We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun,—a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal. ~John Muir
I’ve been thinking a lot about mountains. It’s been too long since I last visited some of the ranges I’m especially fond of. With their lovely snow caps, exquisite waterfalls, clear-running streams, crystal alpine lakes, rugged terrain, variety of trees & wildlife, and incredible vistas, what’s not to miss? John Muir, the Scottish-American who dedicated the latter part of his life to exploring and preserving the mountains of the Western US, was also enamored by them. It is said that Muir exemplified our oneness with the earth, and biographer Donald Worster wrote that (Muir) believed his mission was saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism.” When I read Muir’s quote above, I can feel my heart open to profound spiritual truth.
You must ascend a mountain to learn your relation to matter, and so to your own body, for it is at home there . . . ~Henry David Thoreau
I suppose my love of mountains was forged at an early age. As a young child, I lived in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and my family would sometimes drive north to see the more majestic areas of the range. You might imagine how, years later, my infatuation grew as I began exploring ranges with higher and higher elevations.
Every inch of the mountains is scarred by unimaginable convulsions, yet the new day is purple with the bloom of youth and love. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have visited a lot of little mountain towns in this country. Oftentimes, I hear that the indigenous people of the area consider their mountains sacred and go to great measures to protect them. That’s not hard for me to understand, as mountains evoke a sense of reverent connection within me. I believe that’s what Muir must have experienced, as well. He wrote letters, articles, & books, and shared conversations with scientists, artists, celebrities, and statesmen in his preservation efforts. Perhaps the pinnacle of his life’s work was co-founding the Sierra Club, thereby helping establish a number of National Parks in this country, which serve to protect his beloved mountains.
The mountains are calling and I must go. ~John Muir
Do you live in the mountains? Does your family vacation in the mountains? Do you spend time hiking or biking them, given the opportunity? What is your favorite memory of mountains? Which is your favorite range?
Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. ~John Muir
If you enjoyed this essay, check out Micro of the Macro’s new Categories link for more on Environment, including posts & photos of wildflowers, animals, trees, and natural water features.
It’s chai season here. Although it’s my favorite hot tea and I drink it throughout the year, the chillier months seem to claim it as their own, and who am I to argue?
I first tried chai while living in community and working in the kitchen at Omega Institutein Upstate New York. One of my supervisors was Kim from Michigan. She brewed up new (to me) and wonderful concoctions almost every day. Once I smelled and sampled her simmering chai, I knew that it would become a part of my life, til death do us part. Before the end of the season, she was kind enough to include its ingredients in a personal letter that I keep in a recipe book to this day. The recipe below is a combination of her ingredients and the measurements of each that I’ve found works best over years of making it.
In the past, I never really thought of the nutritional benefits of spices in the same way as regular foods, but I’ve learned they are surprisingly healthy. Each of the ingredients in this recipe contributes to health & well-being in a number of ways. In addition to its sublime smell and taste, chai is a nutritional powerhouse among teas.
According to Healthline.com, fresh ginger not only helps with nausea, which is the one benefit most of us are familiar with, but can also help lower cholesterol, improve brain function, and reduce A1c levels. Cloves may benefit bone health, liver function, and reduce stomach ulcers. Cinnamon has the potential to reduce chronic inflammation, protect from free radical damage, and lower the risk for heart disease. Black pepper may help with gut health, pain relief, and appetite reduction. Cardamom is shown to fight cavities, improve digestion, and lessen anxiety. The few studies that have been done on bay leaves show that they may help prevent seizures, kidney stones, and kill cancer cells. Pure Chinese star anise has been used for thousands of years to fight viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. And black tea may help lower blood pressure, reduce stroke risk, and improve focus. Impressive for an humble tea, huh?
Chai recipes abound on the internet, all with varied flavor profiles. But this one, made super-spicy, is my favorite. You’ll find the taste out of this world, and the aroma just perfect for the holidays.
(And if this recipe sounds good to you, please check out my other healthy, delicious recipes in Micro of the Macro’s new Categories link!)
Makes 1/2 gallon
Ingredients 8 cups water 2-3 inches of thinly sliced ginger (choose your spice level) 2 cinnamon sticks 12 whole black peppercorns 2 bay leaves 8 green cardamom pods 8-12 whole cloves (choose your spice level) 3 whole star anise 6 black or Earl Grey tea bags Sweetener of choice (optional) Milk of choice (optional – for lattes)
Directions Place first 8 ingredients (through star anise) in a large covered pot & bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer for one hour. Remove from heat and add tea bags to steep for 20 minutes. Squeeze out tea bags, strain & enjoy with or without sweetener of your choice. Or add sweetener & milk of your choice for a delicious chai latte. Store extra (without milk) in the fridge in a covered glass container for 3-4 days.
The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. ~Thomas Merton
Merriam-Webster.com defines the term interdependence as the state of being dependent upon one another. Examples are given for interdependent economies as well as little universes we call ecosystems. On a macro level, coronavirus has shown us just how interdependent we all are. On a micro level, the workings of this concept are not always so evident.
For example, we humans host an ecosystem in our guts called the microbiome. That community consists of up to 40,000 species of bacteria that help digest food, extract nutrients, build or diminish the immune system, and release waste products which inform the brain on mood and metabolism. The microbiome is interdependent with every other system in the body, a fact which should be considered when any kind of health issue or disease presents itself. (Learn how the microbiome can help with weight loss here.)
Similar to our hosting of this internal ecosystem, Nature hosts humans within an external ecosystem. We depend on soil, plants, the ocean, and animals for our basic needs. Soil, like our microbiome, is an ecosystem unto itself. The life in our soils determine the health of our plants. (Read more on our struggling but resilient soils here.) Plants release oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and have the ability to clean our toxic wastes. (Check out this article for more on that.) Our oceans’ seaweed is responsible for producing even more oxygen than land plants. (Both rainforests and oceans have been referred to as the lungs of the planet.) Animals play an important role in the population control of other animals as well as inhibiting plant overgrowth. And domesticated animals, as you know, can provide us with companionship and unconditional love. By caring for our environment, we are interdependently supporting the soil, plants, ocean, and animals that sustain us.
In her book Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons, microbiologist Lynn Margulis writes about the process undertaken by ancient bacteria which resulted in their becoming interdependent. About 2 billion years ago, she explains, bacteria covered our planet. To complete their life processes of respiration, photosynthesis, and fermentation, they “fought” with other bacteria for natural resources. When the number of bacteria increased, forcing resources to go further, the bacteria found themselves in crisis, and began exploiting each other. Many died as a result. Because it became evident that none of them would survive if this competitive, abusive way of living continued, they realized the need for interdependence. Due to making a shift which was better for all, their kind is still around today, living in a cooperative known as the nucleated cell. Doesn’t that account, paused at the crisis, remind you of the human story?
According to creationwiki.org, The interdependence of biological systems offers strong evidence for intelligent design . . . They function synergistically in such a way that the sum of their actions is greater than the addition of the separate, individual actions. It’s pretty clear that we were intelligently created to coexist with soil, plants, other animals, the ocean, and all of humankind. Maybe this would be a good time to embrace our interdependence with the micro and the macro so that our kind might still be around for the next billion or so years.
In the time when the world is sick and dying, a tribe of people will come together of many races. They will be a people who put their faith in deeds, not words, and the world shall become green again. ~Cree Prophecy
Our world is broken. The political situation in the US and elsewhere since the onset of the pandemic has reinforced that idea to a terrifying extent. It feels like we’re on a runaway train, with powerful, egocentric politicians and wealthy elitists handling the locomotives in hasty pursuit of even more power and wealth. By repeatedly denying climate change from their lofty platforms, it is possible to convince folks like us that their unrelenting acts of negligence and devastation of our environment are having little if any impact on our lives. All too often, as Americans are witnessing now maybe more than ever, the ones in charge with tremendous power and wealth do not model desired qualities such as empathy and compassion.
NY Times Best Selling Author Glennon Doyle addresses the manner in which our deplorable status quo is maintained in her excellent book Untamed. Qualities like tenderness, vulnerability, mercy, and empathy are labeled as feminine and therefore discounted, she says; as a result they can be viewed as shameful qualities for men to possess. Due to this centuries-long manipulated belief system, Doyle writes, there is no more messy, world-changing tenderness to deal with. . . Mercy and empathy are great threats to an unjust society.
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. ~Dalai Lama
According to an article in Psychology Today, empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another . . . It is important, the article states, for healthy relationships and compassionate actions, enabling altruistic helping behaviors.
Dacher Keltner, PhD, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, writes about how the empathic behavior of sharing can benefit the giver as much as the receiver, just as the act of forgiveness benefits the one forgiving. (Check out this article for more on that.) Furthermore, Keltner asserts, when people feel compassion, they start to feel deeply connected to very different groups. In particular, they feel like they are similar to and share a common humanity with people who are really in need, who are really vulnerable. Owing to the virus and those capitalizing on it since inception, our Earth and the great majority of Her inhabitants are suffering more than ever; what could be more important than empathy and compassion now?
Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. ~Galatians 6:2
In The Greater Good Magazine, also from UC Berkeley, empathy is referred to as abuilding block of morality. Studies show that it reduces bullying, prejudice, racism, and inequality. Other research shows that it deepens intimacy, promotes health, and can help police officers use less physical force, and feel less distant from the people they’re dealing with. That could go a long way in easing systemic race issues, don’t you think?
The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. ~Chief Joseph
Do other animals show empathy? According to OneKindPlanet.org, separate studies done on elephants, rats, and chimpanzees prove they do. Grooming, comforting, and protecting seem to be common altruistic behaviors in the animal kingdom. And, not just for those of their own species. Animals can be sensitive to the feelings of humans. (This article shares more on that idea.) Also, I’ve seen countless photos and video clips on social media of dogs caring for kittens, cats adopting birds, etc.
