Previously, I wrote about the important of spaces and places in our lives. How finding comfortable places in our lives is essential for establishing peace of mind, ownership, responsibility, and even self identity. So, for this post, I thought I would share with you a bit of free writing that I recently did while on-the-job as an instructor at Portland Parks’ Summer Nature Day Camp. Pretty much the coolest job ever- who else can say they get paid a decent wage to play and explore in nature all day with kids. And to take some quiet time with them as well to observe nature closely and unleash your creative side.
I used to do this activity, though I did not know of it by any particular name, when I was a child. I would sneak away, with a book or journal, to my favorite bough on a tree in a clearing on my neighbors’ acre of land. Some of my favorite memories come from the quiet and stillness I experienced here, a vague remembrance of sun-splotched green grass and the unique color of light streaming through the thinnest of new leaves.
Throughout this summer, if I have found my group to be particularly mature, I will introduce the concept of “secret spots” to them. In this practice, the instructor allows the students to find their own “secret spot,” away from all other campers, to be their own spot for the week. They return day after day, to observe, write, and draw in this place and see how it changes. Or to just simply be inspired, again and again. I have also taken this time to write and draw, not quite as removed from this group (I stay in a central location) but still surrounded by the stillness and quiet that nature can show us when we simply sit.
I found a spot underneath two Douglas Fir trees. I am excited for the campers to discover the magic of secret spots. Why are they so special? Like free writing, finding a secret spot allows your mind to wander and discover the beauty of one spot. To allow your creative impulse to capture the essence of that which is around us- to notice the wind blowing through the pine needles on a branch- thousands of needles, some new growth green, others darker, older, deeper green. Infinite. More than we could ever count, like hairs on a head. Growing how they will, some peeking out from the brown of extending twigs, glimpsing their first sight of the world, feeling the blast of a tiny breath of wind.
We can also notice how tall the Douglas Fir tree is- its beautiful, knobbly bark and its uneven browns of crevices and surfaces. How its branches, like arms, stand tall but unassuming to the evils of the world. This tree is just goodness- home to a spider, hiding in the folds of its thick bark, swinging in the air between two boughs, giving itself and its sticky silk to the mercy of the wind. But the tree selflessly supports the eight legged, a stronghold.
The wood is magnificence- endless, sturdy, ageless, wise. This tree, in the same spot for decades, represents the wisdom of our grandparents, great grandparents. Home to generations of squirrels, dozens of bird nests. It can teach us much about history, the lessons we rarely remember and emulate. These times, the times we sit in quiet with our thoughts, is an opportunity for great creativity. The quieting of our mouths and the quieting of our own activity allows the mind to burst open with ideas- new thoughts, words, fit together like puzzle pieces on a coffee table, the big picture becoming more apparent and more beautiful. The gems of seperate ideas and concepts merge together, until the whole, some sort of conclusion, can finally be realized.
I invite you, my readers, to try this practice of quieting your mouth and opening your ears to your own secret spot in nature. What did you discover?
Note: I originally came to this idea by way of Joseph Cornell‘s book entitled Sharing Nature with Children, a wonderful resource for environmental educators looking for a more introspective approach to nature education