• Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Meta

A Dose of Nature

            A research team at the University of Exeter, one of the top 150 worldwide universities and a public research university in England, examined the benefits of spending time in parks and woodlands and at the beach. The results were the same across all demographic groups – men, women, young, old – among the 20,000 people interviewed.  Those who spent at least two hours a week in nature reported better health and more satisfaction with their lives.  The two hours can be spread across the week and several outings.

A recent article headline in The Week magazine caught my eye:  A Weekly Dose of Nature.  The first sentence validates my need to be outdoors:  For an easy and pleasant way to boost your health and well-being, spend a couple of hours a week in nature.

            Last week I took three young Grands to Cane Creek Park.  As we watched the ducks waddle and the geese gliding on the water, I soaked in the beauty.  Greenish-blue water.  Green banks across the lake.  Browns and grays on tree trunks.  Blue-green and lime colored leaves.

            “Look at the reflection of the trees in the water,” I said.  My Grands nodded and one said, “We see it, Gran. You told us that last time.”  And I’ll tell them next time. 

            I really wanted to walk the park path and cut through a few places in the woods, but my Grands had their eyes, their thoughts, on the playground so they jumped, ran, flipped, swung, climbed, and slid.  I stayed close by and watching them, and I watched the clouds and treetops. Big, white cumulus clouds drifted across the clear sky and over the tops of trees.

            Micah, age 5, noticed me looking up and said, “What’d you looking at, Gran?  Are you looking at that tall tree?  What kind is it?”  A giant cedar tree, an evergreen, loomed close.  His older sister said, “It’s EVER GREEN. Get it?  It stays green all the time.” 

            Anyone who knows me, knows I love trees.  Forty years ago Husband and I bought our first home here in Cookeville, and I called my mom.  Later she laughed at my description.  “It’s got a grassy backyard for the kids to play and then trees.  There’s a fallen tree for climbing and we can just go outside and be in the woods,” I had said. Mom said she asked me about the house, but I didn’t describe it with as much enthusiasm. 

            Sometimes I feel exactly as Micah did when he was 4 years old and visited overnight with Husband and me.  The morning was gray, cold, and damp and my Grand played inside.  He had built skyscrapers with blocks, played with cars and Legos.  He stood looking out the back door and I asked, “Micah, do you need a snack?”

            He turned toward me and said, “Gran, I need to play outside!”

            I don’t need a university study to know being outside improves my physical and mental health.  But now I think, “I’m going for a dose of nature.”  It’s good for body and soul.



‘Tis the Season for Leaves Part 2





Tis’ the Season for Leaves

Part Two

            Tis’ the season for leaves.  Beautiful yellow and red and orange leaves that light up Tennessee mountains.   Leaves that fall to the ground.  Leaves that shout, “Play!”  Last week in this space, I whined about raking and blowing of leaves off our driveway and yard.  But I’m really not a Grinch.  And I really love living in the woods.

I’ve played in leaves all my life.  The house where I grew up had a yard with a couple of maples and a huge oak tree.  My best friend and I created ground level playhouses using leaves for walls.  We’d skipped Saturday morning cartoons to set up our yard house, and we carried our lunch to our outside kitchen.  Late afternoon, we raked our playhouse into a big pile, jumped in the middle, and hid.  And we threw leaves high in the air, letting them float over and around and on us.

When I was a college student (right here at TTU), I begged my parents to not rake all the leaves so I could do them when I was home for Thanksgiving.  Dad and I raked the huge brown leaves into a pile that I walked through and jumped in.  Is anyone ever too old to settle into a bed of fall leaves?  And I threw leaves in the air.  I’m sure Dad wanted to get the job done, but he indulged my play before we threw every leaf on the garden plot for mulch.  Mom served vegetable soup and cornbread for supper.  Those days made happy memories.  And when my children were young, they built leaf houses and forts.  They threw and stomped leaves, and they hid under mountains of leaves.

A few weeks ago when the leaves had just begun to fall, my Grands were playing in our backyard.  They kicked rubber balls down the hill and threw them back up to see whose ball went higher on the hill before it rolled down.  We gathered fall treasures.  Hickory nuts, crimson dogwood leaves, and acorns.  “I’ll be right back,” David, age 8, said.  He ran into the garage and came out carrying a leaf rake.  “Get me one!”  his six-year-old sister yelled.

David and Lou worked.  They started at the top of the hill and raked halfway down.  “What a great job you’re doing!”  I said and wondered that if I’d suggested that they rake leaves, would it have been fun?  The pile grew larger.  Big enough that I couldn’t let it stay on the grass, and my Grands had to go home soon.  They could help me carry the leaf pile off the yard, I thought.  “That’s enough.  I think you need to stop,” I said.

“You’re right, Gran, that’s enough!”  Lou threw down her rake and jumped right in the middle of the leaf pile.  “Can you see me?”  she asked.  Those leaves scattered when she jumped a foot off the ground.  And they scattered more when my Grands ran through the pile and rolled down the hill and had a leaf fight.

Fall leaves – Mother Nature’s toys.





Motion Picture Show

     A cool, rainy day during our family beach vacation wasn’t a bad thing.  An excuse to sleep late, to get out of the sun, and to explore the area.  A day to browse a bookstore’s shelves.  A day to drive seven miles for a special hot dog, one with sweet potato mustard.  A day to shop the big box stores that we don’t have here at home.  And best of all, a day for the monarch butterflies in South Carolina to realize it was time to fly further South.

For a couple of days, we’d seen a few lone monarchs fluttering near the vegetation on sand dunes.  Beautiful, bright orange butterflies with black markings.  But when I walked on the beach in the early morning after our cool no-beach day, I had to dodge to avoid a butterfly that tried to sideswipe my ear.  They flew in small groups, three or more together, with an occasional single one fluttering fast to catch up.  They weren’t a mass of orange, like the film produced by National Geographic, but they created a calming motion picture show along the shoreline.  Right where I had my beach chair and my Grands played.

I knew enough to tell my Grands that these creatures were flying south to Mexico where they’d live through the winter and then fly back to their northern homes next spring.  And that they didn’t need a map; they flew by instinct.  After my Grands ran out of hearing range, Husband asked, “But don’t butterflies have a short life?  Just a few weeks?”  That complicated my explanations.  Would these same butterflies make the long 3,000-mile flight to Mexico, winter in tall trees for several months, and then fly back?

The migrating butterflies we saw, appropriately called migrates, are the great great grandchildren of the monarchs that flew north this past spring.  Monarchs go through four generations in one year.  Four generations from eggs to adults.  Next March or April, the butterflies we watched will return from migration to lay eggs on milkweed plants and die.  The first generation will live only two to six weeks after laying its eggs.  Same for the second generation that will be born in May and June, and the third generation, born in July and August.  And then the long lifers, the migrates, will be born in September or October.

“Look at the monarch that landed on my toe,” I said.  He sat, still, with wings outstretched.  My Grands weren’t impressed.  Maybe because I’d talked about monarchs all day.  I was amazed.  These small insects were imprinted with an inherited behavior that would bring them back along this same beach next March or April.  With lots of luck, I’ll remember how to make the 500-mile trip from Cookeville, without a map or a GPS, and meet them there.

After all, monarchs are the only butterflies that migrate.  Someone should greet them to celebrate their successful journey, and the sequel promises to be a picture show worth seeing.