What about plants? Empathic-type behaviors are regularly displayed by plants, according to Daniel Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University. When attacked by bugs, trees release pheromones that cause neighboring plant life to produce chemicals that help them fight the attack. In addition, roots can communicate to warn of drought so others in their community can prepare. (For more on how plants benefit other botanicals as well as humans, see this article.)
Christopher Bergland, world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist, writes that, even for those completely lacking, empathy can in fact be learned. In this article, he shares a quick loving-kindnessmeditation to help rewire your brain for empathy and compassion. In short, each day, take a few minutes to sit quietly and send compassionate thoughts to loved ones, a current adversary, those suffering around the world, and yourself. Bergland says, by doing this daily, you can sense your brain shift and open up to empathy . . .
On the threshold of a national decision that has potential to further increase the velocity of our collective runaway train, empathy and compassion are pivotal. My prayer is that these ideas become a driving force with politicians, the wealthy elite, and all the rest of us. With consistent practice, we can heal the Earth and change the course of humanity, thereby mending our broken world.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war . . . So I say to you . . . brothers and sisters, let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide. ~US Representative John Lewis(recently deceased)
Looking back, this year feels like it’s lasted for eons. But from a different perspective, it also seems to have flown by. Do you know what I mean? Does it seem possible that the little ones, at least in some areas, will be trick-or-treating next weekend? I find it hard to believe.
There have been times that I haven’t celebrated the autumn and winter holidays. For years, I was hung up on the over-commercialization and materialism of it all, and therefore, I had no desire to take part. But one of the things covid has taught me is that time with friends and family should not be taken for granted. Traditions should be celebrated and relationships should be cherished.
According to Frank Sonnenberg, an award-winning author who was recently named one of America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders, Traditions represent a critical piece of our culture. They help form the structure and foundation of our families and our society. They remind us that we are part of a history that defines our past, shapes who we are today and who we are likely to become. He goes on to say that traditions reinforce values such as selflessness and responsibility, provide a sense of belonging, and give us an opportunity for reflection while making memories with loved ones.
The American Halloween tradition originated with our Celtic ancestors about 2000 years ago. Their new year began on November 1, and they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth the night before. To commemorate, the Celts built sacred bonfires, wore costumes, and engaged in fortune-telling. Over the centuries, the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church both played roles in changing some of the meaning and customs of the celebration. In the US, due in part to religious beliefs, Halloween did not become popular nationally until late in the 19th century, when millions of Irish migrated to this country to flee the potato famine.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an annual holiday celebrated on November 1 & 2 by those of Mexican heritage. (It is, however, gaining popularity in this country, as I’ve taken part in its celebration in 3 states over the years.) I’ve read there is no crossover between Dia de los Muertos and Halloween, but there are many similarities. In the Mexican holiday, it is believed that spirits of the dead are allowed to return to their homes for 24 hours, and it is celebrated with parades, special foods, costumes, and lovingly designed altars filled with skulls, flowers, and pictures of the deceased. According to the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Dia de los Muertos is a day set aside for families and communities to honor ancestors and loved ones, while celebrating the cycle of life.
Ah, yes, the cycle of life. Like every living thing on Earth, we have a life cycle. Each stage in the human life cycle presents specific challenges for experiencing, learning, and loving, in preparation for the next stage. This ties in with Sonnenberg’s statement, (Traditions) remind us that we are part of a history that defines our past, shapes who we are today and who we are likely to become. Traditions are an important part of our life cycles.
Don’t let covid take away your traditions. Make modifications as necessary for safety, ignore the commercialization as best you can, and make happy memories with family and friends. The visiting spirits of your deceased loved ones will appreciate it.
If you’ve tried stuffing bell peppers and found the process tedious, or the peppers get too soft or not soft enough, this recipe is for you. Until I ran across the precursor for the recipe below, I had stopped making them. Too much effort yielding a so-so result is not a good formula for me. I want (relatively) easy and super yummy!
My stuffed peppers are of course made without meat or cheese, and to be honest, I can’t remember how the meat- & cheese-filled peppers taste. I am willing to bet that you will absolutely love this recipe, though, if you are a fan of Southwestern cuisine.
Are they healthy? You bet. The bells are loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin C, with good amounts of Vitamin A, B6, folate, fiber, and potassium. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods website, the nutrients in bell peppers are shown to reduce oxidative stress, and can thereby reduce your risk for heart disease and blood sugar issues.
As for quinoa, according to Dr. Josh Axe, a functional medicine practitioner & clinical nutritionist, it is considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet. It also has a mother load of nutrients, including protein, fiber, essential fatty acids, tons of minerals, and antioxidants. It has been shown to support bone health, staving off osteoporosis, which is so common among older adults (especially women.)
What’s more, both bell peppers and quinoa support weight loss. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get to cooking!
Ingredients (Use all organic and/or GMO-free if possible) 2 cups water 1 cup uncooked red or tri-colored quinoa, rinsed well 1 medium onion, diced 1 can diced tomatoes 2 green chilis, seeds removed & diced 1 tsp salt 1 tsp paprika 1/2 tsp chipotle powder 1 cup frozen corn, defrosted by running under cold water a bit, drained 1 cup small-diced zucchini 5-6 bell peppers, various colors, tops removed & reserved; seeds & ribs removed & discarded A little avocado oil for the baking pan (or line with aluminum foil) 1/2 avocado 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves & stems 1 small garlic clove, chopped 1 tbsp olive oil 1/8 tsp salt, or to taste 3 tbsp water, or as needed for sauce consistency
Place the first 8 ingredients into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer for about 8 minutes. Stir in corn & zucchini. Replace lid & cook another 5 – 6 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat the oven to 415 F. After removing the stems, small-dice the bell pepper tops reserved earlier. Stir into the quinoa mixture. Stuff each pepper with the mixture and place upright on a lightly-oiled baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes.
In a small blender or food processor, add the final 7 ingredients. Whirl into a smooth sauce, adding more water and salt to desired consistency & taste.
After removing the baked peppers from the oven, top with the sauce, squeezed through the snipped corner of a plastic food storage bag to make it really pretty!
I like to serve these with thickly-sliced cremini mushrooms that have been sautéed for a few short minutes in olive oil & fresh garlic, with a sprinkling of chili powder, salt, & crushed red pepper. Enjoy!
It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself . . . Forgive everybody. ~Maya Angelou
Valerie Kauer is a civil rights lawyer, author of SEE NO STRANGER: A Memoir & Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, and an award-winning filmmaker. In a very popular TED Talk, Valerie tells a heart-wrenching story about the first post-September 11 hate crime, the murder of a Sikh family friend whom she called Uncle, by a man who called himself Patriot. Years after the crime, Valerie accompanied the brother of the deceased to the prison where Patriot was detained. They spoke with the murderer, who expressed sorrow, saying when he gets to Heaven to be judged by God, he will ask to see the man he killed, hug him, and ask his forgiveness. To this, the brother responds, “We’ve already forgiven you.” Hearing those words melts me. I don’t believe there could be a more loving, generous, empathic statement he could make to the murderer of his brother. Valerie concludes the story with the idea, “Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is freedom from hate.” And, freedom from hate, she continues, grants us the ability to see those that harm us not as monsters, but as wounded, threatened, and insecure, with their own sad stories.
Forgiveness is a practice that doesn’t come easy. It can take incredible effort to let go of hard feelings toward someone who has wronged us, especially if they have taken someone or something away from us. I was intrigued when I first learned that the process of forgiveness benefits me (the forgiver) more than the person that I need to forgive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. ~Francis of Assisi
The Aramaic meaning of the term forgiveness is to let go, to cut loose (as in a tied animal), to release, to leave physically & psychologically. So you see, going through this challenging practice allows you to let go of – to cut loose – the hardness of heart, resentment, and darkness you’ve been harboring, sometimes for years.
Forgiveness results in many benefits that affect us (the forgivers) mentally, physically, & spiritually, within families, communities, and nations, according to The New Science of Forgiveness, from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine. In addition to diminishing negative emotions in general, the act of forgiving has been found to reduce stress, blood pressure & heart rate, improve immune function, and lessen or eliminate feelings of being out of control. In middle-agers, it has also been reported to reduce feelings of nervousness and restlessness.
An article from Mayo Clinic, Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness clearly states, “. . . If you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays . . . By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.” The article goes on to say that the act of forgiving is not the equivalent of excusing or forgetting, nor does it mean reconciliation is required.
Reconciliation does not even need to be considered. In a PDF entitled Forgiveness Counseling Guide, created by Dallas Baptist University’s Counseling Center, it is suggested, “If the person who has hurt you is unsafe (such as an individual who is emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive) or contributes to unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in your life then reconciliation may not be wise . . .” As a matter of fact, the other person doesn’t need to know you’ve forgiven him/her, and frankly might not care. Again, the process is one to benefit you.
Forgiveness is (practiced) for yourself because it frees you. It lets you out of that prison you put yourself in. ~Louise L. Hay
Long ago, I read a quote that went something like this: Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. Recently, when I went online to find the source, I found many variations on the statement from writers, celebrities, activists, and others. After searching a little longer, I found information that the idea may have originated with the great Religious Science leader and writer Emmet Fox during the early part of the last century. This idea resonates strongly with me. I’ve realized in retrospect that some of the hardest times I’ve gone through with an individual were made more difficult for me by feelings of resentment toward that person that I had been holding on to, sometimes for decades. By forgiving and releasing those hurts, they become a part of my past, and therefore don’t find their way into new situations.
I want to gift you with a simple tool that I shared with my workshop participants years ago. We’ve all heard that journaling is a great tool for personal release and mental health in general. That also applies to the process of writing a letter (that you’ll never send) to someone who wounded you. Here’s the format:
In the first paragraph, BLAST THEM! Curse them, let them know how deeply they hurt you, how angry you are, etc. Don’t hold back! This first paragraph can be as long as you need it to be – even pages.
After that big purge, close your eyes, breathe deeply for a couple minutes, and imagine exhaling all the residual sludge from the experience.
