5 reasons that people avoid nature (5th in a series)

Many people tell me that they don’t know what they do outside.

This is related to last weeks post. Modern culture tends to demand perfection and high levels of knowledge before we feel that we have permission to start. There is only one answer to this.

Just go do.

Go outside and do something, anything, as long as it is fun. (Even though I typically challenge people to leave the electronics at home, if it gets you out, take the iPod, take a pad of paper, go for a walk and write down everything you see. Make up a name for the things that you don’t know that name for.)

Look back on the things you did outside as kid. What was fun? Do it.

Just go outside and connect with nature.

5 reasons people avoid nature (4th in a series)

We live in an age where people place high value on expertise and feel embarrassed to be a beginning amateur. Where once upon a time people dabbled with paints or plants, now most people avoid activities they feel they are not good at or that they feel too hard. We avoid the things like this.

There are two ways to get past the avoidance, to open ourselves to nature. The first is to not worry about knowing anything and just go be outside while at the same time keeping your senses open to the things and life around you. The second is to pick a point of interest and explore.

1.) Option one, don’t worry about what you don’t know. Get outside and be there. Leave the distractions, the iPod, the cell phone, and such like at home. Take binoculars, a magnifying glass, a sketch book, a camera and get out. Channel your inner 5 year old and really look around you. Allow yourself to be distracted by things and look at them deeply.

Use the things that you brought, the magnifying glass, the sketch pad, etc. to play out there. Don’t worry about names of things, just interact.

Make time to just sit and  your thing outside while leaving your mind and eyes open to what’s around you and happening. For example, I like to read and I keep a written journal. Most days I make a point of spending about an hour sitting outside with my book or journal in the morning and in the evening. As I read or write, I maintain awareness of things around me. This allows me to see the hummingbirds coming to the feeders, the jostling for position among the white wing doves at the seed feeders or the arrival of the woodpecker to the suet feeder. I also catch the skittering of the little lizards in my butterfly garden. So, take your book, your knitting, your sketching, your ice tea, guitar outside and do your thing with your awareness open to what is going on around you.

Just don’t worry about what you know or don’t know. The things that make you curious, you’ll learn and that’s the fun part.

2.) Pick an interest and explore it. For example if your interest, like mine, is birds and butterflies then focus in on that. Find a resource to help you. For birds, most towns or at least regions have an Audubon club that you can join. These clubs usually meet once a month and frequently take outings together. They welcome new members and delight and bringing the beginner up to speed. Smart phone users can find apps for their phones to help them with ID, Peterson’s guides just released one that I hear is well received. If flowers are your thing, explore garden clubs and native plant societies. For bugs, entomology groups, for lizards there are herpilogical groups.

If there isn’t a local club, there are usually state groups and both Facebook and Twitter are full of such social clubs. As you know from the things that you are good at, most people love to help others and share their knowledge and passions with others.

We don’t really have to know anything to begin connecting with nature and once begun, we don’t really have to teach ourselves the Latin name to everything we come across. We have a couple of approaches: we can be okay that we don’t know much but that we find interacting with nature to be a relaxing thing or we can pick an interest and allow ourselves to be beginners enjoying the process of learning from others.

Either choice is right because this is where we all started.

5 Reasons that people avoid nature (third in a series)

I live in an ugly place, there is no nature here. This is an extension of last week’s post. People think that nature is “out there” somewhere. They also tend to have stereotypes of what makes beauty in nature.  Perhaps your perfect natural beauty is snorkeling in turquoise waters. Perhaps you prefer a leisurely walk in a New England wood. Perhaps it is the red stone rocks and endless sky of the southwestern desert or Australian outback. What ever you might think about natural places, the thing of it is that few of us can live in spaces like this all of the time. We need to find natural beauty where we are.

When I was thinking about this post, I was inspired by this post on Syd Weeden’s photography blog. Syd writes, as his opening line, “when everyone is ugly–shoot (photograph) the ugly.”

Syd challenges us to look at the ugly around us from different perspectives, look closer, look farther away. Look at textures, colors, patterns and light. I would add, listen and smell as well. Can you hear the chitter of the sparrows and finches in the trees, the buzz of insects in the nooks and crannies around you. Look for the iridescent color on the grackles, pigeons and starlings. Can you smell the rain on the wind? The dust?

