We can be drawn in by many amazing transformations, from wildflowers blooming to ferns unfurling to leaves emerging in the spring.
If you take the time to be to notice the changes that happen outside, you will be changed too. What have you enjoyed noticing? Whatever it is, it can be your portal to deeper nature connection.
There are so many benefits for you when you are present to the natural world. It can help you get perspective, feel more alive, reduce your stress and much more. You don’t need to go on a hike at a nature preserve to connect to nature. You only need to notice the intricate details of a leaf or the nuances of a bird song.
What does connection mean to you? For me words like relationship, interdependence, reciprocity and love come to mind. If we are connected, we care. This spring, I have been enjoying the ferns in my yard.
I know I have benefited by feeling the awe, as I noticed the intricate details or marveled at the changes. I have started to tend my ferns by removing weeds so they can grow better. Connection is important. We protect what we love. For a discussion of nature connection vs. outdoor education, see the bottom of this blog.
My other portal for nature connection this spring has been the wildflowers. I am very grateful to have had more time to get to know the spring wildflowers in this area. I have noticed and learned more about old friends.
From the easy to find Canada Mayflower with its tiny white flower and shiny leaves that cover the ground in many local woods
to the grand and elusive pink lady-slipper. (Please don't try dig up wildflowers. Some, like lady-slippers, have very specific needs and won't survive in your yard.)
Our wild columbine looks different when you notice the view a bee would see.
I admired Jack-in-pulpits before I saw Georgia O'Keefe's paintings that bring their beauty to light. I love the way they emerge in the spring with 1 leaflet up and two down.
Like many wildflowers, the Jack-in-the pulpit needs to be well established (several years), before the root corm (bulb) has stored enough energy to grow their hooded flower. They produce a male flower, when the energy stores in the corm are small (e.g. they are young or a drought the previous year). If they are able to store a lot of energy one year, the next year they produce a female flower. Generally, if the plant as 1 leaf it is male and if it has 2 leaves it is female. The actual flower structures are very small and are on the hidden lower portion of the "Jack" or "Jill". If an insect crawls down the "Jack" it can get covered in the pink pollen and escape from a hole at the bottom. If if it crawls down a "Jill" they can leave behind pollen and often don't manage to escape since there is no hole. The "Jills" become the stalk of bright red seed come autumn.
This year, I came to realize how many species of violets there were with a variety of leaf shapes and textures. Each violet pictured is a different species and only the last one is the type you typically find in a yard.
On rocky ledges, I enjoyed getting to know early saxifrage and noticed the red seeds that started to form after the blossoms.
There I also saw plantain pussy toes growing in colonies that were either all male or all female. The female flowers become the fluffy seeds.
Though I only saw them once this year, I was please to see fringed polygala, herb Robert and pink corydallis.
I also enjoyed getting to compare the difference between the bellworts (large-flowered) and the Solomon's seals (smooth) (flowers below) and false Solomon's seals (flowers at end) (no photo).
The names are good to know, so I have a handle to tell one friend from another.
What are you noticing that interests you? Plants emerging from the ground? The trees developing leaves? The birds? Animal signs and sightings? Whatever it is, if you get to know these neighbors, you can enjoy the benefits of deeper nature connection.
Spend some time outside. If you keep your eyes and ears open, it is amazing what you can discover!
Share what you notice with a family member, friend or neighbor.
Outdoor Education vs Nature Connection
When I first started Everyone Outside, my focus was on outdoor education, but now it is mentoring nature connection. Taken in the simplest form, the goal of outdoor education is often knowledge. For nature connection, the goal is essentially love.
If you have a favorite relative (aunt, uncle, niece, nephew), you probably know a lot about them… that their favorite ice cream is strawberry, they hate pickles and will talk about dinosaurs any time they can be brought into a conversation. Or you can recount their adventures in Nepal or Europe during WWII.
You don’t love them because of the facts and information you know. Your connection with them or love is what gave you the desire to learn about them. The love also means you care…you wouldn’t throw trash on the floor in your favorite aunts kitchen or stomp on the toy belonging to your beloved nephew.
Nature connection is the same idea. If you spend time outside and you have fun playing, like many of us did as kids, nature connection happens. Once you are connected, you want to learn. If I make tea from spicebush and you like it, then you want to learn what spicebush looks and smells like so you can make it again.
Studies have shown that the best predictor of adult environmental stewardship behavior is spending time in nature as a child and having an adult mentor to listen to your stories and ask questions.
For Everyone Outside programs, we focus on mentoring nature connection. For field trips, this means focusing on kids interacting with nature and having fun rather than teaching information. On one field trip the students got to compare walking along side a dandelion flower they tossed into Laurel Brook to running after a stick they threw into the Coginchaug River. This made it easy to see that the brook flowed into the river and notice the difference in speed and water volume of flow in the stream versus the river. For many of the students who had never watched things they had tossed flow downstream, this hands-on fun made it easier to understand the concept of a watershed back in the classroom. We find the kids are actually learning more now that our focus is on interaction with nature and having fun.