In the next paragraph, write about the lessons you have learned as a result of your suffering, as well as your desire to let go and forgive. (This part can be directed to yourself if necessary, remembering that the practice is for your benefit.)
When the letter is complete, read it from beginning to end. Take some time to appreciate the progress you have made/are making in such a difficult situation.
Lastly, when you’re ready, either rip the letter into tiny pieces or burn it (carefully!) as you repeat to yourself, I am letting this go: it will no longer have a hold on me. I am grateful.
Before closing, I’d like to mention the idea of forgiving yourself. Personally, I’ve found that forgiving myself along with those that hurt me is often a necessary component for truly letting go. (We often play some part in our trials with others, right? Of course, this doesn’t always apply: abused children and elders, for example, may be helpless and blameless.) If you go through the letter process above and don’t feel any relief, consider forgiving yourself, which may in fact be the most difficult part of the process. (I forgive myself for my role in this situation, and I let go of all hard feelings. Repeat, dozens of times if necessary, until you feel a shift.)
The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world. ~Marianne Williamson
In a world divided by race, class, religion, and other walls, forgiveness and its resulting empathy can be very useful tonics. Applying the practice to our own lives can result in increased love & understanding, better physical & mental health, and improved interactions within families & communities. Applying our forgiveness practice out in the world can serve us all in ways yet unimagined.
You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world there is no (one) exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been a (person) like you . . . You have the capacity for anything. ~Pablo Casals
Every time I see the above quote I first read in a book by the inspiring Pam Grout, I can’t move on without reading the quote a second, and sometimes a third time. It speaks a truth so often forgotten: each of us is one-of-a-kind with tremendous potential. Nobody else will ever be able to share your specific gifts the way you can. And the world needs your special gifts, now more than ever. Rather than celebrating the benefits of individuality, however, media and society downplay its merits and mandate that we act and think like everyone else. What a pity our self perception has become so twisted. Reading the Casals quote opens my heart and lifts my spirits. Every cell in my body seems to shout in unison, ding, ding, ding, that describes us perfectly! Let’s read it again and bathe in this delicious Truth a little longer!
The words of that quote are a go-to for me when I’m feeling down. Since the start of the covid outbreak, I’ve found it necessary to keep my thoughts on the present moment and focus on my blessings more than usual. (Hopefully, these are habits I’ll maintain after our covid reality disappears!) From the many articles and social media posts I’ve read related to depression, anxiety, and suicide, I believe a lot of us are struggling daily. Although I’ve never been clinically depressed, I socially isolated and subsisted for the better part of a year on red wine and Haagen Dazs while witnessing the end of the world I had known. (Read my story here.) I have great empathy for those who struggle with feelings of darkness, and I’d like to offer a few coping tips, from both my personal experience as well as scientific findings on Nature. If you are working with a doctor and taking meds, please don’t stop. Just give some of these ideas a whirl in addition. (Oh, and a tip: I find that when starting something new or doing something tough, scheduling it on my daily planner helps me remember and be more consistent.)
Savor the feeling of each compliment you receive and the pleasure associated with admiring beauty for at least 20 seconds. According to Marci Shimoff, NYT bestselling author of Happy for No Reason, this creates new neural pathways, making it a little easier to access and experience those feelings regularly.
Do a news fast. If you’re like me, you react to the news of our horrific state of affairs with a furrowed brow & an overwhelming sense of fear, and that heaviness follows you around all day, affecting your thinking and conversations. Go for a few days or weeks without exposing your heart and mind to news reporting. You will be amazed at how much lighter you’ll feel!
Listen to music that you enjoyed at a time when you felt really good about yourself and thought you had the world by the tail! Music has the ability to take us back to a totally different mindset. For me, that music includes Stevie B, TKA, Lisa Lisa, Prince, Janet Jackson, Boston, The Scorpions, Toto, and REO Speedwagon. What is some of your world-by-the-tail music?
Seek out a reason to laugh every day – watch a funny movie, relish in playtime with your pet, listen to a stand-up comic, play a socially-distanced game with friends. Christiane Northrup, MD, author of The Power of Joy – How the Deliberate Pursuit of Pleasure Can Heal Your Life, says that our very design predisposes us to seek pleasure, and the experience of joy makes us healthier, smarter, and even younger.
Spend some time outdoors. Many of us are now spending more time inside our homes than ever before. The human body has not evolved in an environment anything like our homes, offices, or cars over the past 5 million years. According to the author of Brain Food, Lisa Mosconi, who has PhDs in both neuroscience and nuclear medicine, 99% of the time humans have spent on earth have been as hunter-gatherers, therefore, outside, active, and in relation to others. (By the way, take a guess where I was when I had an epiphany that would end my wine and ice cream habit & totally change my life? I was outside.)
Get some exercise. In the article Exercise and Mental Health: Many Reasons to Move, from the journal Neuropsychobiology, it is suggested that overwhelmingly, scientific findings are linking successful brain function with regular exercise. And successful brain function can mean less lethargy, fewer dark thoughts, and decreased anxiety.
Eat more colorful, non-GMO fruits & vegetables. According to Dr. Zach Bush, an internationally-recognized physician specializing in internal medicine, endocrinology and hospice care, genetically-modified gluten (found in grains like wheat, rye, & barley) opens the tight junctions in our guts, resulting in tiny particles of food escaping. These escaped particles can cross the blood-brain barrier, causing inflammation, which leads to depression, dementia, and other brain issues. On another note, eating more real food and less processed food upgrades the microbiome, which can manipulate the brain’s reward center and our mood. For more on the critical importance of the microbiome, check out this article.
Read something that you find inspirational, even if it’s one page a day. Filling your thoughts with good stuff is super important! Want suggestions? How about poetry by Rumi, a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, a Gregg Braden book, or the writing of the author who first introduced me to the quote at the start of this article, Pam Grout?
Learn something new. It will give you a sense of pride, as well as something new to think and talk about!
It’s easy to get carried away by the dark, gloomy current of this covid reality, especially if your mood and mindset were challenged by depression before the virus appeared. Finding little ways to better cope can make a huge difference. I do hope you’ll give some of these suggestions a go. And of course, I’d love to hear in the comments if you do!
The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity while spreading sunshine in the blogging community. Nonso the Writer has graciously nominated me for this award. Thank you, Nonso! If you’re unfamiliar with him, this is how Nonso describes his pursuits: “Writing is art, an expression of oneself. This art I intend to share with the world through the creation of evergreen write-ups, fuelled by quantified and qualified research facts. By this, I express myself wholeheartedly.” And write from the heart he does, primarily on social issues. Check him out – you will like what you read!
The Sunshine Blogger Award Rules:
Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blog.
Answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
Nominate 11 people, notify them, & ask 11 new questions.
List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award photo in your post.
Questions from Nonso
When was your toughest time blogging?
Getting started was tough because setting up the blog site was all new to me and sometimes frustrating.
2. If you look back to the beginning, would you say you’ve achieved a lot?
I have made new friends and shared writings and photos that others appreciate, so yes, I am happy with what I’ve achieved.
3. Any obstacles faced by blogging? If yes, explain.
I sometimes work on a post (or 2 or 4!) for the week, only to discover that it doesn’t feel right to share at that time, so at the last hour, I’m faced with starting anew.
4. How does your inspiration come?
I am inspired by witnessing natural beauty and acts of lovingkindness, as well as learning about scientific findings that prove Nature is our best healer: mind, body, and soul.
5. Asides blogging, what else do you do (leisure or business)?
I love to learn, travel, cook, hike, bike, climb, do yoga, photograph Nature, & watch wildlife.
6. Who’s your favorite blogger and why?
I am inspired by many bloggers who share incredible photos, quotes, poetry, travel info, short stories, & thought-provoking articles.
7. The country with the most views on your blog?
On most days, the US leads, but at least once a week, India.
8. Are you more creative at night or during the day? Or you’re fluid?
Hmmmmm, I’m not really sure. I reserve time for writing first thing in the morning. But at night, I sometimes come up with important ideas, or I’ll have a realization of something I feel is crucial to an ongoing post, project or personal situation.
9. What’s blogging like to you?
To me, blogging is an opportunity to share the ideas I feel are important, as well as my travel photos. In the process, I’ve connected with many other bloggers around the world whose friendship & support inspires me!
10. Do you ever go back to your previous posts? How do you feel about them?
I do occasionally review older posts, and most of the time, I feel they’re ok. Although, sometimes, I feel I could have done better!
11. What’s your opinion about life?
Life is a big, beautiful, mysterious experience that is often taken for granted when we get bogged down in a less-than-delightful routine. (It is so much more than working, acquiring, and paying bills, although that narrow mindset seems to be prevalent.) Life is an opportunity to become rich in spirit, knowledge, experiences, relationships, and connection with Nature. It is a gift for which we should assume a sacred responsibility.
Over the past month, out of the 23 bloggers I’ve nominated for the Liebster Award, the Small Joys Tag, and the Great Achiever Mahasiddhi Blogger Award, only 4 have acknowledged my nomination, and 2 of those respectfully declined. Therefore, I nominate all inspiring members of the blogging community, contingent upon acceptance!
Questions to Those Accepting my Nomination
Outside of your family/home, name 1 thing you do to demonstrate lovingkindness.
Do you spend time admiring Nature?
Do you have pets? Name 1 funny thing they do.
When were you last generous with your words and/or resources?
Do you feel forgiveness is important for peace and happiness?
How often do you laugh?
What is your favorite vegetable? Fruit?
Are you aware that the health of your gut & its microbes determines your ability to lose weight? (It also has a strong influence on your mood, motivational level, and the health of your organs, including your brain.)
In addition to blogging, what are your other creative pursuits?
What is one of your favorite Nature scenes?
In your opinion, what is the most important thing brought to light by the pandemic?
Again, Nonso, I appreciate your kindness. This award is sweet!