Pause for a moment and think about your notion of what nature is. Now, turn it upside. Can beauty be expanded to included the place that you are in. If you like the desert and you are in the city, can you find the desert like elements of the city? Can you see the cliff wall of the tall buildings where the falcons hunt and the pigeons nest? Can you see the tiny flowers growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk and even, sometimes between the bricks of the buildings?

The thing of it is, we need to connect to the places we are in the present. This does not mean we stop loving the “ideal” beauty, we can still be fans. It just means that we connect to our current place and we care and nurture it. Too.

What’s beautiful near you?

5 reasons that people avoid nature (second in a series)

A common complaint is that there are no nature reserves nearby. Underlying this statement is the belief that nature is “out there somewhere.” With that idea as an underlying assumption people neglect to see the nature that is all around them. Even in the most urban areas you can find wildlife if you look. This is especially true if you expand your definition of wildlife.

Foxes, skunks, coyotes, rabbits, insects, spiders, and birds are part of a short list of wildlife that you can find in a city. People tend to think of these animals as invaders to human habitat as though humans and their habitat are not part of nature. If we set that idea aside, if we rewrite it to say that humans are natural, we can accept that these animals have adapted to live in a variety of habitats, some more modified than others, and that it is natural for us to be neighbors. (We also might start thinking about ways to create habitats with more plants and other soft elements in our cities but that’s another post.)

So how do we meet these neighbors? Many animals like skunks, raccoons, coyotes, foxes and birds are most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours, just after dawn and just before sunset, when it is coolest. Insects are visible at anytime although some will be mostly daytime and others will be mostly nighttime.

Nature isn’t out there somewhere. Nature is here. Even in the bricks and mortar world that people like to build in big cities, natural things can be found. Most cities have parts but even when there aren’t parks you can find things if you look. The other thing is that you can create your own nature in a pot, or in a small patch of dirt in front of a house. Nature is everywhere if you take the time to look.

Go. Have a look.  And, have fun.

5 reasons people avoid nature (first in a series)

Because it’s too hot, cold, wet, snowy, windy, sunny, cloudy, buggy, ___________ (insert the discomfort of your choice).

One of the most common reasons for hiding inside is the avoidance of discomfort. Modern American society is all about comfort and appearance. Turn on the TV and stop for a moment to really watch what they are selling in the ads and I think you’ll agree that comfort and appearance are the major themes. According to this 2009 LA Times article we watch on average 5 hours of TV so that’s a lot of “stay comfy at all costs” messaging.

We all have individual comfort thresholds that vary according to the situation and our interest levels. As a child, I was outside nearly all day, every day and I didn’t really think too much about the weather except to dress for it (most of the time). As I have aged, I have lost a lot of that resiliency. Also, my number one reason for not going out is summer. Yes, really! Summer.

I find summer too bright. I don’t mind the heat, in fact for me, I do heat better than cold but I find the light in summer to be too harsh and I can’t stand to be out in it.

The thing of it is, this is okay. I can love being out doors, I can find nature to be a restoring place to be without loving every aspect of her presentation. At first, when I was thinking about this, I felt like I was a “bad nature geek” for only wanting to be out at certain times; I felt guilty. If I am going to try and connect people to nature shouldn’t I love nature unconditionally? Yes and no.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that it is fine for me to find the blazing summer sun to be too much. I prefer dappled light, the kind of light that you find in a woodland, filtered and broken by the leaves on the trees. Or, the kind of light that you get on days with a lot of fair weather clouds. I also like the soft light that you get in the early morning and evening when the sun is lower in the sky. So, this is what I do. I time myself so that I am outside as much as I can be at those times.

You can do this too.

  1. List all the comfort/I don’t go out because it’s too___________________ reasons that you have.
  2. Accept that there are times when being outside isn’t fun and times when it is.
  3. Find a work around for the reasons you listed.
    1. Too buggy? Try skin so soft, a tiki lamp, Off clip-on repellant…. some thing.
    2. Too hot? go out early, late, spring, fall, winter, etc.
    3. The neighborhood is ugly, not safe? Gather a group and clean it up.
  4. Be willing to stretch yourself just a little. Stepping out of a comfort a little leads to growth and confidence. Stepping out too much makes us never want to try again because the discomfort is too great.

We connect with the things we interact with. But that interaction includes who we are. When I realized that I am seriously uncomfortable, even with sunglasses, in the blazing sun, and accepted that fact, I was able to find ways to adapt so that I could be outside and find joy.

