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Mindful : April 2019
complexity, diversity, and simple miracles. Or we can discover what Wendell Berry notes in his poem “The Peace of Wild Things” as he steps outdoors: “For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” Nature’s Invitation Nature also provides innumerable counter- points to stress. For our cramped, pressured, cubicle lives, we can feel a magnificent sense of space as we behold the boundlessness of the night sky or the vastness of the ocean. For our senses—dulled by screens and monotone offices—we can drink in a thousand colors of the pebbles and sands at the beach or shades of green as we walk in the woods. For the pervasive anxiety and stress that runs through our nervous system, we can access the tranquility of trees, streams, and wildflower meadows. We can attune to the gentle deer who embody a grace and dignity as they move through a landscape. For our heart made heavy by sadness and grief, we can be touched and comforted by the simple joys of bluebells bloom- ing in woodlands, the fleeting hummingbird as it floats by, or the billowing clouds lit up at sunset. Nature’s teaching also provides a perspective that we all too easily forget. As we watch scarlet maple leaves drop in the fall, it reminds us of the importance of letting go, of release. Walking in a woodland in the dead of winter, we behold the natural rhythms of dormancy, and remember there are seasons of flourishing and times to rest and rejuvenate. Seeing fields of once-golden blooms of sunflowers now withering in autumn, we remember that beauty and joy also have their seasons, their ebb and flow. Nature always invites our attention and offers so much to our depleted hearts and minds. The question now is: Will we accept the invita- tion? What’s at stake if we don’t is not just our personal well-being. Our collective health—and perhaps even the survival of our entire species— seems to hang in the balance. Feeling the Reality of Change As I continue my hike along the crest of the hill, I suddenly realize the view is not the crystal clarity I have come to expect. There is a haze in the valleys below, blurring boundaries and obscuring the horizon. I begin to smell an acrid smoke that strangely blows in from the ocean. The smoke comes from the raging fires further north, burning in the Pacific Northwest and Brit- ish Columbia. Although originating more than a thousand miles away, these plumes, carried by Pacific thermals, blow into California. It is the all-too-constant reminder that not all is well in the world, however beautiful the nature that sur- rounds me. Today, because of climate crisis and changing ecology, the sense of finding nature as source of nourishment is changing. We now live in an era where the impacts of global warming—unprec- edented forest fires, species extinction, coral reef deaths—are impossible to ignore. Our very experience of nature is tinged, if not marred, by these looming realities. I have hiked in three mountain ranges in 2018: in the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, and the Alps. In each place I walked, visibility was affected by a smoky haze from nearby or distant forest fires. In the same year, Califor- nia witnessed two utterly tragic fires. One, the Camp Fire, incinerated the entire town of Paradise, destroying up to 18,000 homes, forc- ing more than 52,000 people into some phase of homelessness. Simultaneously, the Woolsey fire, near Malibu, ravaged hillsides and homes alike. The Camp Fire spewed smoke that stretched for hundreds of miles up and down California, blanketing entire cities with toxic smoke. It was described as the hottest and fast- est moving fire in history. The intensity fueled by the drought conditions were a direct result of climate change. Similarly, friends who like to snorkel and dive lament the diminishing coral reefs. Alpine climbers witness the high mountain glaciers → Nature always invites our attention and offers so much to our depleted hearts and minds. The question now is: Will we accept the invitation? April 2019 mindful 45 nature