I am happy to share that I have been nominated for the Great Achiever Mahasiddhi Blogger Award by the award’s designer, Kamal Shrestha! From his post describing the award, “I am from a birthplace of Gautam Buddha who enlightened many parts of the world in his lifetime by his wisdom and knowledge of equanimity, or peace of mind which is achieved by detaching oneself from the cycle of craving that produces trouble.” I am delighted to have been chosen to share in an award that continues the work of this spiritual leader by helping bring peace and environmental concerns front and center. Thank you, Kamal – I am honored by your nomination!
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. ~Mahatma Gandhi
In addition to the idea of animal treatment in Gandhi’s quote above, my feeling is that the treatment of all living things could be included. The ideas of peace and caring for the environment are inseparable in my estimation. By taking care of the earth and all the life that She supports, including humans, other animals, trees, flowers, etc., we:
1. Position ourselves & our vibrations (which show up in all aspects of our personal creations) on the side of love, empathy, & responsibility for that which sustains us
2. Reciprocate the benefits gifted us (usually without our awareness) by plants and animals (for more on this, please check out my posts on Trees, Wildflowers, and Animals)
3. Set the stage for more peaceful weather patterns, rather than the ravages of the last few decades.
Rules & Regulations
1. Thank the person who nominated you and share a link to their blog.
2. Create a post of the award with a statement on the concept of peace & environment.
3. Tag your post with #greatachiever.
4. Share the rules and regulations.
5. Ask 7 questions of your choice. Your questions must include the concepts of peace and environment.
6. Nominate 7 or more fellow bloggers and notify them.
How can you be a good blogger as a member of WordPress Global Village?
I believe writing from the heart results in good content, and respectfully networking with other bloggers creates a true sense of community.
2. Could you please define a word “PEACE” from your point of view?
My definition of peace is a state of mind attained by following your heart in all decision-making to help you become the best version of yourself, thereby avoiding the need to constantly compete, compare, and grasp for material things, power, and addictive substances/activities. (And when you slip & make a bad decision, forgive yourself quickly and continue on with your heart-centered life!)
3. How can we save a tree?
Recycle, reuse, repurpose. In my house, when we print something in error, we save the paper and use the back for grocery lists, to do lists, etc. We save (lightly-used) gift bags to use again. We utilize reusable grocery bags. And at Christmas, to avoid cutting down a tree, we will decorate a pine tree just outside our window. (Our neighbors do this lovely gesture each year!)
4. Do you think human trafficking is still a crosscutting issues?
Absolutely. There are signs in post offices in the Northeastern US warning about human trafficking.
5. What thing do you sacrifice to make a happy family environment?
Time and energy; but I wouldn’t call it sacrificing as much as sharing, which all members do (or might consider doing!) to contribute to a happy family unit.
6. Which animal do you like most? Why?
I am a lover of all animals!
7. What do you think about the journalist or YouTubers?
I enjoy a lot of journalists and Youtubers. When reporting “news,” I believe they have a responsibility to either present the truth, or make it obvious that their presentations are fictional.
8. Is a movie-star play a vital role to aware most of the people around the world or just they present their performance to earn money?
Celebrities have a great platform from which to encourage kindness to our fellow man, responsibility for the Earth, and other positive endeavors, and so many of them are doing just that.
I am pleased to share with you that my friend Noorien Misbha has nominated me for the Small Joys Tag. It’s an honor to be recognized by this young, beautiful soul who displays wisdom beyond her years. If you’re not familiar with Noorien’s blog, Gowriteandexplore, please pay her a visit! She composes thought-provoking poetry and shares opinions, a little silliness, and other heartfelt musings. In addition to showcasing her talent on her blog, Noorien shares sweet comments on my posts. I truly appreciate you, Noorien!
Rules of this Tag
Thank the blogger who nominated you.
List fifteen of your small joys.
Nominate Five other Blogger Friends who bring you joy. (And notify them of the nomination.)
My Small Joys (in no particular order)
Sunshine on my face & fresh air in my lungs
Viewing animals in their natural habitat
Monsoon sunsets & star-filled night skies of the Southwestern US
Wildflowers & blooming trees
Breathtaking landscapes & seascapes
Walking barefoot on a beach
Exploring (on foot, online & in books)
Writing & sharing my nature photos
Listening to music
Chatting with friends (including bloggers) & family
Getting things organized
The smell of roasting coffee beans
Preparing and eating fresh, delicious, nutritious vegan meals
My Nominees Per the tag rules, I could choose only 5. If permitted, I would have chosen 100 fellow bloggers, because so many of you bring me joy! Please show some love to the following. They are most joyful!
I am very happy to share that I have been nominated for the Liebster Award by tkbrownwriter. Our blogging community is vast, composed of good folks producing lots of great content. I feel blessed to be a part of it. It is heartwarming to be recognized by a fellow blogger for my efforts. Thank you, TK, for this honor.
TK is a great writer of poetry, devotionals, and interesting articles. From TK’s About Page: “I started writing poetry when I was five years old. I had gone to Sunday School and learned about Jesus. I wrote a poem of five or six lines. I do not remember what I wrote, only that I wrote. . . . I continued to write as I traveled through life. Three children and seven grandchildren later, I am finally becoming a published poet.” A fabulous accomplishment, TK! If you haven’t already, please check out tkbrownwriter. You’ll enjoy what you read.
The Liebster Award is a way for someone in our community to bring attention to relatively new bloggers who create content deemed worthy of a broader audience. The meaning of the German word Liebster includes these concepts: kind, lovely, pleasant, valued, endearing, and welcome.
Rules for the Liebster Blogger Award: 1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and give a link to her or his blog. 2. Answer the 11 questions asked of you. 3. Nominate 11 other bloggers. 4. Ask your nominees 11 questions. 5. Notify your nominees once you have uploaded your post.
What is your favorite genre to read and why?
I’m primarily a non-fiction reader because I enjoy learning about the bridge of science & spirituality, foods, travel, and human & planetary health.
What color best describes you as a person and why?
Green. All shades. Environmental concerns are of utmost importance to me.
If travel into outer space were as simple as traveling around the world, where would you go and why?
To Venus, because she’s my ruling planet.
Is the statement, “Black Lives Matter” racist?
Is the statement, “All Lives Matter” racist?
Why did you answer questions 4 and 5 as you did?
Bringing attention to the marginalization of black communities with the Black Lives Matter statement is not racist; it is bluntly informative. In the United States, there has never been a doubt that white lives matter, as the attitude of white privilege has prevailed since the country was “discovered” by Europeans. In my opinion, the statement All Lives Matter was formed as a response to the BLM statement by whites who are simply unaware of the depths of inequity, negligence, and disenfranchisement suffered by the majority of black communities at the hands of white power from the time of colonization. The current BLM movement provides us with a tremendous opportunity for education and setting things right.
Whom have you considered your most important role model and why?
I can’t say that I have a single role model. I am in awe of prophets, civil rights leaders, animal rights advocates, and those who work on behalf of the planet. I admire ministers who promote love more than dogma, regenerative farmers, medical workers who are not afraid to go against protocol to help a patient, and folks who assist with disaster relief. I have an appreciation for the parents, teachers, policy makers, and community organizers who work from a sense of moral compass with a genuine desire to do good. Generally, I hold in highest esteem those who lovingly engage in doing the right thing for themselves and the collective.
Why do we have parents?
Parents create space for us and bring us into this reality. Our interactions with them, both aligning and resisting, inform us in life-long guidance. Oftentimes, parents present us with opportunities to experience unconditional love as well as forgiveness, the importance of which cannot be overestimated.
What is most important: to have peace of mind or to have a million dollars?
Peace of mind, undoubtedly.
What does writing do for you personally?
Writing allows me to share information that might inspire others to act on behalf of the greater good (which can mean helping oneself feel better by eating healthier, planting a tree, traveling to new lands, etc.) Using my gifts with an intention of contributing to a better world is uplifting to me.
Do you engage in the visual arts (i.e., painting, sketching, sculpting)? If so, which?
I must have flowers, always, and always. ~Claude Monet
I first fell in love with wildflowers on a trip to Taos, NM. The first couple times I visited, drought conditions prevailed, and I remember hand-written signs hanging all over the little hostel encouraging water conservation. But a couple years later, the drought ended (unbeknownst to me) and I returned to discover incredible displays of wildflowers all over the northern part of the state. It was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed, and my deep appreciation for these beauties was born.
Since that time, I have become a seeker of wildflowers. Anywhere I travel now, I look for them, even if they can be found only in small patches. I believe their resilience and willingness to tenderly reveal themselves after years of enduring drought is a spiritual act, one that we humans can reflect on and learn from.
Where flowers bloom so does hope. ~Lady Bird Johnson
Not only do wildflowers delight our senses, but they serve practical purposes as well. According to an article from the US Dept of Agriculture’s US Forest website, wildflowers support entire ecosystems for pollinators, birds, and small animals on a micro scale. Butterflies and other insects, small birds, and animals depend on seeds, nectar, and pollen for their food supply and life support system.
Like many parts of the Southwest, Northern Arizona is often strewn with wildflowers, especially during monsoon season. I went to buy some native seeds to plant around my house earlier this year, but the nursery was sold out! It seems a lot of us are planting seeds during this pandemic. An article from Mother Earth News, The Benefits of Growing Wildflowers, says Wildflowers are as much the heartbeat of our planet as the oceans. All living creatures interact with wildflowers whether they know it or not. For 130 million years, wildflowers have blessed the earth with their amazing skill sets and stunning beauty . . . They freely bestow upon us a grace that helps sustain all of life. Therefore, planting native species, the article goes on to say, is most advantageous. I’ll be sure to get to the nursery earlier next year!
The Amen of nature is always a flower. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes
What are your favorite wildflowers? Have you planted any native species? I’d love to learn the names of the ones unlabeled in the pictures of this article. If you’re familiar with them, please don’t be shy – share your knowledge!
