Discovering Nature, a Writing Exercise

*Photo taken in Nelson, NH.

Last week I posted a writing prompt on Instagram: discover nature. I’ve been sharing weekly writing prompts to help get people motivated to be more aware, focus on having a positive mindset, and to encourage personal growth. This is a relatively new thing I’m trying, and it’s been interesting. Over the last several weeks I’ve been doing the weekly prompts, too, and having some fairly interesting results. My last week of discovering nature provided me with an opportunity to focus on how nature already fits into my regular work days, and it opened my eyes to how much nature is in my everyday life. Since it made me so happy to explore this aspect of my life, I thought I would share it in a longer form of writing. For those who don’t know what my writing prompts are about, I typically post a short video on my Instagram TV channel with the week’s prompt and a brief explanation or thought. The idea is to write the prompt at the very beginning of the day, right after you wake up, like this: “My intention for today: discover nature.” At the end of the day, right before bed, the challenge is to write a reflection on whether or not you adhered to the intention for the day. It’s meant to be short, nothing more than a few minutes.

As I work through these daily prompts, I am learning all sorts of things about myself and my tendencies, and it’s helping me to pay attention in general to my own thoughts and actions. It helps to keep me aware of what I’m doing, especially if I have goals I want to accomplish. Though I’ve always been a writer, and tend to write reflectively a lot, I haven’t always been dedicated to reflecting daily. Strange, I know, but true. What I love most about this daily prompt experience is the way it tends to draw out the good aspects of a day. It leaves me feeling inspired, empowered, and accomplished. When I started out my week of writing about discovering nature, my Sunday bubbled over with outdoor fun. Michael and I had a blast getting out for a hike with the dogs—me on my snowshoes, and the dogs happily romping through the woods off leash, a real treat for them. I wrote about our Sunday adventure in last week’s blog post. After that day, on Monday I didn’t have the chance to get out other than for a few minutes. But what beckoned me outdoors was the sunset. I think because my intention was set, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but dash out with the dogs for a few minutes to appreciate nature’s most fabulous show. As I stood at the edge of the driveway, the sun sank toward the horizon, lighting up the trees and the air and the snow with an orange-pink glow. In my reflection later I wrote:

“Gorgeous orange fire lit up the pines as I walked up the driveway, the trees alight as if shedding the spectre of the illusion of our world, our inability to see the [full spectrum] of light with our eyes…every once in a while, an astronaut sees the death of a star, its light driving through their bodies in a gasp, a whisper for the magnitude of such a distant end traveling so far….” I wrote that last phrase about the astronauts after having seen the incredible show called One Strange Rock on Netflix, a truly captivating love story about the planet from the eyes of astronauts. If you have time to watch it, I recommend it. I continued to write farther down the page, “The snow painted itself salmon…” but what I couldn’t capture in words was the single moment in which the sunset actually set the air aglow, turning everything in that light the color of the sunset. Such moments do not come often, and when we are lucky enough to witness them, how can we not stand in awe?

On the following day, I got out for another snowshoe hike and wrote, “Four o’clock, getting dim amongst the trees. Sun touches only the top halves of the trees; gold above, silver below the line of shadow. Turkey tracks drag through the light snow, the marks of three-pronged feet prominent and perfect. Sunset astonished again. Supermoon tonight, hope I see [the] moon at dawn again—saw the moon slipping yellow-faced behind the cross hatch of bare branches. So big I could see it without glasses.” For me, that’s incredible. My eyes are terrible enough that even seeing my hand a few inches away from my face is blurry, and I can’t recognize people in the same room with me. If you didn’t get to enjoy the super moon last week, go check out some photos online. It was a remarkable marvel of nature, to see the moon so large in the sky. What I also loved, though was that I paid closer attention to what I was seeing as I hiked in the woods, noticing the quality of the light and then taking the time to write it down. Sometimes I do that anyway, but this week I did it with purpose, and it made me appreciate it more. And coming across the turkey tracks was just fun. I love seeing signs of animals in the woods, like a little surprise present.

At work the next day, when I was out on the playground with the toddlers from my class, we investigated icicles that had clung to a bush near the porch. I wrote, “…noticed how clear and glassy one icicle was, then how bubbly another was…” and we had fun inspecting the ice and how it felt so smooth. One of the toddlers was especially interested in the way the icicles looked where they had dripped down the branches of the bush, a large cluster of ice hanging low to the ground. I have to admit, I am so happy we get outside almost every day when I’m at work. That’s one part of my job that I love, and I know the kids appreciate the time outside. We usually play right along with them when outside, jumping on sleds with them, building snowpeople, pointing out snowflakes, or even dusting them with snow from low branches. It’s not easy getting several toddlers into snowsuits and boots, but once we get out there it’s totally worth it.

