Category Archives: Savoring the Natural World

#73 Find Your Walden

green-dotmysterious path “I have a great deal of company in my house;  especially in the mornings, when nobody calls… I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself.  What company has that lonely lake, I pray?  … I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a humble bee.  I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house. “In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me.  I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes which we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to me and humanness was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again.”   –Thoreau, from:  Walden, 1845.

  • Describe your most favorite, most soothing place out of doors. Write about a time when you found this place to give you comfort.

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# 65 Give Praise for Creation

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St. Francis of Assissi

Canticle of the Sun

Most high, all powerful sweet Majesty,
yours is the praise, the glory, and the honor
and every blessing.

Be praised, my Creator,
for all your creatures,
and first for brother sun,
who makes the day bright and luminous.
And he is beautiful and radiant
with great splendor,
he is the image of you, Most High.

Be praised, oh God,
for sister moon and the stars,
in the sky you have made them brilliant and
precious and beautiful.

Be praised, Great Spirit, for brother wind
and for the air both cloudy and serene
and every kind of weather,
through which you give nourishment
to your creatures.

Be praised, Divine Presence, for sister water,
who is very useful and humble
and precious and chaste.

Be praised Great Mystery, for brother fire,
through whom you illuminate the night.
And he is beautiful and joyous
and robust and strong.

Be praised for our sister, Mother Earth,
who nourishes us and watches over us
and brings forth various plants
with colored fruits and herbs.

Be praised, my Confessor,
for those who forgive through your love,
and bear sickness and tribulation;
blessed are those who endure in peace,
for they will be crowned by you, Most High.

Be praised, oh Unknowable Mystery,
for our sister, bodily death,
from whom no living thing can escape.
Blessed are those whom she finds
doing your most holy will,
for the second death cannot harm them.

Praise and bless you, Spirit of Life,
and give thanks to you and serve you
with great humility.
–St. Francis of Assisi

The above was adapted from the original to omit the references to the male term of “Lord.” The varied references also give us more names with which to speak to that force which is larger than us and beyond our understanding. Go for a walk today. Give this prayer of thanksgiving as you go.

Reference

 St. Francis of Assisi. 1182-1226.  Italian mystic, founder of the Franciscan Order

# 61 Observe the Mysterious in Nature with Awe and Wonder

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Years ago I was gardening in the back yard when I heard a distant and unfamiliar sound that caused me to pause and look skyward.  There, in perfect V formation, was a gathering of large birds of some kind winging their way south.  I was struck dumb by the sight of them so high above.  It may be a familiar sight for those who happen to live in the flight path of migratory birds, but it is rare to see such birds coursing over a major city sharing airspace with jumbo jets.

Recently I learned that they were most likely sandhill cranes.  One flock of about 450 birds winter in the Okeefenokee Swamp in south Georgia and return to the Great Lakes area of Michigan in the Spring.  Their coiled tracheas allow them to add harmonies to their calls and to project the notes louder and farther, resulting in a loud cry that can be heard from as far as two miles away.  Their unusual calls have been described as trumpeting, bugling, rattling or croaking.

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Observing animals in nature often gives us an experience of transcendence, of deep joy.  It lifts us out of our everyday concerns and outside of ourselves.  It  gives us a window into some of the majesty of the diversity of life forms, of the deep mysteries of life.   Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and science.”

Can you recall an experience you had of witnessing  an event in nature with deep awe and wonder?

If you can, watch a nature show on television.   Check out a documentary video on an animal you find fascinating, e.g., the life cycle of salmon or the Monarch butterfly, the communication patterns of dolphins and whales, the mating rituals of birds, the social behavior of the great apes, the migratory paths of loggerhead turtles, the playfulness of otters, the way dogs interact with humans, the intelligence of the octopus, the parenting behavior of penguins (i.e., March of the Penguins).

 

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# 56 Savor the View

View 1lime-green-dot        In his book, The Social Animal, the author David Brooks uses the fictional lives of two characters, Harold and Erica, to explore many topics in the social sciences.  At the end of the book his characters are in their declining years and have moved to a cabin in Colorado.