Wildflowers are beautiful and beneficial creations. They help ensure the survival of pollinators, and therefore, humans. What a debt of gratitude we owe them for their willingness to reveal their tender beauty, sometimes after years of drought, in an effort to help sustain life!
People from a planet without flowers would thinkwe must be mad with joy . . . to have such things about us. ~Iris Murdoch
We are born into this world with a love for animals. As babies, we share the same innocence and many similar vulnerabilities. As we grow, we often have animal playmates that grow alongside us. I’ve met many service dogs who regularly visit nursing home residents. I’ve known cats living in a hospice facility that won’t leave the room of a patient who is very sick or dying. I have witnessed horses who adore their owners and caregivers. And, as a small child, I felt a loving kinship with our cows, pigs, and chickens, and sensed that love returned. Animals seem to embody a spirit of loving oneness with us.
In a study done in 2012, researchers at the University of London found that dogs are more likely to approach an individual who is weeping than one who is simply talking. The submissiveness they display in these situations indicates that they have a primitive understanding of human distress, according to the study. I have experienced this sort of behavior first-hand, but from a cat, surprisingly! Have you witnessed this type of behavior from an animal?
Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer
As mentioned in my first post on animals, 69 scientific studies on human-animal interaction reviewed by The National Center for Biotechnology Informationshow that interacting with animals can be quite therapeutic. Some of the benefits shown in these studies include improved mood & behavior; reduced stress, fear & anxiety; improved heart health & immune function; and reduced aggression. Over the past month, I have set up both a hummingbird feeder and a regular seeded feeder in our front yard. Watching these precious (but sometimes possessive!) little birds has touched my heart in a way that brings back the sweetness of childhood. Watching them feed, I’m overcome with tenderness and exhilaration.
Is this a common effect of the pandemic, do you think? Have you made a deeper commitment to animals, or Nature in general, since the onset of the virus? Or do you know anyone who has?
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
What about eating animals: do you find that you’re eating fewer meats these days? I have seen many news articles over the past several months about how the popularity of fake meat items has boomed. According to the meat paradox, as discussed in an article from Current Directions in Psychological Science entitled The Psychology of Eating Animals, most people care about animals and do not want to see them harmed but engage in a diet that requires them to be killed and, usually, to suffer. What thoughts or feelings surface when you read that statement?
Before covid-19, I can’t remember ever hearing the word zoonotic. Now I’m seeing it used repeatedly. The term refers to diseases, like covid-19, that are spread from animals. According to Wikipedia, there is increasing evidence . . . that measles, smallpox, influenza, HIV, and diphtheria came to humans this way. Tuberculosis and even strains of the common cold, the article goes on to say, originated in animals. I’ve read information from several sources suggesting that the sad state of factory farming practices in this country could lead to more frequent outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. Can policy makers do nothing to protect us from these looming threats? In light of the many sacrifices we’ve made due to the pandemic this year, (and who knows how much longer it will continue) shouldn’t this be a priority?
I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being. ~ Abraham Lincoln
We come into this world treasuring animals, but learning to disregard that love, at least for farm animals, often seems part and parcel to growing up. With all the benefits animals confer on us when they are loved and treated well, perhaps an examination of our current belief system is in order. Learning to embody the same sense of loving oneness they often display may very well contribute to not only our happiness but also our health and longevity.
The masses have spoken (well, at least the 8 people who voted in my poll!) and the winner is . . . a new recipe! I had a lot of good feedback on the Bok Choy Soup recipe I posted a while back, and I hope you find this meal just as tasty. For those of you who asked for more quick and easy recipes after trying the soup, thanks for your patience!
This meal quietly slipped out of my rotation for a few years, even though it’s one I’ve always enjoyed immensely. Has that ever happened to you? I suppose it was because I began experimenting with a lot of new ethnic dishes, so for a while, my focus shifted to finding new (or new to me) ingredients and trying new methods of preparation. For reasons unknown, this sautéed chickpea (aka garbanzo bean) salad popped back into my memory recently, and I immediately wanted to share it with you! I started making it so many years ago that I can’t remember where I got the idea. I looked around at recipes online, and couldn’t find anything similar, so I’m thinking perhaps I saw lots of recipes during that time that included sautéing chickpeas & decided to throw some on a raw salad. The combination of tastes and textures in this dish make it absolutely crave-worthy.
The salad starts with a big bed of romaine lettuce. Romaine is not only crunchy and delicious, but also very high in folate, vitamin A and vitamin K, which doesn’t get a lot of air time, but is super important. Vitamin K works to help blood clot. Additionally, it works with calcium to strengthen bones & teeth, to help keep arteries from hardening, and to prevent osteoporosis & fractures, according to Dr. Joel Furhman, NY Times bestselling author and internationally-know expert on nutrition and natural healing. Having worked with a hospice organization for years, I know that as we age, bones can get brittle, balance and strength often wane, and falls increase. Those conditions create a perfect storm for fractures, which, for various reasons, can be the beginning of the end. So let’s try not to go there, eh? Eat your romaine! 😊
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ~ Hippocrates
Chickpeas, as it happens, may be as healthy as romaine. According to The George Mateljan Foundation for The World’s Healthiest Foods, garbanzo beans are high in manganese, folate, copper and fiber. The fiber they contain can assist in making the preferred energy source for cells that line the colon. This can result in more optimal colon function, reducing the risk of cancer and other gastrointestinal issues.
So, without further ado, here’s the recipe for this incredibly healthy, delicious salad, that will take you less than 30 minutes! Please let me know in the comments if you give it a try. I’d love your feedback.
Yield: 2 servings
Ingredients – use organic and/or non-GMO whenever possible
1/4 large head of romaine, chopped 3-4 medium carrots, sliced 1/2 small red onion, diced 2 tbsp oil, preferably avocado (but olive oil will work) 3 cloves garlic, minced (or 1/4 tsp garlic powder) 16 oz cooked chickpeas (either prepared from dried or canned, drained) 1/8 – 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste Salt to taste Extra drizzle of olive oil, if desired
Create beds of romaine on 2 large plates. Add a heavy layer of sliced carrots to each & sprinkle with red onions.
Heat the oil on medium-low heat in a large skillet & add fresh garlic (if using), stirring for 1-2 minutes, until just fragrant. Add chickpeas, using the pan’s lid like a shield to protect yourself from popping oil, and stir to coat. Add cayenne pepper, salt, and garlic powder (if you didn’t use fresh garlic.) Cook, stirring frequently for 7-12 minutes, or until the chickpeas get a little tanned. (Be sure to stop cooking if the oil starts to smoke.) Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.
Scoop 1/2 of the chickpeas on top of each salad, and drizzle a little olive oil if desired. Enjoy!
Note – if you find the salad is not quite filling enough for you, here are 2 ideas:
Follow it with a big chunk of watermelon!
Stuff the salad into a pita round, and add some of this lemon tahini dressing, which is one of my favorites:
Yield: just under a cup
2 cloves chopped garlic 1/3 cup tahini (sesame seed butter) 1 tsp lemon zest 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice 3 tbsp olive oil 2-3 tbsp hot water 1 tsp salt
Whisk all ingredients together, adding just enough water for your desired consistency. Keeps for a few days in the fridge stored in a small jar or other glass container. (You may want to add a tiny bit more water each day you take it out of the fridge, as it can get pretty thick. It won’t really affect the flavor, as it intensifies as it sets.)
*This can also be used on grilled veggies, in grain salads, on regular raw salads, or even to replace mayo on some sandwiches. I make this versatile, delicious dressing often.
When I first started spending time in the Southwest, a whole new world opened up to me. That new world included the opportunity to witness things that were outside my old frame of real-time reference. I remember my first time seeing a tumbleweed being blown across the road, thinking excitedly omg, just like in the old western movies! (Except, of course, I was in a car instead of horse-drawn buggy, and the road was paved, not dirt. :)) Exploration in this beautiful part of the world makes my heart happy. If you are familiar only with the East Coast of the US, you’re missing out on some other-worldly, breathtaking sites. In fact, the Southwest shares so few parallels with the East that I have often said it feels like a different country.
. . . There are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into limitlessness, which we all yearn for, or you can do the beauty of minutiae, the scrimshaw of tiny and precise. The sky is your ocean, and the crystal silence will uplift you like great gospel music, or Neil Young. ~Anne Lamott
I want to share with you a few of my special finds from the Southwest. I realize these treasures can be found in other locations, and I’d love to hear if you’ve seen any of them, and where. I was surprised to learn this week, after a lifetime of believing otherwise, that tarantulas can be found in more than half of the U.S. Who knew?!
Speaking of tarantulas, I saw this old gal in Sedona. (I say gal because she was alone on the sidewalk of a touristy shopping area!) I’d never seen one outside of a glass-enclosed case, and I was surprised at how close she let me get. I was even more surprised at some of the facts on tarantulas, as reported by spideridentifications.com. They can be as small as a couple centimeters, or as large as a dinner plate! The lifespan of a typical female is 30 years, and 7 years for a male. (Any thoughts on that? LOL! Sorry, guys, I couldn’t resist!) Also, their jaws and fangs, which can be 1.5 inches long, are quite strong. There are not many reports of them harming humans, according to the site, lucky for us.
Next, the Painted Desert occupies 7500 square miles in northern Arizona, between the east entrance of the Grand Canyon and the area surrounding Petrified Forest National Park. This extraordinary landscape is made up of fine-grained rock that is easily eroded and shaped by the elements. As for the coloring, compounds of manganese and iron account for the many bands of reds, orange, grey, and lavender. It is truly a site to behold.
As its name implies, Petrified Forest National Park contains an abundance of wood turned to stone. The above picture, however, was snapped at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park in Utah. Petrified wood is actually a 3-D fossil that is formed by a mineral process over millions of years. Like the Painted Desert, the fossilized wood is colored by minerals. In addition to the colors in the pic above, you can also find this wood with shades of black, pink and green.
