Finding light in winter’s darkness

Photo by Zan Tomko

Nature offers light at the end of the tunnel

December 21 is the first day and longest night of winter and the turning point to a daily increase of sunlight. After the longest night, the Earth begins its seasonal trek back to summer.

Turning from darkness to light is a renewal. Winter can be a time of renewal for everyone frazzled by the hectic holiday season, and it requires just a bit of your attention.

A study by Yale University reports that time spent observing and enjoying nature reduces stress and anxiety in many ways: It reduces blood pressure and stress hormones while it calms the nervous system, promotes calm, and increases self-esteem. 

In his book “Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life,” Richard Louv says that spending time with nature is the antidote for the stress and anxiety created by the high-tech digital world. We are hardwired to respond positively and connect to the natural world. 

Nature begins our renewal through our five senses, the more senses involved the richer the reward. Let’s start with just one of our senses, sight. Seeing in a way that is not just a casual glance but looking longer or slower at something, giving a bit of reflection sometimes called mindfulness. 

When you reflect on nature and take a longer look, your blood pressure responds and brings a moment of calm. Observing nature can be meditation.

A simple way to begin is to observe nature by simply looking out a window, going for a short walk, or driving to a park or local nature center. One way to begin looking at nature is to try to look out the same window at the same time each day. 

Checking outside when you have your morning coffee and checking in every day adds to your observations. Maybe you already feed the birds or squirrels and you will start to see the variety of colors and temperaments that each individual animal has. 

A good friend of mine took photos of the squirrels she noticed near her house, and soon she began to tell me stories about the crazy things they do. When I asked how she saw all these things, she replied, “Oh, I’ve been throwing out shelled nuts for them so I can watch them open them!” 

That’s moving beyond observation and into talking to the animals! Begin by observing with attention.

If you want to know more about the animals, plants, trees or rocks you notice, there are many local and online resources available for you and your family. Check with your park district or nature center and attend one event. Walk or ride to local parks or parks in nearby cities for places to walk and observe; most activities are open to the general population.   

At the darkest time of the year, it’s time for renewal.

Resources

  • A national organization, Outdoor Afro, is dedicated to encouraging Black connections and leadership in nature. There is a Minneapolis chapter with connections through the organization, MeetUp. For more info, visit outdoorafro.org and bit.ly/OutdoorAfroMNMeetUp.
  • The University of Minnesota Extension offers a MN Master Naturalist Program if you want a closer link to the natural world. Various program sites and dates are available, and scholarships are open for any adult interested in getting to know MN through the Master Naturalist Program. Find more info at minnesotamasternaturalist.org.
  • Another great resource is Melanin in Motion, an initiative from the Cultural Awareness Center to connect Black people to active living opportunities in the outdoors. Find more info at melanininmotion.org.

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