“On summer afternoons they’d sit out on the porch in Adirondack chairs and look out over the Fork River and wave at the occasional raft trip going by.  He’d sit out on his porch and look at the elementals of nature—sky, water, trees, and sun.  … Harold found he could play a little game with himself.  He’s sit on the porch and look at a little flower in the grass down below.  He’d concentrate on the petals and their fragile beauty.  Then, by lifting his head, he’d gaze out at the icy mountain peaks miles and miles away.  Suddenly he was swept up in an entirely different set of sensations—feelings of awe, then of veneration, submission and greatness.  Just sitting there he could move from the beautiful to the sublime and back again.  He loved these grand views.  They gave him a feeling of elevation, of being connected to a sacred and all encompassing order, a part of some stupendous whole.”

What is it about landscape views that we find so uplifting?  Evolutionary psychologists suggest that people all over the world prefer paintings that are similar to what early humans would have seen as they gazed out over the African savannas where humans first emerged–open spaces, lots of light, thickets of trees and bushes, a water source, and an unimpeded view of the horizon.

The philosopher Charles Taylor suggests that people are moved by landscapes because of their ability to evoke emotion.  He writes,  “We return to nature because it brings out strong and noble feelings in us  feelings of awe before the greatness of creation, of peace before a pastoral scene, of sublimity before storms, and deserted fastnesses, of melancholy in some lowly woodland spot.  Nature draws us because it is in some way attuned to our feelings, so that it can reflect and intensify those we already feel or else awaken those which are dormant.  Nature is like a great keyboard on which our highest sentiments are played out.  We turn to it as we might turn to music, to evoke and strengthen the best in us.”

Few of us are able to sit on a  porch that looks out on the mountains in the distance with a winding river below.  Can you recall a trip you took that gave you a view of the landscape that filled you with awe at the vastness of the earth and sky?  If you have a photograph of that place, look at it again and try to re-experience it–the sensation of wind on your skin, the perception of the light being brighter and clearer, an almost dizzying feeling of exhilaration.  Close your eyes and go back to that place.  Savor it.

 

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References

Brooke, D.  2011.  The Social Animal.  Random House.  pp. 350,  364-366.

Taylor, C.  1992.  Sources of the Self:  The making of the modern identity.  Harvard U. Press.  p. 297.

 

 

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# 46 Savor the Taste of Cherries

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  The Taste of Cherries is a lovely Iranian film by Abbas Khiarastomi. The central character of the film is a tired, middle aged engineer who decides to end his life. He drives about the bleak countryside looking for an individual who will shovel dirt over him when he is lying in the grave which he has dug for himself. The first two passengers flee him, shocked at what he’s asked them to do. The third character is an old man, a Turk, who tells him, “Every problem has a solution. Let’s take a different road, a more beautiful road. I will help you in a different way.”

The Turk has him drive through a greener, more pastoral part of the countryside and he begins his own tale of despair and renewal. He says that after he was first married, he had many troubles. He, too, decided to end it all. He got up very early one morning while it was still dark and put a rope in his car. He set off for the mulberry plantations. He stopped there in the dark and threw a rope over a sturdy limb of a large tree, but it didn’t catch hold. So he climbed the tree and tied the rope on tight. Then he felt something soft under his hand. It was mulberries–deliciously sweet mulberries. He ate one. It was succulent. Then a second and a third. Suddenly, he noticed the sun was rising over the mountaintop. “What sun, what scenery, what greenery!” he says in the film. All of a sudden he heard children heading off to school. They asked him to shake the tree. The mulberries fell and they ate them. He felt happy. Then he gathered some mulberries to take them home. He woke up his wife and she ate the mulberries too. “I had left to kill myself and came back with mulberries!”

The old Turkish man says, “I had changed. Every family has problems. A little mulberry saved my life. You have to change your outlook and you change the world. Life is a train that keeps moving forward, then reaches the end of the line, the terminus, and death waits at the terminus. Don’t you ever drink fresh water from a spring? The seasons bring forth fruit. Do you want to refuse all that? You want to give up the taste of cherries?”

The engineer ponders his words and the movie ends without telling us the man’s final decision.

