Gratitude. Defined by Merriam Webster as “the state of being grateful; thankfulness”. November, the month of Thanksgiving, is a month that sets many adrift, thinking of all the things for which they are thankful. Most will mention the basic things, if you will, although certainly important; family, friends, a roof overhead, a paycheck, food on the table.
We are all guilty of taking for granted the very things for which we should be eternally grateful – the things that are just "always there" - the air we breathe; the shade provided by a tall, willowy tree; rain, nourishing the parched earth as it gives new life, revitalizing a wilting plant; the crunch of leaves and the soft cushion of pine needles underfoot, the thunk of a pine cone, bouncing off of your roof; the warmth of the sun, filtering through the trees or glaring brightly on a cloudless day; thunder, as it rolls through the air, followed by the sharp crack of a lightning bolt; the absolute silence -that which simply cannot be described to those that have never experienced it- of snow, softly falling, creating a blanket of undisturbed white on the frozen ground; the equally indescribable smell of the ocean - so distinctive that you know you are near without consulting your map or seeing the water. Nature. Something we all enjoy in various ways, even those of us who are ‘not outdoor people’.
When was the last time you remembered to just stand, be still and absorb the nature around you? Even if you live in the city, there is still nature to be found – a little bird, hopping around a park bench, scavenging crumbs; beautiful trees, flowers, shrubs; a cool breeze that freshens the city air. Take a minute, the next time you head out your front door to run an errand, to put a bill in the mailbox, to dash your child to the school bus. Take a moment and stop. Be still. Breathe. Observe. Really LOOK. Appreciate.
Nature is the most precious of our resources, the most under-appreciated – the most overlooked thing that we should be most thankful for. Without it, we would not survive. I challenge you – connect with nature. Encourage your children to do the same. During the next rain storm, dash outside and play in a puddle together. Sidewalk paint – with mud. Make a snowman, throw snowballs, make snow angels. Enjoy the warmth of the sun. Spread out an old blanket and cloud gaze. “Build” something with sticks and stones. Sit quietly and watch the birds and squirrels; feed them the ‘butt’ from your bread loaf that is only ever consumed out of desperation, when you are flat out of bread. If you have to cut down a tree, let it lay in your yard. Let it become a balance beam, a bunker, a school bus - whatever your child can imagine it to be. As it deteriorates, sure, it will attract bugs. Observe the bugs. Watch the Woodpeckers that may come to visit.
If you reside in an apartment, visit a park. Find a nature center or preserve; visit a State Park, create your own little outdoor space – just go. Get out – meet nature, introduce it to your children. We teach them to appreciate and respect nature by our actions when we cloth diaper, recycle, reduce, and reuse – but also take an active role and show them how YOU respect and enjoy nature – and allow them to find their own way to do the same, from the simplest aspect to the most complicated aspect. Create a little garden together, even if it’s only a small, potted flower or plant. Show them how to water it and care for it and appreciate its beauty and the subtle, almost miniscule changes it will undergo. Show them how to nurture our natural resources, in the hopes that they will always be there for our future generations.
Most of all, use this challenge as a way to create memories. Some of the best memories I have are of simple things – playing in a giant sand pile, so large that it seemed as if a mountain had been dumped into our backyard. “Parachuting” my sister’s doll onto the porch roof, by fashioning a bandanna into a parachute and tying it to the doll with yarn (well, I wasn’t about to test it out on MINE – I did, however, learn a lesson about wind direction), laying on my back in the grass, imagining shapes in the clouds; sledding down a steep hill with snow spraying up into my face, snowball fights and snow fort building with my siblings; playing "bat and ball" with my dad, hitting that plastic softball sized ball with my big red bat and laughing as my dad pretended to dive for the ball, rolling across the grass; playing at the edge of the water for hours on end, making sandcastles and stacking pretty pebbles; watching the sun sparkle on the water, as if it contained thousands of diamonds.
As an adult, many of my fondest, most peaceful memories involve nature – a gorgeously canopied trail through the woods, blanketed with long–leaf pine needles, with birds, squirrels and armadillos foraging along the bramble to either side of the path – the stillness of the water as I run around the lake – cranes standing and silently observing - a loud splash - one which I choose not to let my mind wonder if I startled a gator back into its watery home; a sudden rustle in the undergrowth, causing sudden gooseflesh to erupt, as my mind is sure it's a snake.
Get outdoors – part of saving our environment is learning to enjoy it and to see the “unseen” – you can't help preserve it if you’ve never noticed it. Accept this challenge - shatter your own expectations.