One of the most healing things we can do during times of upheaval is to get close to nature. No matter what happens in the world around us, the cycles and rhythms of the natural world remain unbroken. The sun still rises every morning, the stars shine at night, the ocean tides ebb and flow, the seasons follow one another through the turning of the year. Upon that solid ground we build our lives, reinforce our link to the rhythms of nature and find renewed strength.
If you’ve ever cultivated a garden or nurtured a houseplant, you understand how satisfying the experience is. Digging in the ground connects us to the natural world of which we are a part. Watch a plant grow from a tiny seed and see the miracle of life and growth. Observe a meteor shower, or the constellations in the night sky and open your eyes to the vastness of the universe and the many wonders it holds. Watching cardinals and robins feeding their babies in the park or backyard reminds us that other creatures also have families and care for their young, through generations.
Here are some ideas for nature-centered activities to enjoy this year.
Spend time outdoors
Take some time to put down your phone, get away from the computer or TV and enjoy some time outdoors. Go for a walk around your property, through a park, to Orient Beach State Park or Goldsmith’s Inlet, and see what’s green and growing, which plants might be starting to set buds for early bloom. Watch for the birds that migrate south for the winter to come back to us for the summer and listen for their songs and calls– robins, ospreys, wrens, Baltimore orioles, finches – as the days grow longer, these birds tell us summer is on its way. Watch for the plants on your property or in one of the public gardens in our area to start sending out new leaves, and flower buds. Look for the first new shoots in your flower garden, the earliest blooming bulbs or perennials.
Watch the weather
If you keep a journal, or your kids keep a diary, note daily weather conditions. Note the first day the air feels warm and soft without the bite of winter. Inevitably one day in spring the sun suddenly feels warmer and looks brighter. Notice when you can first smell the earthy odor of the soil, the saltwater scent of the ocean, bays or marshlands. Notice where the sun is in the sky – in winter it rises to the south; as summer approaches the sun will rise and set farther north.
Welcome birds to your backyard
Many birds migrate south for the winter, then return to our area in spring to build nests and raise their families. When you see robins in your yard staking out territories for breeding, and you hear the songs of sparrows and finches and cardinals – you know spring has come. Put up a feeder or two, or three and keep it filled, then watch who comes to visit. It will take some time for the birds to find your feeder, but they will. Squirrels can decimate feeders and are ingenious at getting into them. But you can find squirrel-proof bird feeders online or locally at garden centers. Fill them with sunflower seeds (the kind meant for birds, not people). Find bags in nurseries and garden centers, Agway stores, local supermarkets and hardware stores.
A birdbath is another welcome addition – birds need water to drink and bathe. They also need places to shelter and build nests – trees, tall shrubs, bird houses. It may take some time for them to find you, so be patient. And once you’ve got birds on your property, keep the feeders and water source filled so they can stay. If birds find what they like, they might build a nest and raise babies – if you have a good vantage point you will hear the babies, and
when they get big enough they will poke their heads out of the house. If you get really lucky you can see them leave the nest.
Songbirds are endangered now, for a number of reasons, but anything we can do to support them is important. Just listen in the spring when you first hear them, when walking to your car or sitting on the deck. Their gentle music is balm for the soul, a reminder that nature still goes on. Birds will remember your property and return next year. And you can listen for their songs in spring.
Plant a garden
Even if it’s just a few pots of herbs or flowers, grow something!