Sometimes practicing an art indoors just isn’t enough to unblock your writing. You have to take your drawing, your singing—your mind—outdoors. Imitate branches blowing in the breeze till you dance yourself to a sane standstill. Defer to the air. Put aside the pad and pencil, the poem notes on the “comely beetle, fair of feet.” Defer to the ladybug. Capture nothing. Let your creativity, your intellect meld slowly, higher into nature. Become the wind, the tree, the insect. Find your relative nothingness. Marvel wordlessly in place, or gently walking.
Embrace nature. Cleanse your thoughts of word cholesterol. Unblock, simply.
Easier said than done, especially when you live downtown and labor in a drywall square before an un-nature-al machine. Perhaps you gave up your car years ago and cannot meet hiking clubs at trailheads miles away. Or you sensibly fear strolling alone and spirit-full through the woods. Maybe your neighbors have claimed all nearby urban garden plots five years out. You may dislike zoos and have limited space for houseplants. You’re definitely past it for playgrounds, green or otherwise.
What to do? How to engage nature’s curative silence?
Try as I might, I can’t come up with much of a method this time. No one can jam nature onto worksheets. It’s where it should be—beyond our ken. In its time, its way, it will knock words from the brains it gave us. Separate the good ones from the bad, with or without aid from the arts. We only have to make ourselves available. Outside.
But we can push it … just a bit.
Whether you set out with an easel, a songbook, or not, try some of the following activities to quiet yourself. Pick one from each category. They’re meant for the apartment-dwelling adult with access to a city park, if not a forest. They’re meditative alternatives to the family-oriented, more involved suggestions in the back of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, which inspired my interview with Robert Zarr.
- Pick up a rock. Who lives underneath? Replace it thoughtfully.
- What kind of rock did you pick up? Are there others like it around you?
- What does the rock smell like? The soil coating it?
- Go out late on a clear night. Can you find Venus?
- Go out midday. What kind of clouds do you see?
- Which way is the breeze blowing? Is it friendly or frightening?
- Any precipitation? Take off your hood. How does it feel or taste?
- If your park features a creek, skip a stone. Avoid braining the fish!
- How does the light play under the trees or your legs, crossed on a park bench?
- Can you find a mushroom, another fungus, lichen, or a yellow slime mold?
- Pick a tree. Make it your favorite. Sit beneath it at different times. Look up.
- Play with a stick, as you see children do. Who’s looking?
- Visit a tree you planted as a tiny tot or testy teenager. How it has grown!
- Identify trees by their bark or leaves. App away or bring a guide!
- How many colors and shades can you find on blossoming trees come spring?
- How many colors can you see in the leaf duff under your feet, summer and fall?
- Feel moss. Which side of the tree is it growing on?
- In midsummer, pick a wild onion, one standing tall apart from dogs. Taste it.
- Find one wildflower, one “weed,” one ornamental, and one invasive species.
- Who’s pollinating the flowers around you? Bees? Butterflies? Beetles?
- Look up at the trees. Count nests in the winter. Find burrows in the ground.
- Go out early. Listen for birds. Who’s making the music?
- Find a feather. Look at its amazing structure. Who wore it?
- Watch a squirrel bury nuts or find a stash. What a unique form of intelligence!
- If two squirrels are chasing each other, ask yourself why. Wait for an answer.
- Do you see animal tracks? A raccoon’s? Who else has been about?
- Where do garden spiders build their webs? Is an owner just out of view?
- What lives in the cracks in the pavement? How many anthills can you find?
- Who lands on the back of your hand? How does it feel or look?
- At the end of summer, listen for katydids and crickets. Which is which?
After you fool around a while, sit or lie down on the ground, in the dirt. After all, copywriting and nature are messy processes.
Wait. Listen. Let time pass. Why ever not? Find yourself under nature’s spell. Embrace it.
Then, go inside. Sit before your computer. Touch the keys. Make music with them. You’ll be amazed at your new verbal powers, your hidden “nature.”
Add an outdoor activity below or on Twitter. You’ll often find us under #environment.
And, yes, scientists have documented nature’s positive effects on grownups’ health. That’s subject matter for a future post.