Engaging with Nature While in Isolation

by Valerie Delaney, Principal, Learning + Development

Today is Earth Day. It’s very special this year, as it marks 50 years of Earth Day hope and action.

Earth Day was a big deal to me as a mom with now grown-up children and as an elementary school teacher of impressionable grade fives and sixes.

We always did our best to celebrate the day with special activities. A favourite was reading the Lorax written by Dr. Seuss – a relatively early book about environmental degradation.

In these COVID-19 days of (some) scarcity and (unplanned) reduced consumption, the gap between our wants and Dr. Seuss’s “thneeds” is, perhaps, diminishing and that might be a positive take away from all of this.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”  The Lorax

On that note, I am passing along some words of wisdom from A Rocha, which is an organization that engages in scientific research, environmental education and community-based conservation projects, among other things.

My inspiration to do so came from a video I watched yesterday about a little girl in Delhi and the ways she is spending her time in “lockdown”.  One thing she does is bird watching – from her balcony, in that busy city.

I thought it was so sweet – no complaining from her about not being able to go out onto the streets to play!

Here, then, are some ideas for engaging with nature, in isolation, from A Rocha – downsized, as I have selected my favourites out of ten wonderful suggestions.

  1. Plant a garden (or a few containers on your balcony). Why? Well, obviously, you will continue to need food.  And because taking a wee, inert, seemingly dead thing and burying it in the ground with the faith that it will some day spring forth into new green, fruit-producing life is a very practical act of hope! And don’t we all need some hope right about now? Consider ordering seeds from an online source like William Dam Seeds (https://www.damseeds.com/) or another preferred source (but, be aware that lots of people are ordering seeds right now, so be patient with delivery times).

Richard and I ordered seeds from our local Ace Hardware (unlikely heroes to many) and are sharing them with Jessica and the kids.  They have raised bed planters, and Richard is building us one, too.  It will be 8 feet x 4 feet. This will supplement existing strawberry plants, a pear tree and a peach tree. I will keep you posted about progress, especially as we learn how to handle the dry conditions of the central Okanagan – our first planting season here!  I am so happy to be planting a vegetable garden again, having done that for years, in Ottawa.

  1. Become a neighbourhood naturalist! Since social distancing has many of you tethered to home, you probably won’t be adding any new bird species to your “life list” — but there are plenty more melodious birds in your own backyard that are so deserving of your attention. Consider using the wonderful iNaturalist app as a way of recording your sightings of everything from birds to frogs to flora and contribute to a worldwide conservation database that our very own A Rocha conservation team is using in their own studies.

The birds here are amazing – bald eagles, owls, hawks…..and the little quails that take refuge in our backyard, to Rosie’s intense dislike. There are a lot of other birds that are entirely new to me, and I am looking forward to learning about them. Somehow, the idea of me being a “birder’ terrifies Jessica (I’m getting old?), which I think is hilarious.

  1. Pay attention to the sun. Connect to the bigger rhythms of creation by watching the sunrise and sunset….every day! Studies have shown that seeing the sunrise and sun set (for at least 5 min outside preferably) not only regulates your bodily circadian rhythms which helps with better sleep, but also activates various hormones in the brain that help reduce symptoms of depression. (Right!?!) But don’t take our word for it, check out the work of Dr. Huberman and his colleagues at Stanford University. You can find him on Instagram at @hubermanlab.

This sounds like something I should try – but sunrise….that would mean getting up early, right?

  1. Find a Sit Spot. Whether up in a tree, on a rock overlooking the lake, or in your favourite chair beside the window — a sit spot is the perfect way to find comfort and healing, to de-stress and meditate, and to enjoy the quiet beauty of nature. Pick a spot that you can access on a regular basis, where you can sit quietly and enjoy nature with all your senses. The point of a sit spot is not to act, but to receive. Spend 5-10 minutes just watching, just listening, just being present.

I hope you like the picture below of my Sit Spot.  It’s high on the hill behind our Yellow House.

  1. Help the pollinators. Consider turning a corner of your yard or balcony into a pollinator habitat (the bumblebees will thank you!). You could do this by building a mason bee hotel, plant native flowers and herbs that attract pollinators, provide water (like with a bird bath) for drinking and bathing.  For instructions and ideas check out https://www.gardenista.com/posts/native-pollinator-garden-crash-course/

I had an awesome butterfly garden back in Ottawa, where I found out milkweed grows to gigantic proportions and spreads like crazy!!!  I hope to create a butterfly garden here – with lavender this time.

  1. Stargaze. In keeping with the sunrise/sunset theme, turn your eyes toward the heavens and drink in your daily dose of awe. Brush off your Astronomy 101 skills and get reacquainted with the night sky. There are lots of wonderful apps that can tell you what stars and constellations you’re looking at. (We recommend “StarWalk2.”) Your soul and nervous system will thank you for the gifts of fresh air and a new wonder-filled perspective.

Love this idea and aim to move beyond the Big Dipper and North Star during my isolation stargazing.

I hope you and your friends and families can try one or more of these ideas, on Earth Day and during the days and weeks to come. Let me know how it goes!

Take care and stay well, Valerie