It’s springtime. As I say that I feel a giddy excitement well up inside my chest and explode onto my cheeks in a big grin. Happiness warms my belly. And joy flows from my eyes. I can smell the fresh rain, the perfume of the trees, and the minerality of wet dirt. I can see turkey vulture flying in circles above the farmer’s field. I can hear the caws of the grackles as they bounce from rooftop to fence line and back again. The cool air kisses my cheek.
I want to soak all this up even more so I gather my water bottle, a bowl, and my dog. We head to the park about a mile and a half down the road to procure a sit spot. A coveted piece of earth I lovingly claim as the place where I sit and commune with nature. The place where I heal our relationship.
We arrive at the park. There are baseball and soccer fields, an amphitheater, a sand volleyball pit, a playground, and even a waterpark. But I don’t leave the comfort of my home for these manmade distortions of nature. I have no resonance with tidiness and neatness in my relationship with nature. I want her raw, unfettered beauty. Or, the best of whatever Forney can offer, which happens to be the “natural” area blocked off by brown fencing and signs that say “Keep Out.”
A concrete trail winds through this island of trees, ponds, and creeks for a little more than a half-mile loop. We take our respite in these semi-manicured woods. My eyes fall to the rustling leaves where small brown birds hop from one spot to the next chasing bugs and to the fat squirrels foraging around tree trunks.
Baby green leaves grace the ends and sides of twigs and branches. Grasses sprout anew from the marshy soil. Purple flowers blossom on shrubs. Here I’ve found myself an oasis in a desert of farmland, suburbs, and property lines. The only public oasis in this city. Despite its small size, it’ll do. I plan to bring my sprawling blanket, books, journal, and heart with me to this isolated haven – my sit spot – all spring and summer and fall and winter. As long as she’ll have me.
I need this space. I need a place where I see the open sky above me while being held by old oaks and buoyed by lush greenery. I need to hear the birds and squirrels. I need to see the spiders, gnats, and ants. I need to be surprised by slithering snakes and to fight off mosquitos when the heat gets bad.
My mind, heart, and soul need this. My nervous system and brain need this. My bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons need this. My psyche needs this. My relationships, my work, and my art need this.
I’m no expert on nature relations. I’ll point to indigenous cultures, nearly wiped out by European invasion of the last hundreds of years, as the forebearers and resident experts on said relations.
I’m of European descent. European meaning countries within modern Europe but also the United Kingdom and Scandinavia as well. One general term to describe a collective of individuals who carried the seed of curiosity and the “I don’t know” mentality that has expedited imperialism and the advancement of science the world over (read Sapiens for this learning).
My heritage has been one of separation and extraction rather than connection and reciprocity. So I’m the last person to be able to claim expertise on nature relations. And yet I’m learning. What I’m learning has been slow and varied, arriving at my feet and in my heart from nature herself and from stewards of various lineages.
One evening as I drove home on a long expanse of highway after a twelve-hour shift at work I listened to Jon Young tell the story of his first sit spot. A patch of nature tucked between a grove of trees and shrubs with enough space for his person. He sat in silence as he watched scavenging raccoons, crawling squirrels, colorful birds, and every other critter native to his local woods. He did this daily.
It was the start of building a deep and abiding connection with nature. Over time he developed other skills in relationship with nature but they all stemmed from this one foundational practice. A practice as natural to the human as breathing, although many city- and suburb-dwellers may argue otherwise.
Tucked in our homes as we are, distracted by endless electronic toys. Mesmerized and entrained with unnatural vibrations, emanations produced by man. A phenomenon with a paltry existence compared to the millennia in which humans have spent not only being in relationship with nature but being nature herself. Somehow in such a short period of time, we have convinced ourselves that we are separate from that which births us and sustains us. An idea that threatens our very existence today.
So I meander along the short trail. I eye the open spaces between trees and bushes and creeks and bridges. Where is the grass short enough and the ground flat enough? Where is there enough sun to keep me warm when it’s cool and enough shade to keep me cool when it’s warm? Where is it private enough to engender solitude but easy enough to get to with my pup? Where does it feel good to just be?
I’m on the hunt for my sit spot. The place where I can disconnect from the challenging work of being a nurse, from the noise of the city, from the stress of electronic stimulation. The place where I can sync with mother nature’s pace and rhythm, where I can melt into my surroundings, where I can open to the wisdom teachings present within the earth. In this place, I’ll remember who I am.
