The sun is the heart of our solar system; it is a driving force behind much of the activity (seasons, climate, currents) and life on earth. Throughout history the sun has been worshiped and debated; ancient civilizations built stone structures (calendars) to mark the sun’s path through the seasons. During the days of Ptolemy, most believed that the sun revolved around the earth. Then, much later, we learned it was the other way around. Today, many people are still excited about the sun, especially during phenomenons like the solar eclipse, but most of the time it sort of goes unnoticed.
This is an exciting time of year to notice the changes! During the next 5 days, I’ll make an attempt to be a bit more mindful of the sun by noticing its intensity and position in the sky. I may try to compare to the sun’s presence a month ago. Each day, I will post a photo taken “into the sun” as a way to reflect on the sun during this time of seasonal transition, when the sun becomes a bit dimmer and more pleasant, like turning down the lamp light in the house for a more relaxing mood. I hope this little 5-day activity inspires us to notice our natural surroundings more often.
A friend recently gave me a book called “How to Connect With Nature”, written by Tristan Gooley. At first, I thought, “are you saying I need help connecting with nature”? How dare you; after all, I attended “Nature College” and earned a “Nature Degree”. Of course, I dare not actually say any of that stuff and I thanked him profusely for his kind act. But, hang on a minute; my friend is actually spot on! Reading scientific papers about deciduous forests is not the same as experiencing a deciduous forest, fully with the senses. Better yet, hiking through a deciduous forest and identifying plants with a wild, scattered mind is not the same as experiencing a deciduous forest, fully with the senses.
I’m only a few pages in, but so far I like it. It seems the purpose of this book is to give people practical tools to make a profound connection with Nature. Sounds very cliché; we hear it on television, musicians sing about it – take it all in, commune with nature, they say. But, to consciously want to connect with our natural surroundings, in my opinion, is not a common desire. I had a friend tentatively make the following request a few times per year – “take me hiking, dude, so I can be one with nature and shit”. I assume this request came out of the idea that going to some scenic setting with birds and a nice overlook would seem cool. But, perhaps there is also a good chance that folks who want to take a hike for commercially inspired purposes might develop a deeper interest in nature through that experience.
It seems that to be present and “feel connected” is no easy task, even for people who really want to experience nature in a primal sense. For me, there is often an in and out signal – sometimes I feel more aware of my surroundings and sometimes I feel foggy-headed and distracted by thoughts of what has occurred in the past or what might occur in the future. This dilemma seems to circle back to ancient teachings about the practice of awareness and staying in the present moment. I believe this is the fundamental step for people who want to “connect with nature” in a truthful way. There are many wonderful sources out there for folks who want to learn more about mindfulness (and I don’t mean to use the term “mindfulness” as the marketing buzz word that it has become). Below are my top 3 favorite sources that I follow on this topic, and I hope you can benefit from them too. Happy trails!
3 Great Websites About Awareness / Simplicity
Audio Dharma – an archive of Dharma talks given by various speakers.
Zen Habits – a blog about finding simplicity and mindfulness, by Leo Babauta.
Raptitude – a blog about getting better at being human, by David Cain.
…Nature-inspired watercolor paintings available on our Etsy Shop!
We are on a roll with parks, lately. If we were down in South Jersey we’d be on a Park-roll egg n cheese? Terrible, I know, but I just couldn’t resist.
Duke Island Park (located in Bridgewater, NJ) is another park that is near and dear to our hearts. The Duke is the perfect getaway when a lunch-time stroll through the lovely office-building parking lot just isn’t enough. It is quite urban; more urban than Natirar, with a different cast of characters. For instance, Natirar’s parking lots are filled with Mercedes and BMWs, while Duke’s lots are adorned with pickup trucks and various vehicles made in the 1990s with missing hubcaps. At Natirar, it is difficult to get a word out of folks, unless you pet their dog. In contrast, the other day at the Duke; a man wearing a Superman T-shirt approached me, wild-eyed, and warned that there is a buck in heat around the corner. A couple hundred yards away, a woman in a heavy sweatshirt rode her bike and rang her bike bell repeatedly, but there was no one near her. I love this park!
But, even in this urban setting, nature abounds! The Raritan River flows through the Duke as it does through Natirar Park. The river section of the park attracts waterfowl, raptors, song birds, and it is a great stop-over joint for other migrants. I remember doing a Citizen Scientist Bird Count for NJ Audubon; truly a great learning experience, despite the one time I almost didn’t make it to the bathroom. An urban setting does have its disadvantages: bathrooms are specific indoor locations. If I were to drop-trou while doing the bird count I may have ended up in Somerset County Jail.
We are lucky to have this place to enjoy and it is great to see people make use of it. Wanderings to the Duke have never let me down – a heck of a place to clear the mind, get a good laugh, hear birds sing, and surprisingly – watch for wildflowers. Spring is just around the corner and I am excited to see early bloomers like the Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) pop up here as it has in other years.
The “Blizzard of 2016” rolled in and left a nice 30-inch snow portion for NJ folk to savor. But, this dish disappeared quickly – a big thaw began as the warm air crept in, melting the stuff away along Caitlin and the Twins’ creation, Ronnie the snowman. The big thaw inspired this watercolor. It is a slightly exaggerated view from the parking lot shared by tavern employees, shoppers, and residents of the old apartment building (that’s us). You may have seen the same building in an earlier post, but the Sycamores are brandy new. Enjoy!