Nature Journaling part ii

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about nature journalling as a method to connect to a place. It is a powerful way to be present and anyone who can hold a crayon or a pencil can create a journal. If you are anything like me you can become intimidated by fancy journals like this or this but journals don’t have to be complex or perfect. All journals have to do is reflect your experience at that moment.

A journal entry can be long or short. It can be words, pictures, or, if it’s your style, a bit of music.

Encourage your kids to journal as soon as they can hold a crayon to paper. You can make a little book out of a few sheets of plain paper and a construction paper or cardboard cover.

  1. Fold the plain paper in half like a hamburger bun or a taco.
  2. Punch two holes along the fold about an inch and a half from each end.
  3. Repeat the process with the cover but make sure to punch the holes in the cover so they line up with the holes in the pages.
  4. Center the cover so the holes line up with inside sheets.
  5. Run a ribbon or string through the holes and tie it up.

Instant journal.

Remember, the purpose of the journal is to record your experiences so allow your kids to record whatever strikes their fancy.

Just curious cuz I’m always looking for new things and I am trying to get my journaling mojo going… What do you all do to journal? How does it work for you? What’s your favorite moment?

Happy Father’s Day

Hope you are having a great father’s day. I hope that  you have had the opportunity to play outside with your kids today. Down here in the coastal bend area it was prime beach day and lots of families made the trek to the beach for picnics, cook outs and fun in the sun.

Kids learn by seeing and copying. You can tell them to go play outdoors but if that isn’t something that you do a lot of yourself, most likely they’ll grow out of the habit as they move out of your sphere of influence. What you do is what they’ll do. Dad’s have a powerful influence on their kids and their attitudes. My father was not a great outdoors man, that would have been my mom, but he did have his things.

Among of my favorite childhood memories are the trips that my father would take with me to the desert for night time star gazing. Another thing I remember is my dad digging a rose garden in the backyard of one our homes. That year I planted a little marigold and zinnia garden in the spaces. As a child I was terrified of the lightning. Summers in Phoenix were full of thunderstorms and I would try to hide from them but my parents took joy in them. They gave me the space to hide but they would go outside  and watch the lightning come in over the Superstition Mountains. Because of the joy that they took in those events I overcame my fear and came to join them in the yard. The memory of this is very clear. The sky is dark on the horizon, the mountains create a darker silhouette, the air smells of dust and the potential of rain. The three of us are standing at the edge of the yard. There is a open field next to our house so the view is clear and wide. My mom, dad and I are all standing together watching the approaching storm with lightning flashing behind the mountains. I remember feeling exhilarated. It is a feeling I still get at the approach of a thunderstorm.

So, I hope your father’s day is full of outdoor memories that you are building with your kids. These are things that they will remember forever. It’s a lot cheaper and far more memorable than who beat who on the X-Box today.

Oh, and have fun.

Nature Journaling

Journalling is one way to keep track of the things you encounter on your nature explorations. Journalling allows to you capture and reflect on what you have seen, felt and wondered as you are out and about. There are many different ways to journal. You can write, You can draw. You can take a photo. You can video. In all cases I think that the common factor is to connect your self to what you are capturing. Journalling is about connection. It differs from chronicling your interactions because it seeks interaction rather than objectivity.

So, you’ve never kept a journal? Don’t know where to begin? Well the KISS principle is the best philosophy to apply. Just Keep It Simple, Simple. Find a spot. Sit down and just record what you see and feel. Record the colors, the sounds, the smells and the feelings that come up. Use words, pictures and, if you are the type, notes. The thing is that you are recording more than a scene, you are recording both a memory and a feeling.

If you have ever paid attention to an Ansel Adams photo you’ll know what I mean. Adams said that the art of a good photo was capturing what you really saw not merely light and shadow. When we see, we see with more than our eyes. We see with our whole being. When you journal let that interaction with you and the place come out. And… have fun.

United Nations World Environment Day

Today is the UN observation of World Environment Day. This year’s theme and focus is on forests.

According to website, the purpose of World Environment Day is to celebrate the achievements you have made in preserving or connecting others to environment. In this era of “BIG ISSUES”, where it seems that there are so many things that need to be tackled and so much of the effort feels as though it is a swim upstream against a raging current and through many dams, it is easy to forget what so many people are accomplishing every day.

