Monday, April 01, 2013

Knapsack 4-4-13

Notes From My Knapsack 4-4-13

Jeff Gill


Something to celebrate & understand




One of my favorite nature immersion activities with a group of people, children or adults, is to hand out a bunch of two-foot-long pieces of red string, and tell them to go and create a nature trail with it, having at least five stations along it.


Then everyone pairs up, and in turn takes the other person for a "hike" on the nature trail they've designed.


You can do it yourself, of course. It's an exercise that makes you slow down, and refocus your inner viewfinder onto a smaller scale. Even when you're sitting on grass in a circle outside and away from buildings, your mind might still be going 60 mph and seeing the ground and trees and shrubbery around you through plate glass. You have to learn how to recognize your default mode for what it is – through the car window – and find your way into nature, on nature's terms.


So some of these 18 to 24 inch hikes meander along the bark of a tree, from lichens to an insect borehole, out to a final scenic overlook at a bud on a twig's end. Others stay close to the ground, from a discreet point adjoining an ant hill along a crack in the dry earth to where a leaf from last fall is slowly decaying into soil, leaving a fantastic filigree of veins and panels.


You might travel from the unwanted weed sprouting in your old mulch to the edge of the lawn grass forest, a safe loop in through the swelling roots and back to the sharp edge between planting beds and the turf.


Along a low branch of oak, soon the small infant hands of leaf balls will uncurl into a not-yet green banner; your nature trail could stroll from bud to bud to that first opening hint of the canopy to come.


Richard Louv famously wrote some years ago of "nature deficit disorder." Like any good idea, it's been done over and over emphasized to where it gets blamed for all manner of socially complex ills, but I will still affirm the therapeutic value of nature, on natural terms.


Slowing down and focusing in to see what is going on this spring – yes, I believe spring will come, despite all evidence to the contrary! – is good for the heart, the joints, the mind & spirit. You find your "notice-a-fier" working differently when you check out the details, up close, of a bud on a tree or bush; not just of nature, you notice things about people and processes and yes, maybe even stuff on TV or your laptop in a sharper way.


On the vernal equinox, just a couple of weeks ago, the air was chill, but there's no denying that the days are longer, and the sun higher in the sky. It might yet snow again (helloooo, forsythia!) but even a heavy fall won't stick when the radiant heat trapped in the soil and pavement has soaked so deeply beneath the surface.


That penetration of warmth is sending inexorable signals to life lying dormant within the soil, and the responses are everywhere. And on that cool March afternoon, I saw what at first looked like a wisp of smoke, then coming closer recognized as a whirl of small white insects, the first of this new year.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him your signs of spring at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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