I’m not separate from but connected to nature. I don’t have a right to take, destroy, and interject myself willy nilly. I am not at the top of the food chain. I am not (as a human being) the sole arbiter of the lands I see before me. She helps me as much as I help her. I am only one notch in the web of life. An integral part of the whole. Sovereignty, respect, and reciprocity are paramount for the well-being of all. I feel this truth come alive in my bones the longer I spend outside.
It’s a healing that occurs over the course of years. Unraveling my nervous system and rewiring my brain. Returning my connection to only a mere semblance of what our ancestors knew. Seen only in the few indigenous people’s still roaming the earth or in the hearts, minds, and bodies of the lineage keepers of these people who themselves are integrated into the modern world.
There’s a lot to be said for the wonders of the modern world. I’m a big fan of running water, electricity, heat and air conditioning, the ability to make friends throughout the world and to learn pretty much anything my heart desires. We’re more hygienic than we’ve ever been (for good or for worse). We’re living longer. And our “standard of living” is quite high, at least in America.
But there are certainly negatives to the modern world that aren’t easy to overlook. Plastic pollution and the destruction of habitats the world over. A decline in the variety and nutritional quality of foods. Increased loneliness, depression, anxiety, and disconnection from nature. The almost inevitable necessity of entering the system that is the workforce in order to make a living at the expense of our own souls.
It’s these negatives that bring many people to a point of looking back. How did paleolithic cultures do it? What were the ways of our ancestors and indigenous people? How do we live in more congruence with the earth? Following these inquiries can very easily land you in a harsh position of cognitive dissonance.
There is no going backward. And would you really want to? Would you really want to give up the gifts of the modern world? We’ve come to a time and place where it does no one any good romanticizing historical ways of being. What we can do is take what works – from the past and the present – and move forward from here.
Although we are currently destroying ourselves, we are also gifted with an array of solutions, wisdom carried forward from eons past and wisdom gained from today. We can choose a new future. One in which we work in tandem with the source of our existence. Healing our break with nature is a great place to start.
I heal my relationship with nature today as I sit with my butt on the ground, pressed lightly against a small tree, ants crawling beneath my feet, and blades of grass poking up on either side of my shoes. I look lovingly at my pup, grab a bunch of fur at his neck, and shake him up with love. I smile at him and look around at the trees waving at me in the wind. The sun sprinkles down on me through the leaves. And the tiny, brown birds pop about as they scratch at the dirt, letting me know there’s always something good to find if you’re willing to dig a little.
In this spot, I dig in with a furiousness and haste, seen in how my limbs and eyelashes linger in deep surrender to the waves of sun rays bathing my body. Herein lies the irony of this great turning point. A sit spot is just that – a place to sit. And be as you would be if nature could truly have her way. Unraveling us from all the ways of being that keep us apart from the truth of who we really are. What emerges is a presence. A witness to life as it is.
Suddenly, the birds and the bees, the snakes and the trees, the dirt and the fleas come alive in a whole new way. The old world falls away, yielding to this world right here. Here beneath my feet, beneath my hand as I touch the soft grass, and beneath my butt, as I squirm in response to the discomfort of sitting on hard ground.
There are worlds upon worlds within this world we live in. In our haze, we forget that the dreaming of the earth is the foundation upon which our other worlds exist. But we can remember and re-integrate that knowing. We can weave the earth’s dreaming back into the other dreaming one sit spot at a time. It would create a coming together and a falling apart all at the same time. This is the beauty of the sit spot.
Its gifts are subtle and the shifts take time, inundated as we are in modern living. But with consistency and dedication soon no effort is required. The pull will be too great to ignore. You’ll find yourself seeking out spots wherever you go, whenever you are. What you think feeds you now is nothing compared to how you’ll be fed by a relationship with nature out beyond the trappings of this modern life.
Where will you find your sit spot this spring? Be unafraid to claim that bench in the corner at the dog park, the piece of ground along the creek behind your backyard fence, or the tree that stands in the middle of your favorite public park. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an urbanite or a rural person. The only requirements are that 1) it be outside and that 2) you feel good where you are. The only supply needed is yourself. It really truly is the easiest way to jumpstart your relationship with nature. And always remember, it should feel good!
Springtime. It lights the way, teases the senses, and captivates imaginations. My little spot disappears in the distance as we walk back to the car. “Until next time, my friend,” I whisper.