For some reason, my reflection from Thursday was short, and I wrote that I was tired. I wrote briefly that I had watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel to get myself passionate about saving the planet. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do, regardless of your politics. He makes a good case for getting all hands on deck to make sure we handle the planetary crisis we’re all facing now, and I do think everyone needs to be informed by this point. The next day, I wrote about getting out into the woods with the dogs again after work, but this time I went alone. Here’s what I wrote: “Took dogs in the woods after work, wore my snowshoes, let them off leash…blammo, dogs are gone in the woods. Called them for half an hour, had to go all the way back down the hill (thank goodness I’m in good shape and didn’t really mind) where Luna came running up the path looking glad to see me, but upset. I said out loud, ‘Where’s Puppy?’ [that’s what we call Sasha—it’s a long story] and Luna nearly hauled me off my feet to run down the hill some more to find Sasha. Sasha probably got lazy and didn’t want to walk, so Luna probably stayed with her, not wanting to leave her there alone.” That was a little adventure I was glad didn’t last very long. Having the dogs lost in the woods in winter is a bad thing, especially since I could hear neighbors out shooting when the dogs were lost. Talk about nerve-wracking! Fortunately, the dogs were fine, and Luna is a good mother hen. She didn’t leave Sasha alone, always concerned about keeping her pack together.

On my last day of the week, I wrote very little again, but I was in need of rest. I wrote about how I needed to get better because I had a sore throat starting and didn’t want to get sicker. I did get out and wander in a couple of hardware stores to explore ideas for tiny houses, just because. Ever since I went to Thoreau’s cabin, I can’t get it out of my head how small that space was, but how cozy and perfect it looked to me. When I stood in that room and took in the sense of calm, I knew that could be my life, my dream, my ideal way to be in the world. A tiny house in the woods with only a few of life’s necessities at hand. When Michael and I lived in our Airstream for a year, I felt the same way. When you live tiny, you get outside more and have less to keep you secluded from the vast glory nature has to offer. I am more determined than ever to make that dream a reality again, no matter what else happens. Could my week of discovering nature have been more glamorous and exciting? Sure, but I wanted to be real. I have a job and responsibilities, and the point to my writing prompts isn’t necessarily to go out of my way to seek out special experiences, it’s to notice the experiences I already have in my daily life. What the daily writing has helped me do is to pay closer attention to what I have right now, and to enjoy it. If you care to join me in my weekly prompts, you can go to my Instagram feed in the right side bar and check my IGTV channel for the video prompts. Sunday afternoon is when I usually post a new video, and I try to post a reminder on my feed so people know it’s there. Even if you aren’t a writer, this is an exercise designed for anyone who wants to have a more positive focus in daily life, so check it out if you think it might help you. I’m excited about how much it’s helping me, and I like sharing things that work. Have a wonderful week, friends, and get out there and enjoy our beautiful world.

*Just a quick note: I am in the process of changing the look of my website, so next time you visit my blog it may have a new look. Don’t worry, my content will all still be here! It’s just getting a little TLC. 🙂




Drummer Hill before the Storm

*Photo taken from the window of our house in Nelson, NH after one of the recent storms.

The weekend has been wild and wooly across the nation, but we got lucky in Southern New Hampshire, at least in the Keene area. Projected snowfall was supposed to be in feet, but it all went North other than a few sugary inches. Cold temperatures are sawing into our tender flesh in the last couple of days, the kind that instantly freezes your nostrils and bites into your exposed skin as soon as you step out the door. Such days are not for hiking or outdoor play, but Michael and I got out on a trail before the storm. We had fun, but it was treacherous. I’ll explain.

For the first time since Thanksgiving, Michael and I had four whole days in a row off from work at the same time. Our plan originally was to drive up to Franconia Notch State Park, a beautiful park in the White Mountains, and home of the famous “Old Man in the Mountain.” New Hampshire prides itself on the famous profile of a man’s face (though I think it could just as easily be a woman—why not?) which can be seen from certain places below the peak. According to Wikipedia, the rock formation which made up the “Old Man” collapsed in 2003. It has since been repaired if you care to go there for a visit. You might want to wait for it to get a little warmer first; the White Mountains are known for their frighteningly bad weather. Needless to say, Michael and I are sturdy Western New Yorkers, quite familiar with snow and cold because we lived right next to the giant snow machine called Lake Erie most of our lives. Even though much of the worst snow fell to the north of us, we still saw plenty of it in Olean, and had lots of below zero weather in winter, too. We were prepared to head up to Franconia Notch despite the winter weather so we could enjoy a day trip out of town to a spot we both enjoyed when we went in 2016…and then the storm decided to make a mess of our plans.

