Happy Little Nature Rampage

From the Sanctuary:

Nature rampage lately…so healing to the psyche! First to Southwest Florida to explore with friends. My first day there they introduced me to their resident tree frog who peeked at me from their balcony bromeliad. Adorable beyond words! In the five days that followed we walked the beach, visited a nature park and drove to the Everglades, a destination that had been on my bucket list since I was five and read a story about it in Kindergarten. I wasn’t disappointed as we saw plenty of alligators and manatees. I ate fresh shrimp and tried Conch for the first time sitting at a picnic table by the water in one of the restaurants near the old City Hall. A teaser trip, I’ll be back.

Another highlight was our usual fishing outing which takes us from Bonita Springs out onto the Gulf of Mexico through narrow passages by small mangrove islands and inlets. My friend is an expert navigator and patient fisherman, baiting the hooks and freeing lines of those of us who aren’t the greatest at casting.  I catch nothing but the wind in my hair and sun on my face, but that is enough. The trip includes the pleasant surprise of a school of dolphins feeding near the shore. We slow up to drift between them and marvel as they surface close enough to us so we can hear the sound of the air escaping their blowholes. Magical.   I’m quiet on the way back, letting my thoughts drift peacefully and as pleasantly as the water, glad to be sharing this time in my Florida Happy Place with happy friends.

I returned to New York on a Thursday at midnight, due at Allegany Nature Pilgrimage on Friday afternoon.   Different wardrobe packed, I hop in the car headed for a weekend of scenic bliss and a prescription of workshops that include searching for spiders (led by a delightful nine-year-old bug enthusiast), butterfly catching, instruction at a beaver lodge and lesson on rattlesnakes (not nearly as dangerous as I suspected).   I was reunited with a retired friend from my UB Engineering days and had a relaxing night fireside with cabin neighbor family, a couple and their grown son.  We enjoyed our pleasant banter that included the perfect cheater microwave recipe for S’Mores in a pinch when you’re in the mood and there’s no fire to be found. Had reports of a pesky raccoon badgering (pun intended) campers for food, but he didn’t stop by my place.

The following weekend I spent Saturday and Sunday on day-long hikes with my Earth Spirit Educational Services family for the final sessions of a four-part series on herbalism field studies. By the end, I was much more adept at recognizing plants in different settings of Western New York forests, fields, creeks and ponds.   In all, we identified more than 100 plants, including a blooming Tulip tree, majestically looking like those flowering beauties in Florida. The ground looks different now, not just a place to walk upon, but a world to enjoy the endless gifts that Mother Nature provides in all of her purposeful greenery. As is the case with all Earth Spirit events, this one came with sentiments of true nature appreciation. When our educator introduced us to poison ivy he pointed out that although it has a bad reputation, all nature does what it needs in order to survive.   The more educated we become, the less fearful we will be. That was definitely true of my recent spider and rattlesnake lessons.  Reflecting, I also thought about people I have needed to forgive during my life, and I smiled in the moment thinking of them with love and a new understanding.   Perhaps that is true of humans as well…we behave in whatever ways we need in order to survive.

As I write this I am grateful to be back at my own sanctuary enjoying the bunnies chasing each other, great blue herons by the creek, sounds of the birds and the spotted fawn who appeared with Mom a couple of weeks ago sporting brand new wobbly legs. And I am happy.

Movin’ Out of Virtual Town

The For Sales sign is on the lawn; I’ve packed up am and leaving Virtual Land to head back to the small town of my custom made tech-reduced reality. I’ve enjoyed being with all of my digital neighbors for a bit, but it’s getting crowded, I’m bored with trying to keep up and the neighborhood is changing. Since moving here and trying to keep up with the online life, I’ve become aware of my behavior change from having an inclination to spend physical time with others to clicking along beside them. Facebook became addictive, the first thing I checked in the morning and the last I checked at night before I went to bed. Years ago I joined to connect with old friends; now participation has become shallow. And so has everything else app for me.

I’m returning to a low tech place that could be abandoned by now, yet that was thriving a mere five or six years ago when people were still communicating chiefly through voice and personal interaction, still having fun spending face to face (not screen) time together, enjoying activities and life and each other without the dependence and interruption of technology, videos and photos. A time when words, gestures, screen-free eye contact and real laughs out loud gave electricity to a room and helped people connect deeply, get to know each other, fall in love across a table.

Perhaps because I have a curiosity and background in human communication and psychology and I’m accustomed to observing people I am especially cognizant as to what has been happening to the way we relate. The more ways we have to communicate, the less we connect.   I remember the pre-phone obsession era, so it is somewhat unsettling to be a few feet away from someone who isn’t aware of my presence because they’re staring at their device or to be walking across the campus where I work and see dozens of individuals phone staring as opposed to groups walking and talking with each other.

Admittedly, Facebook has given me the joy of watching the lives of my friends and families unfold. Births, accomplishments, announcements, deaths are posted every day. Yet what used to be moments to cherish are now split second scrolls, lost in volume and quickly replaced by the one below. There is no time to savor, feel the emotion or hold space for any in my heart for long. Meanwhile, in between there’s the mental work of filtering out the vindictiveness, opinions, judgments, politics and food plates. It is not lost on me how closely Facebook resembles my mental illness, the online version of bipolar disorder, reflecting the alternating manic and depressive thoughts that are part of the diagnosis and the world.

I’ve been a part of many conversations where it is unanimous that technology is taking over our lives and dumbing us down, always defended by the excuse that this is the direction the world is headed, so you must keep up. Intuitively, that’s not my world. So, I got rid of my television, cancelled my landline and gave myself a ten-minute per day Facebook limit. The external information clutter cleared from my life, I recovered my peace of mind and got my concentration back. Beautiful.

With Virtual Land behind me, I’m reaping the benefits of my tech-reduced life. It’s way easier on the budget. I’m planning face-to-face gatherings by sending out paper invitations and spontaneous get-togethers through calling (rediscovering voices) and emailing. I hear about my friends’ life events firsthand or through the grapevine; still giving all of them enthusiastic “Likes.” Only now it’s so much better because I have the precious time to revel in these in the much slower way that I prefer, I get to cherish the moments once again. Home sweet home.