Petroglyphs have been another amazing find for me. How awesome is it that our ancestors unknowingly left us this beautiful history?! The above shot was taken at V-Bar-V Heritage Site in central Arizona. When I visited, the area was an active archaeological dig site (which was a first for me as well!) This rock art was created between 600 and 900 years ago, and encompasses over 1000 petroglyphs on 13 panels. It is said to be one of the best-preserved sites of its kind.
The photo above was taken at Mesa Verde National Park in the Four Corners area of southwestern Colorado. This ancient construction, which is underneath an overhanging cliff, was built primarily of shaped sandstones cemented with mud. Some structures were made for dwelling, others for storing crops, and still others for ceremonial purposes. They are said to have been built between 700 and 800 years ago. Because this population left no writings on the rocks in this location, archaeologists have had a harder time gathering information on them. However, the dig sites around the area have yielded evidence indicating that their “accomplishments in community living and the arts rank among the finest expressions of human culture in North America.” Impressive, huh?
And now, stepping away from history and archaeology, chile ristras are the very mascot of the Southwest, in my opinion! These cheery decorations are made not only for the practical purpose of drying for later use, but also for ornamentation. It is said they bring good health and fortune. They can be found all over New Mexico. Check farmers’ markets to find troves of them, along with other unusual desert-made goodies.
I hope you enjoyed my special finds. The Southwest is really a jewel, with a lot of sweet surprises. I encourage you to visit and explore, and fall in love with a new world, just as I have.
And, now the poll. I am going to rely on your input to determine the subject of my next blog post. These are your choices:
A new recipe
What say you? Please leave your choice in the comments section below.
Did you enjoy spending time outside as a kid? I did. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember spending much time inside, unless I was at school. I loved playing outdoors with pets we had over the years, including lots of dogs and cats, a couple rabbits, and a rooster that I treated like a baby. I enjoyed riding my bicycle and skateboard up and down the driveway. I reveled in turning cartwheels and doing handstands in the grass. I liked climbing trees and fishing with my grandmother at our little pond. I spent many hours on the cool ground, looking for lucky four-leaf clovers. (Often while singing I’m looking over a four-leaf clover that I’ve overlooked before . . .) Sometimes, I’d link together the little clover flowers to make a crown garland. I can’t guess how many unfortunate butterflies I caught in a big Mason jar when they would light on the giant twin oaks in the backyard. And the poor June bugs that I caught provided plenty of outdoor entertainment once I tied a long string around one leg, limiting the area to which they could fly. (Hopefully, nobody is teaching kids to catch butterflies and restrain June bugs anymore!) On the playground at school, I delighted in running, jumping rope, and playing on the monkey bars and swing sets. What are your most cherished childhood memories of being outside?
I don’t remember being sick very often as a child, and I think all the time I spent outdoors had a lot to do with it. Research shows time and time again how nature can benefit us. And just because we’re having to lay low now due to covid doesn’t mean we can’t get outside. Actually, being out in the elements is often a better bet than staying indoors.
I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in. ~George Washington Carver
In an article on the Centers for Disease Control website entitled Are There Benefits to Spending Time Outdoors?, it is reported that, due to benes such as the opportunity to be active and the sun’s role in producing vitamin D, being outside may elevate your overall health and wellness. If those were the only significant findings from science in this area, they’re reason enough to get out in nature, wouldn’t you agree?
The EPA report, Estimating Greenspace Exposure and Benefits for Cumulative Risk Assessment Applications, is a lengthy document which addresses many effects of the outdoors on public health. The findings of these multi-disciplinary studies include “improved cognition, attention restoration, and improved immune function.” Also, greenspaces can “reduce exposures to air pollution . . . and noise.” Kind of the opposite of what an indoor environment provides.
TheJournal of Positive Psychology published Noticing Nature: Individual and Social Benefits of a Two-Week Intervention, an article describing a study of 3 groups of undergraduates assigned to pay attention to different environments: natural, man-made, and a control group with no change from the norm. The results of the study showed that those assigned the natural environment had more elevated experiences and felt more connected to others and life in general than the other 2 groups. In just two weeks’ time!
In the book they co-authored, Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight & Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration, Gina Bria and Dana Cohen, MD, talk about the ways our modern indoor work lives contribute to dehydrating us. (Check out my article Hydration – No, Really to learn just how critical proper hydration is.) Closed environments like offices, with bright artificial lights, screens and other electronics, air conditioning, heating, and even furniture and flooring, absorb vapor from the air. Modes of transportation, including cars, trains, and airplanes have super-low humidities. Now combine all that with the long periods of sitting that many of us do which constricts the flow of fluids in our bodies, and you understand how you can become a very dehydrated individual by the end of the day. That is, of course, unless you take regular action to stay hydrated. According to the book, drinking beverages like fresh lemon water and eating fruits like apples and grapes, as well as doing little things like opening a window, breathing deeply, keeping a plant on your desk, taking quick walks outside, and all movements, even fidgeting, help you stay hydrated. If you’re working remotely now, can you move your office outside?
One of the few triple-board certified physicians in the country, Dr. Zach Bush, says that getting outside can enhance our overall health by diversifying the microbes in our guts. A healthy microbiome, according to Dr. Bush, consists of between 20,000 and 40,000 species of bacteria. He says that Americans, as a result of eating the standard American diet and regularly consuming antibiotics (via prescription and/or eating commercially raised livestock) typically have about 10% of that amount. Spending time in various natural environments can up that percentage. Think forests, waterfalls, lakes, beaches, deserts, rivers, and rainforests. They each have differing microbes that are just waiting to join and diversify the community of good bugs already present in your gut! (Learn more about the microbiome in my article Thinking Outside the COVID-19 Box: 10 Ways to Boost Immune Function.)
Spending time outdoors is not only fun, but also incredibly healthy, according to science. Maybe the fact that it makes us feels so good accounts for the many hours we spent playing in trees, dirt, and water as kids. And now, walking and biking in nature takes me out of my adult mindset and puts me in touch with a sillier, more playful part of myself. It still makes me feel like a kid.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. ~Albert Einstein
No matter what is going on, never give up. Develop the heart. Too much energy in your country is spent developing the mind instead of the heart. Be compassionate, not just to your friends but to everyone. Be compassionate. Work for peace in your heart and in the world. Work for peace. And I say again, never give up. No matter what is going on around you, never give up. ~Dalai Lama XIV
It’s been one of those weeks. One where I thought I knew my subject matter for this post, and after working on it for hours, it occurred to me that it really didn’t feel right. (Does this ever happen to you?) So then I started working on something else only to have the same thing happen. After the third time, I surrendered. Maybe I should just inject a little beauty and hope into this extra-heavy reality we’re living. Ok, that feels right.
Recognizing the mental fatigue created by dark clouds of uncertainty provides an opportunity to take a much-needed pause. Breathe deeply, picture yourself immersed in beauty, and make a plan to reward yourself this week, to bring light to recently darkened passages. Don’t put it off. Self love and compassion are paramount now.
You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. ~Mahatma Gandhi
We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep. ~William James
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. ~Marie Curie
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We were made to enjoy music, to enjoy beautiful sunsets, to enjoy looking at the billows of the sea . . . Human beings are actually created for the transcendent, for the sublime, for the beautiful, for the truthful . . . and all of us are given the task of trying to make this world a little more hospitable to these beautiful things. ~ Desmond Tutu
What is it about water that we are so drawn to? Why do we crowd beaches on summer holidays? Why do we gasp at the site of a waterfall? What makes a stoney creek so appealing?
So extravagant is Nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep . . . ~ John Muir
Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Many have written about water through the ages, including poets, authors, artists, explorers, statesmen, philosophers, and spiritual leaders. They’ve addressed water as our source, as the driving force in nature, and as a metaphor for the whole of humanity.
Water is the softest of all things, yet it is the most powerful. ~ Wayne Dyer
Some of my fondest childhood memories involve water. As a small girl, I remember digging for worms in the rich black soil of my grandmother’s back yard. We would then walk together down a rocky dirty road to the pond, carrying our freshly-dug bait and fishing poles made from sugar cane stalks. I don’t recall ever catching any fish, but I will never forget watching the big green dragon flies lighting on the red and white bobs, and being transfixed by the ever-expanding water ripples created when we would cast. We spent a lot of time at that little pond, and the sight of it now takes me back to a sweeter world.
The majority of our family vacations were on water, as well. We would load up the car and drive to the panhandle or Crystal River on Florida’s west coast. We swam, sunbathed, and went deep sea fishing. It was always the highlight of the year.
What memories of water do you have? Do you have a special beach, river, or lake that you return to again and again?
Don’t sit and wait. Get out there, feel life. Touch the sun, and immerse in the sea. ~ Rumi
Recently, I was asked about the theme of my blog. I’ve written on human health, environmental issues, the beauty of nature, travel, vegan recipes, gratitude and unity. You, too, may have wondered in past weeks, what do these ideas have in common? After giving a lot of thought to helping you better understand, I have updated my About page. The revised text follows.
Humans are a part of the biological system called Nature. Mother Earth, all living things, every mountain, drop of water, and grain of sand are made of the same elements that we are, and together, we exist within the same Universal Fabric. Quantum physics shows this Universal Fabric, even the part we see as empty space, to be conscious and interdependent. All of our actions, large or small, feelings, thoughts, and intentions affect not only our own lives, but all that exists within the entire Fabric, for better or for worse. What’s good for one of us, the Micro, is good for the whole, the Macro. (For example, feelings of love and gratitude are good for each of us, as well as all of existence.) And those things that are not beneficial for the Macro do not benefit the Micro. (For example, chemically treated crops are not good for the Earth’s soils or a person’s gut.)
This idea is not new. The Micro of the Macro concept originated in the healing system of Ayurveda, (from the Sanskrit Ayur, meaning life, and Veda, meaning science or knowledge) which dates back 3000 years. This ancient system is firmly rooted in the idea that a healthy balance between mind, body, spirit, and environment creates an optimal state, therefore preventing disease.