As usual, the weather reports projected the worst possible scenarios, hyping up the amount of snow we should expect to fall, and then the wintry mix weather was supposed to hit…none of it really happened here in Southern New Hampshire. I know they saw more snow up North, but that is typical. Mountains draw weather like magnets attract iron. The weather always goes to the mountains. Either way, we realized that with such weather headed this way, we couldn’t chance the conditions of the road remaining safe for such a long day trip. From where we live in Nelson, it takes over two hours to get to Franconia Notch, and Michael does not rise early on his days off (he works nights, so early mornings are not happening for him). Thus, we knew the trip was foiled. Boo. Instead, we decided to take the same day and head out to a new trail locally so we could enjoy some new scenery. As luck would have it, we found an easy trail right in Keene in a conservancy called Drummer Hill.

I read up on the conservancy before we left to learn that there are roughly 30 miles of trails there, and that we could expect a 700-foot elevation gain from the bottom of the hill. That sounded perfect to me. I love a place with a bunch of trails to explore in a small area. It gives you a sense of variation when you go for a hike instead of always doing the same trail every time, something I loved when we were out in Nevada. Lots of conservancies and government land had trail systems running in a variety of directions, both along the desert floor and up on the peaks. Finding Drummer Hill seemed like we might have the same kind of luck, but this time in the woods. Getting there proved interesting, because the map makes it look as though you can jump right off Route 9 and go to the conservancy trailhead off Timberline Drive, but…not so much. If you head out to this trailhead, use your navigator unless you know where the trailhead is on the road. You have to drive through a mess of tangled streets to get to the trail from Route 9.

When we arrived, the entire entry point to the trail was a solid river of ice. We almost thought better of heading in, but we’re undaunted by winter conditions. Surely the ice would eventually dissipate as we got farther on the trail, we thought. Maybe it’s just an overflow from a nearby melt-off that froze at the base of the road, we imagined. Off we went with the dogs on leash, our Luna very happy indeed because the husky in her was getting to be outside in the white stuff. She loves winter and wilts in summer. Sasha, on the other hand, is made of pudding and does not love winter, but went along for the walk like a trooper. Up we went on the Old Gilsum Road Trail, which was apparently once an actual road used for vehicles. I have no idea how long ago it was turned into a conservancy, and since I never actually saw the “road” beneath the snow I don’t even know if the trail is asphalt or dirt. We had an interesting time of climbing up the hill, which never really cleared of the ice. It was several inches thick, and will take quite a bit of warm weather to melt it all. Still, we persisted for a good long time, often climbing up onto side tracks along the path to avoid some of the most slippery areas we simply couldn’t negotiate.

We saw several trails leading into the woods from the main trail we took uphill, and a few times even talked about taking one to escape the treacherous ice river. Every trail looked fun, but none of them looked much safer than the one we were already negotiating. Rather than wander off in the woods without a map, we decided to stick to the main trail to avoid getting lost. The good news is that we know it exists now, and are quite keen to go back and hike it again to explore more. In any case, we got about half an hour of uphill hiking in when we reached a spot where the trail began going downhill, and that looked even more icy than the uphill trail we took. Both of us were somewhat disappointed to not be able to enjoy the view we wanted to see from the hilltop, but it was still fun to find this little gem of a trail system so close to home. The woods of the conservancy are a surprise to discover so close to the city, and I hear nearby Goose Pond is also lovely. I expect to do lots of exploring when weather improves, though I have to admit I was disappointed by the low snow totals, and then the horribly cold temperatures. Totally ruined my plans to get out and snowshoe in the woods.

Whatever happens with weather next, I usually find time to get outside, even when it’s freezing. I walked today, though it was short because even Luna started limping from the cold. My hope is that the temps get high enough to go for a little hike in my snow shoes without getting frost bite. We’ll see. Then again, if it gets warm enough for a January thaw, maybe I can try the Drummer Hill trails again over the weekend. Whatever happens, I will get outside one way or another. My life requires time in the woods, like food for the spirit. Some people need to run, some people climb granite cliffs, I hike in the woods. Everyone has a thing they love, and I hope you all find what that is and go do it as often as possible. Life will not wait for you to fall into it when you have time. You must make the time. If today is your last day on this earth, ask yourself if you did enough of what you love to be able to leave it behind without regret. If the answer is no, I suggest you fix that. Go enjoy the world, ignore the news for a while, laugh with friends, and forget the dishes piling in the sink. The dishes will never be done, the house will never be clean, and the paperwork will always need filing. I’m not suggesting you live like a slob, but I am saying give yourself a break from the work, even if it’s not all done. You’ll never wish you spent more time working, but you will regret not going out to see what the world has to offer, and the people you could have taken with you.