Sierra Club, Audubon, National Wildlife Federation, Society for Conservation Biology, Jane Goodall, Texas Master Naturalists, Children and Nature Network, and most importantly as I was growing up, The Girl Scouts are all organizations that have influenced me and my journey in environmental education and outreach.

For me, Girl Scouting was foundational to the person I am now. The time I spent with the Girl Scouts in the out of doors in simple activities from hiking to swimming or singing around campfires instilled in me a love for place that will never leave me. Girl Scout camp was balanced between playing in nature, learning about camping and nature, learning about myself and others, and being still and resting in the place. These are some of the gifts that I want to bring to others through this blog and through the things I do with others. In addition, the Girl Scout ethic to always leave a place better than you found it became part of my core values. It is an ethic that continues to be taught to girls today and it is one of the reasons that I will always consider myself a Girl Scout.

Whatever and whomever got you started in loving nature and whatever and whomever keeps you going in your environmental work, take this day to celebrate their successes. And, while you’re at it, remember to celebrate your successes.

Happy World Environment Day.

A little activity to share from the book Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell.

Take a Micro-Hike:

Materials–> a piece of string 3 to 5 feet long and a park. (Magnifying glasses can be used but are optional)

  1. Have the children select the most interesting (to them) place in the park.
  2. The children place their strings on the ground stretched out to length of the string.
  3. Have the participants lay down on the ground on their bellies at one end of the string, heads no higher than 1 foot off of the ground.
  4. Children will “hike” along the string, inch by inch exploring what they see there.
  5. Prompt them with questions:
    1. What kind of world are you hiking through right now?
    2. Who are your nearest neighbors?
    3. What is that spider going to do, eat you or take you for a ride?
    4. What would it be like to be that metallic green beetle?
    5. Other questions as appropriate.

For children who are not used to being out of doors and who are uncomfortable getting down on the ground, adapt the activity to their comfort level, perhaps by having them explore the bark of a tree, or having them sit with their eyes closed and have them listen for the sounds of the park. Ask them to identify the direction the sound is coming from and guess what is making it.

Garden for Wildlife

House Sparrow by Arvind Balaraman from FreePhoto.com

The most common bird at my feeders is the English House Sparrow. As I sit here typing this post one has come down to one of my feeders for a peanut. I have mixed feelings about non-natives like the English House Sparrow. They are classified as an invasive species because they tend to out compete the natives of the US. House Sparrows.

House Sparrows were introduced into the New World in the mid 1800s in the belief that the birds would help control insects on grain crops. As it turned out, House Sparrows do eat insects but only during the breeding season when they are feeding their young.  For all the rest of their lives House Sparrows are seed eaters and eat the grain they were imported to protect.

Since their introduction House Sparrows have flourished here and are now common through out North America. In fact, it is the most common bird in all the world.

As I said, I have mixed feelings about the English House Sparrow and other invasive animals. My primary reason is that I value all life. Further, I distrust the idea that humans have the wisdom to effectively manage nature. Most of our engineering and manipulations have resulted in colossal messes. It was human activity and ignorance that brought this bird here in the first place. However, House Sparrows are aggressive birds and will invade the nests of native species, such as the Bluebird, attacking and killing the young and driving the adults from the nests or killing them as well. So I understand the need to manage this bird and try to protect our natives. Ironically, while the Sparrow is thriving here, it is, according to the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) it is on the decline in its native England.

Whatever my feelings, the fact of the matter is, invasive species are a huge problem. In Florida, released pythons are in danger of becoming established as a breeding species in the everglades and threaten all wildlife there, even alligators. Here in south Texas nutria, a rodent that was brought in for fur, are devastating our wetland areas and destroying habitat for our native species.  Non-native fish, introduced for sport fishing, make it impossible for native species to survive in some of their traditional habitats. Often, native fish are can exist only through temporary stocking programs and they are not able to become reestablished in their traditional range. So, while I distrust human wisdom, I also know that to ensure wild diversity, we need to manage the noxious invasives that threaten our native wildlife.

It seems fitting to write about this issue at the close of Garden for Wildlife month. Every little thing that we do to help the native species of our beautiful continent survive is a good thing.  As habitat becomes more and more scarce it becomes more and more important for people to make sure that their gardens, their neighborhoods and their towns plant for the species that live and pass through there and insure that invasive species do not become established.

For more information on invasive species in the US and what you can do about them you can go to the US Department of Agriculture.

The USDA also has a link to lists in Canada, Australia and Europe.

Add your link in the comments.