In this blog, we explore themes that can help balance the Micro with the Macro. You’ll see data from new health studies, nature photos, travel essays, vegan recipes, philosophy, poetry, and other reverent musings. You’ll also receive links to empowering websites and podcasts, as well as information on the physicians, scientists, & other individuals on the cutting edge of helping further an aligned humanity, and whose voices need to be heard.
Please join me in exploring and celebrating this beautiful privilege and responsibility each of us has, living as a Micro of the Macro.
In short, this blog is about Life: our lives in relation to those of other living beings and our interactions with Earth, the only home that we have. When we take measures to improve our individual lives in meaningful ways, the whole of Life benefits.
Healthy eating is one of the best ways to improve your own health and that of the planet. By eating an organic whole food plant based diet, not only can you spare the lives of innocent animals, but you also vote (with your dollars) for a food system that is less toxic, and therefore healthier for us and our environment. When you supply your microbiome with these much-needed nutrient-dense foods, it responds in ways that nourish the brain and other vital organs. (Learn more in my article Thinking Outside the COVID-19 Box: 10 Ways to Boost Immune Function.) You feel better physically and mentally, which can result in positive interactions between you and your family, colleagues, and community.
Traveling allows you to better understand and accept people and ways of living that may have at one time seemed frighteningly different. In last week’s post, Six Reasons to Gift Yourself with Travel, I outlined some of the benefits of travel, both individually and collectively speaking. Some of those benefits include increased tolerance and appreciation of other populations and the natural world, a broader understanding of current events, and an education unlike any other. These ideas can benefit not only the traveler, but also the human race and the planet.
According to Nancy Etcoff, psychologist and researcher at Harvard University, beauty is instinctual and essential to life. (Did you see my photo essay For the Love of Beauty?) Spending time in nature, surrounded by the beauty of mountains, ocean, forest, or wildlife, reconnects us with our origins and opens our hearts. Sunshine super-charges our mitochondria and helps our bodies produce vitamin D. Trees emit love in the form of oxygen, along with health-inducing chemicals. The sounds of birdsong and rustling leaves result in stress reduction. Colorful sunsets can be awe-inspiring. Again, a win-win for the Micro and the Macro.
Maintaining an ongoing practice of gratitude can help you get through trying times. Focusing on and being grateful for the positives in any situation helps infuse a higher vibration in all your thoughts and deeds. Many studies have been done on gratitude, and its health benefits include lower blood pressure, better cholesterol levels, feeling more socially connected, experiencing less anger & anxiety, and better sleep. (Check out my article Does “In All Things Give Thanks” Apply to These Times?) The kicker is, the Universe matches your vibration, providing more higher-vibe situations. You can see how this can help align your efforts with the betterment of the whole, right?
And unity. What a time to address the subject of unity, when people around the world are more divided than ever by disease, politics, prejudice, and financial status, but so many are raising their hearts and voices in defiance of it all. Some changes have already been implemented, and I believe many more are imminent. (Did you catch my article Unity Rising?) Unity and equality involve not only reformed interaction between the powers that be and our communities, but also a renewed commitment to caring for the Earth that sustains us. This sentiment is being echoed far and wide, by indigenous peoples, environmental journalists, animal rights advocates, and youngsters who are rightfully fearful of climate change robbing them of long lives. Unity is woven by love, a love demonstrated by peaceful protestors, food pantry volunteers, and a host of front-line workers. It is strengthened by attention shared with families and friends as we continue to shelter at home, check on our neighbors, and stay in touch with friends. It is made brighter by an appreciation of Mother Earth, as we go outdoors for temporary respite from this heavy reality. And, rest assured, it has always been a part of us, but must have gotten lost on our to-do lists in the pre-covid status quo.
I hope you now have a better understanding of the theme of my blog. Fact is, each of us is a Micro of the Macro, entrenched in the biology of Nature. This platform, with its many diverse subjects, is designed to lovingly encourage you to align with the whole, for improved personal & planetary health, and the betterment of mankind.
Before I started traveling, I was showered with advice from friends and family. They said things like travel is dangerous, those people don’t like Americans, and you’ll be back home sooner than later (a home that I never, by the way, returned to.) They all meant well, of course, but I’m not sure how many of them had done any traveling of their own, especially to destinations across the pond. In retrospect, I’m thinking maybe they were giving me their often fear-based advice based on what they had heard or assumed. Fact is, I’ve enjoyed all the places I’ve visited, and I’ve never felt ill at ease. Learning about new cultures is fascinating to me. I love hiking and biking new landscapes, towns, and villages. It’s thrilling to see with my own eyes the ancient structures first glimpsed in the textbook of my college Renaissance Art and Architecture class. And the people I’ve met couldn’t have been nicer, both the other travelers and the locals, who are always more than happy to direct me to the nearest train station or cafe, or point me in the right direction when I’m lost. In fact, I have come to believe that travel is a gift with life-long benefits, and I’m so grateful for my experiences (as well as the opportunities that await!)
As a result, my advice is much different: I feel you’re selling yourself short if you don’t travel! Of course, it’s never a bad idea to check for travel advisories, read guidebooks in advance, and be aware of your surroundings (which is true at home, as well), but there’s no need to be fearful with good attention and preparation, even if you’re not part of a group. Below, you’ll find some of the reasons I feel travel can be a gift for all of us, both individually and collectively.
Experiencing new places and cultures allows you to get to know some of the populations you’ve heard about in the news, and therefore reduces fear. The idea of hate, or intense aversion, is often rooted in fear. Being in a distant land, whether in this country or another, you learn that people are fundamentally like you: they love, care for their families, work, take part in community, walk their dog, prepare meals, and treasure their beliefs. It’s truly an affirmation of life to witness the similarities.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, andnarrow-mindedness. ~Mark Twain
Second only to the benefit of reducing fear is the fact that travel is one of the best educational experiences there is. While you’re experiencing new cultures, you learn about history, politics, religion, art, language, food, flora, fauna, geography, topography, and on and on. You may gain a new understanding of why things are as they are in that part of the world. Additionally, you might be challenged to plan your train or bus route, communicate with native speakers, find a restaurant, or locate a merchant who sells good wine and crusty bread or locally sourced souvenirs for the folks back home. Being outside your daily norm can really augment your brain activity.
Travel will broaden your appreciation of nature and humanity in general. This planet is amazingly diverse and beautiful, and that realization could lead you to the ideas of protecting and preserving Her for future generations. During your travels, you may come upon trees, flowers, or animals you’ve never seen. You might be delighted by waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, green seas, or volcanos. And after getting comfortable with the folks you once considered foreigners, your capacity for empathy expands.
The world is full of wonderful things you haven’t seen yet. Don’t ever give up on the chance of seeing them. ~J.K. Rowling
Moderate stress, the kind that traveling causes, can be good for you. Being in a strange land, interacting with new people, doing new things, trying new foods, and simply going outside of your normal routine brings about moderate stress, which can result in increased energy and focus, improved memory, and bolstered immunity (https://www.learning-mind.com/positive-effects-of-stress/).
Travel changes your perspective on life in general. With a broadened worldview, you’ll find your conversations will change. You may read or hear news stories with a different understanding. Your spending habits may shift, after realizing the value of experiences over objects. Your beliefs may even become less rigid and appear less black or white.
Finally, as I mentioned before, the benefits of travel last a lifetime. The memories, photographs, knowledge, new ideas, and increased cognitive abilities experienced can be with you forever. Perusing travel photographs and journals always brings joy to my heart and a big smile to my face. And you know I enjoy sharing them with you!
As soon as covid-19 allows, show yourself some love and gift yourself with travel. Every chance you get. For a month, a week, or even a weekend. In this country or elsewhere. Even if you do it on the cheap, like many of my trips. You’ll come back home with an enhanced sense of what it means to be fully alive. As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor . . . Explore. Dream. Discover.” I couldn’t agree more.
I grew up on a small farm in the Deep South, surrounded by trees and animals. My family had a couple cows, a few pigs, and lots of chickens. My grandmother, or Mawmaw, as we called her, maintained a huge vegetable garden on one side of her house, and a slightly smaller flower garden on the other side. Her property had several pecan trees, a walnut tree, a fig tree, and apple trees. Each time a grandchild was born into the family, she planted a new tree in her large yard. My birth tree was a magnolia, and even now, the scent of a magnolia blossom makes me swoon.
In those early years, I spent a lot of time climbing trees. It was great fun and I loved the views from above. More recently, I’ve learned to appreciate trees for other reasons. When I took up traveling for a few years, (check out Escaping Normal for my story) I discovered that trees were healing. Hiking in a forest or canyon or up a mountain surrounded by redwoods, ponderosa pines, aspens, or birch trees made me feel nurtured. And that’s as true now as ever before. (You know how your dog or cat can be extra loving and attentive when you’re sick or sad? Same idea.)
Trees have not been the subject of many scientific studies, although the studies that have been done reveal that their functions are vital for life on the planet. Most of us know that trees produce oxygen, take in harmful carbon dioxide, and provide shelter and food for animals. But after reading Jim Robbins’ The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet, I’ve learned that trees are more important than I ever imagined. The author, who has written on environmental issues for The New YorkTimes for more than 35 years, asserts that planting trees could in fact be our most important ecotechnology for saving this troubled planet.
According to Robbins, trees absorb not only carbon dioxide, but also various other pollutants that might otherwise end up in our lungs. Their root system can render toxic waste harmless. They can control the distribution of flooding rain and filter searing heat. They generate over 100 chemicals, many in aerosol form, that benefit not only their own species, but sometimes other types of trees, as well as some animals, including humans.
During my travel years, I witnessed some really unique trees, some with interesting stories. From the Joshua tree in the Mojave Desert, to the Great Basin’s ancient bristlecone pines, to the Giant Sequoias in California’s Sierra Nevada, the encounters were fascinating and unforgettable.