Even in the midst of our woes, the world is full of wonder, and mystery, and beauty. It is there for us to experience, once we step outside our day-to-day problems. The Turk listed the taste of cherries, fresh water from a spring, and the seasons bringing forth fruit. List your favorite things of the physical world.

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# 32 Taste a Peach

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One of my favorite poems is “Blossoms” by Li Young Lee.  In it he writes of the experience of buying a bag of peaches from a roadside stand and biting into one.  The taste of the peach recalls the orchards the reader passed driving down the highway.  He imagines the blossoms as they appeared on the branches, the hands that picked the peaches, the dusty skin of the peach and how it recalls the dust of summer.

O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into

the round jubilance of peach.

The poet encourages the reader to live “from joy to joy to joy,” as if death were nowhere.

Lee’s poem reminds me of a beautiful Spanish film, The Sea Inside.  It is the true story of a man, Ramon Sampedro, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident and who fought a long legal battle for the right to die with dignity.  The character, played with passion by Javier Bardem, tells the woman in the story how he cannot move his body and thus cannot go to the sea which he hears outside his window, so he must “carry the sea inside.”  He uses the sound of the sea and the salt smell to re-create in his imagination the physical feel of diving into the surf and swimming in the ocean.

What does it mean to “take what we love inside,” to “carry within us an orchard” or to “carry the sea inside” ?

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What one thing you love can you “take inside” today?  To savor it you must re-create a picture in your mind of where it came from, or where you experienced it.  You must use your senses—smell, taste, feel, movement.  You must recall the momentary burst of euphoria you felt when you encountered it.

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You may read the entire poem as well as hear it being read aloud by Garrison Keillor at:

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2003/08/19

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#15 Savor the Simple Things

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Welcome Morning

There is joyDSC_0362

in all:

in the Cannon towel, newly washed,

that I rub my body with each morning,

in the chapel of eggs I cook

each morning,

in the outcry from the kettle

that heats my coffee

each morning,

in the spoon and the chair,

that cry “hello there, Anne”

each morning,

in the godhead of the table

that I set my silver, plate, cup upon each morning

So while I think of it,

Let me paint a thank you on my palm

for this God, this laughter of the morning,

lest it go unspoken.

–Anne Sexton, from:  An Awful Rowing Toward God

The poet above describes what is, at best, a humble and repetitive routine, arising and preparing for the day.  Yet she savors the little details of everyday life.  For this day, find one or two things to savor.  Perhaps the feel of the water in the shower, the tartness of orange juice, the sounds of birds outside, a breeze rustling the trees, the crunchy goodness of your cereal.  Focus on it for five seconds.  Carry it with you.

See the full poem at:

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2013/06/22

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# 10 Seek the Peace of Wild Things

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Wendell Berry is a poet who went back to the land, to be a farmer, and to write about his relationship with the earth.  One of my favorites is  “The Peace of Wild Things.”  You can hear him read this poem at:

www.speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs

Go to “Shows” and click on 6-24-10.  There you will find this and         several other poems by Berry.

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water,

and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief.  I come into the presence of still water

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light.  For a time

            I rest in the grace of the world and am free.

  • Even if you live in the city, there are, no doubt, green spaces not far from your home.  Go for a walk today.  Re-discover your local park.  Sit outside your office building for lunch today at that picnic table under the trees.  Is there a place of still water near you?  a river, a pond, a creek?  Write your experiences here.

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Experiences with nature have a magical quality in their mystery and suddenness.  Though my office is in a glass and brick office building in a suburban mall area, the two most memorable experiences I’ve had there are these:  once a bluebird and his mate built a nest and laid eggs not two feet from the window.  We (my patients and I) watched them lay the eggs, hatch them, and feed the young.  A wild turkey once walked out of the woods, and we have seen wild rabbits hop across the lawn.  What has been your most recent encounter with creatures of the natural world?  What was your reaction?

Reference

 http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171140Wendell Berry.  “The Peace of Wild Things.”  From:  Selected Poems, 1968-1997.  Washington, D.C.:  Counterpoint.

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