A moment in time: learning FROM nature versus learning ABOUT nature.

Nature is constantly changing- the sunrises and sets, the weather changes, every living thing goes through a perpetual cycle of birth, growth and decay. So no two moments are alike.

Fleeting moments

When we can take a few moments to step away from our screens and to-do lists, we can connect to nature, and feel its grounding presence. To remind us that life is lived in THIS MOMENT.

When we slow down mindfully, and turn to notice nature, we not only receive a beneficial dose of Vitamin N (for ‘nature’, coined by Richard Louv, read more about his book here.) we can learn from nature. Nature is here is teach us all the time, we just need to learn how to listen.

Rather than learning about nature, we can learn from nature–through our intentional awareness.

Today I’d like to tell you about a nature moment I had recently, what I did and felt, and how my nature journal was used to hold the insights and learning from nature.

Ordinary nature: tree-lined neighborhood streets

It is autumn here in California with lots of fiery fall deciduous trees. Seeing the array of colors in my outdoor wanderings delights my spirit and warms my heart as we move into increasingly longer nights.

I’ve been slowing my pace when I’m out and about, and searching– like a treasure hunt– for signs of these transforming trees. We can find extraordinary things in our ordinary nearby nature.

Golden and red leaves carpet the ground and sidewalks, while some trees still have autumn leaves clinging to the temporary homes on branches. Trees and leaves of every size, shape and color can be found if we slow down to notice.

One discovery surprised me. It happened when I was driving with my mom in her neighborhood. When I turned onto a street, I was immediately struck by the sight: the street was lined with a row of very tall trees full of yellow leaves.

As I drove by, the wind blew, releasing hundreds of leaves into the air. They danced and drifting down all around me– like yellow confetti! It reminded me of a ticker tape parade!

I was in such awe and delight- I had to turn around and experience it again!

I pulled over, hoping to capture this amazing sight on video, but like usual- the recording never really captures the awe and wonder…

Instead, I put my phone away and took in the moment with my senses, and watched the leaves for a few minutes in silence. I felt the breeze as it ebbed and flowed, and glints of sunlight streaming through the leaves. It was so cool!

These are fleeting moments that will never come again.

Yes, this tree will keep shedding, but each day there will be fewer leaves. Each day the sky, weather, wind, sun will flavor this moment in unique ways.

And yes, the trees will go through this cycle again next year, but it won’t be this same sight.

Leaves from the yellow tree, mixed with oak leaves.

What I received from this moment is an exhale...an out breath. A sign that softens the rushing energy.

I had been feeling pressed for time that day and it was lovely surprise to stop and watch the trees…. I wouldn’t have stopped if it wasn’t for that moment when the leaves showered down like confetti.

I got a quick nature break, a moment to appreciate nature’s beauty. To breathe and exchange breath with the trees. My heart felt lighter, and I was eager to revisit these trees in a week to see how it changes.

What kind of tree is it?

I don’t know what kind of trees these are, and that’s not the most important thing right now. I can learn so much more about these trees from my observations than from learning the name in an app.

We’ve grown accustomed to quickly looking up a name easily with an app, its not the goal.

While knowing the name is useful (you can talk to others about it, do some research about it to deepen your learning)- sometimes after we get the name, we stop looking at it.

So, for now, I’m choosing to allowing the mystery to unfold slowly, deliberately, so I can get to know it better. I can note mentally or in my journal, what it looks like, what the leaves feel and smell like, what the bark and tree shape is like, etc.

I like to focus on the process of discovery rather than the product (getting the right name).

In comes the nature journal

So, when your camera can’t capture the essence of an experience, your nature journal can help!

I couldn’t do it right away but later I journaled about the experience. I could re-live the moment, writing my impressions, emotions, and curiosity, adding cartoons or sketches and color to save this moment in my nature journal– or sensory scrapbook.

I can add a couple of the leaves I picked up, I could even tape a photo of it. But using my hand to write words and make sketches really enriches the memory and helps plant it in my mind so I can recall it again later.

Curiosity flows

One question that I have: The trees around here seem so vibrant the past few weeks. Is it always (each year) this way and I never noticed it? or is it especially vibrant this year?

How could I answer that?……I’ll have to make notes in my journal about particular trees I see this year and compare it to next year!

Your turn

Have you seen something that captures your attention?

Did you go and record in your journal? It could just be the date, and location and a few words to note what you saw.

Did anything surprise you about it? Even small noticings count!

4 thoughts on “A moment in time: learning FROM nature versus learning ABOUT nature.”

  • I’ve always enjoyed watching swallows swoop and soar. But last summer I noticed a bunch of swallows fluttering near the ground around a nondescript puddle by a nondescript parking area for the river trail I was walking on. There was constant coming and going at this puddle. They’d land, do something, then fly over to a nearby bridge. I wondered: Were they drinking the muddy water? Catching some insect that hung around the puddle? On my way back from my walk, the puddle was no longer a center of activity, so I took a close look. There were tons of little marks in the mud around the edge but no marks in the mud under the shallow water of the puddle. And I remembered that I’d only seen them gathered around the edge. Were they eating mud? That seemed unlikely. Then it dawned on me. They must be cliff swallows, and I’d been watching them harvest mud to build nests! I found a way to get down the river bank under the bridge and looked up at the pilings and there they were, rows of mud dwellings clinging to the underside of the bridge, with swallows peering out of some! Now that it’s almost winter, the puddle has long since dried. But I can see the depression it made in the mud by the lot, and I’ll be watching after the first rain next spring. This ordinary puddle has become an exciting spot for me! The experience is most definitely in my nature journal.

    • Jean- what a beautiful thing to see! Its so cool to see them with mouthfuls- or beakfuls of mud! so glad you got a chance to see the marks in the mud too- Did they look like scrapes from the beaks? or did they land on their feet to grab mud?

  • Melinda – I have had the privilege to join you in person and online a handful of times over the last 12 months and came to your website today to be reminded of the gentle way you encourage this practice. I especially appreciated your reminder that, we can get a name correct from an app, but what connection is that exactly? And am I getting the name and moving on, not appreciating exactly what the moment is trying to gift me with? Lately as I dive deeper and deeper into knowing, loving, and observing birds and wildflowers (spring as I type this), I am spending more time with my hands on my favorite nature guides and books, exploring slowly, learning and discovering, rather than what I have always done (snap a pic, add to an app, or ask a FB group). Just wanted to reach out and say thanks, again, for your time in sharing here and in your workshops. You really are making a difference.

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