The Joshua tree is said to have been named by Mormons in the mid-19th century who were trekking through the Mojave Desert in search of a place to settle. The shaggy bark and open branches of the trees seemed to point them toward Utah, reminding them of Joshua from the Bible, who, with outstretched hands, guided the Israelites to seize Canaan. (https://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm) I couldn’t help but laugh when I first saw these unusual trees. They look like Dr. Seuss creations!
In Nevada’s Great Basin National Park, (https://www.nps.gov/grba/index.htm) I came upon bristlecone pines, which are between 3000 – 5000 years old, making them some of the oldest living trees in the world. Their ability to withstand extremely inhospitable conditions accounts for their longevity. These ancient sentinels produce healthy pine needle clusters within a form that is partially dead. Instead of rotting, their decay-resistant trunks are polished by wind and rain. Even after dying completely, the bristlecone pine can remain standing for thousands of years.
According to Treehugger.com, the Giant Sequoias can live up to 3000 years, and have branches that are bigger around than the height of 2 humans. Vertically, they can grow up to 300 feet, as high as a 26-30 story building. They can weigh over 2.5 million pounds, and may have a ground circumference of 100 feet. If you have never witnessed these gentle giants first-hand, I strongly encourage it. You’ll gain a new respect for and perspective on biology! Sequoia National Park (https://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm) in California has some of the largest ones on record.
I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority. ~E. B. White
Trees work quietly for the betterment of life. Unfortunately, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Jim Robbins estimates that 80% of the world’s old-growth forests have been destroyed, and the destruction process continues. Trees and forests, he writes, “are ecosystem engineers that create the conditions for other forms of life to exist on every level.” Their disappearance, often the result of “progress,” may be facilitating the extinction of the human race.
You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. ~Greta Thunberg
Demonstrating love for trees is a great place to start in resolving our ever-worsening environmental problems. If you have kids, talk to them about the importance of trees. Ask them to help you plant and care for some fruit trees or an oak or maple. (BTW, trees increase property value.) Teach your kids to climb trees, or climb with them. Take them to the forest to hike or bike. Go to an apple orchard. Check out state and national parks renowned for their grand species of trees. If you must have a live Christmas tree, decorate one outdoors instead of cutting one down. Showing love and respect for trees helps all life forms, and might just prolong our existence on this planet.
In the time when the world is sick and dying, a tribe of people will come together of many races. They will be a people who put their faith in deeds, not words, and the world shall become green again. ~Cree Prophecy
We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now. ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s been a tough week. Stories of protests, violence and rioting in the U.S. have dominated headlines. The tone of sadness mixed with outrage has been palpable, bringing to mind the 1992 riots following the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles. Black lives do matter, and it is my prayer that this civil unrest will be closely followed by policy changes that bring equality to our populations of color, resulting in an unprecedented unity in this country.
The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. ~ Gandhi
The city of Flint, Michigan, is already implementing such changes. In an article entitled “Flint Emerges as Symbol of Peace and Unity Amid Protests and Turmoil,” (https://www.mlive.com/news/flint/2020/06/flint-emerges-as-symbol-of-peace-and-unity-amid-protests-and-turmoil.html) it was reported that Mayor Sheldon Neeley announced the creation of a coalition to address systemic racism in the state. Further, the Flint Police Chief is instituting a training program for the police department that will focus on diversity and healing. Former President Barack Obama praised the city and its residents in a recent essay, stating that these actions could spur “real change.”
Change is often the outcome of a new understanding. To that end, I want to share a Facebook page called Sustainable Human. Recently, a video clip was posted on the page called How to Understand a Human Being. The video is short and succinct, but most valuable. The big takeaway is this: All human behavior is either an attempt to meet a need, or a reaction to a need not being met. That really resonates with me. What about you?
Attempting to understand others can create much-needed unity. We share a common existence with the entire human race and all of nature. Quantum physics shows that we are all made of the same elements within the same conscious Universal Fabric. Therefore, all of our actions, feelings, thoughts, and intentions affect not only our own lives, but everyone and everything in the entire Fabric, for better or for worse.
We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men. ~ Herman Melville
In the spirit of unity, I want to share some music with you. A big thanks to my friend Darlene, who “introduced” me to the super-talented international group Playing for Change. I’ve watched this video clip & listened to the song repeatedly over the past few days: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hGSqqhhokE. (It makes my heart happy to see & hear these talented musicians performing this uplifting song from various countries, often using traditional instruments. And the kids in this clip are ebullient!) This is the group’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground, from an album entitled Songs Around the World that includes the collaboration of 100 musicians from 21 countries. If you are old enough to remember the powerful lyrics and funky bass in Stevie’s version, you’re not going to want to miss this one. (And if you don’t remember, having a listen will stir your soul!)
Valarie Kaur is a unity-promoting author, lawyer, civil rights activist, and creator of The Revolutionary Love Project, designed “to champion love as a force for justice and wellspring for social action.” Her Ted Talk, 3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage (https://www.revolutionarylove.net/ted/), is a beautiful and poignant presentation that couldn’t be more relevant to our current reality. Each time I watch this 22-minute clip, I gain more insight and appreciation of her strong desire for unity and love.
Love as a force: I really like that. Thinking of love as a force causes me to draw parallels with the reliability of gravity and the aggressive nature of the forces of hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornados. May the reliable, aggressive force of love permeate your every thought and steel your resolve of gratitude for all of life. May it envelop the hearts and minds of your local police officers and policymakers. And may the beautiful force of love awaken in us all a sense of unity at this precarious time when big change seems imminent and absolutely anything is possible.
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. ~ 1 Peter 3:8
The first time I spent a little time in Northern Arizona, it stole my heart. It was early springtime, and the trees were budding and blooming and smelling more beautiful than any trees I had ever known. The hiking trails were numerous, and lined with boulders, multi-colored sandstone, red cliffs, huge ponderosa pine trees, alligator junipers, small cactus shrubs, and aspen groves. Some trails featured Native American cliff dwellings, mud-walled structures, and petroglyphs. Other trails crossed creeks or lead to lakes, big and small. The most interesting trail I hiked, Cathedral Wash (a workout for both the body and mind due to the trail dropping between 5 and 30 feet in areas, leaving you to figure out how to descend) ends at the Colorado River, just outside the Grand Canyon.
I find that a great number of people are unaware of Arizona’s elevation changes, the presence of trees, and the dramatic climate differences in the state. If you think of a featureless, sandy, flat state with no water, trees, flowers, or beauty when you hear someone speak of Arizona, this post is for you.
You may have heard of Sedona (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qHjLngt7OI) and its lovely red rocks. Before my big road-trip adventure, a few people suggested I visit Sedona due to its natural beauty and reputation as a spiritual hub. I took that advice, and they were right: its beauty is extraordinary, and with a guide, I was able to access a remote area that felt very sacred. But, did you know that Sedona is located 4000 feet above sea level? And have you heard of Oak Creek? It’s a big, beautiful stream that runs through the little town, much of it recreation-accessible. During the late fall and winter, trees along the creek turn spectacular reds, oranges, and yellows. When snow falls on the red rocks, the sight is nothing short of glorious.
Speaking of snow, the highest point in the state, Humphreys Peak, topping out at 12,633 feet in elevation, sits among The San Francisco Peaks to the north of the small town of Flagstaff (https://www.flagstaffarizona.org). At about 7000 feet above sea level, Flagstaff is one of the snowiest areas in the country, getting an average of 100 inches annually. Each of the seasons could not be more beautiful in “Flag,” as the locals call it. After winter covers Humphreys Peak with a bright white blanket, a lovely springtime arrives, bringing with it happy meadowlarks, ravens, blue jays, hummingbirds, ground squirrels, and white-tailed deer. When summer takes over, there are a couple weeks of 90+ degree temps, but most days are cooler. It is possible during July and August to need a jacket at night, as high desert summer temps can drop into the 40s. Beginning around the first week in July, the area gets super-saturated with rain as a result of monsoon season, which lasts through September. The heavy precipitation encourages a myriad of wildflowers to pop up in meadows, canyons, alongside roads, and on hiking trails, once again transforming the beauty of the little mountain town. And then, fall arrives, causing local leaves to sing with vibrant colors.
The drive north from Flagstaff reveals an other-worldly topography. Most of the land in the northeast corner of the state belongs to Navajo Nation and is largely undeveloped. About 90 minutes north of Flagstaff, you will see the turn-off to the Grand Canyon (https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm), which of course is a must-see. Carved by the Colorado River over millions of years, the Canyon is immense, sporting an elevation change of 8000 feet between its highest point and the mighty Colorado.
About an hour farther north, you will discover Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell (https://www.nps.gov/glca/index.htm), and Antelope Canyon (https://www.antelopecanyon.com). A boat tour on Lake Powell (located in both Arizona and Utah) offers spectacular views of the red, orange and white sandstone cliffs surrounding the water. With a Navajo guide, a walk through the narrow, beautifully formed Antelope Canyon will amaze you. The slot canyons are the happy result of flash floods causing erosion of the soft sandstone.
As for the rest of the state, points farther south are uniquely interesting as well. A drive south on I-17 just north of Phoenix yields a plethora of saguaro cactus plants at a certain point, and although I’ve never witnessed it, I’m told their beauty is astounding when they’re all in bloom. Tombstone (https://tombstoneweb.com), made famous by outlaws like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, is a cool little town where gunfight reenactments are performed in the unpaved streets. It has been designated one of the best-preserved rugged frontier towns of the late 1800s. And Tucson (https://www.visittucson.org) offers an extensive Botanical Gardens network, Saguaro National Park, and Mt. Lemmon, a jewel that rises over 7000 feet out of the Sonoran Desert.
If you have always pictured the entire state of Arizona as hot, sandy, and drab, I hope this essay has forever changed that image. Its diverse and unique terrain is explorer-friendly, and the state is reopening, with restrictions, of course. Experience its unique beauty and natural history, and let me know how much you love it, too.