The last time I was in Vermont, it was summer – July to be exact. Everything was green in the green mountains, and I was in need of some physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. I had read about the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing. I immediately loved the image that came to mind – walking down woodland paths or up steep mountain paths and soaking in all that nature has to offer. My summer Forest Bathing post can be viewed here.
As is our tradition, my husband and I travel up to Vermont in October to witness the leaves changing color in all variations of radiant yellow, orange, russet, red, crimson, and purple. This year was a spectacular display. Whenever we went there was vibrant color – a real-life watercolor – colors blended into each other and the sky was a clear, cloudless blue. I could not wait to get into the woods, to surround myself with color, with the natural signs of the changing seasons. As I walked, I took photos and wrote poetry in my head. This is what my Autumn plunge created.
I have taken some time off to be in Vermont. It is a place my husband and I have gone for the last thirty years. I need this time to relax, heal, and ease my pain. I am so grateful for this place. As soon as I see the Green Mountains in the distance, I breathe deeply and feel something release inside of me. This may be due to the wide expanse of greenery, the clouds sitting gently on the mountain tops, or the roadside laced with an assortment of wildflowers. There are acres and acres of distance between neighbors and people still put their wash up on clotheslines. This is a slow and peaceful place. My eyes tell my body that I am safe; I can rest now.
I have been reading about a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing. The idea is the connect with nature by walking in the woods. By bringing all your senses to that place and being mindful, your body begins to heal itself and you feel restored. I am practicing forest bathing every day while in Vermont. My body is beginning to ache a little less and my mind is certainly in a better place. I so needed this respite, and I am grateful that there is such a beautiful place nestled in the mountains.
I have been traveling in southern Maine this past week. While photographing this beautiful landscape, I was struck by how the style of the homes, shops, and public spaces keep a focus on nature. The seaside and its accompanying flora and fauna become part of a peaceful natural decor. The colors: ocean blue, dune grass green, picket fence white, daisy yellow, azalea pink, and cardinal red are repeated in pleasing patterns so restful to the eye and spirit.
I realize that much of the way I design my home and office is with this same emphasis on nature. I often look for ways to bring the outside indoors. I have collections of seashells, sea glass, and beach stones. I bring in wildflowers and make arrangements in jam jars and earthenware vases. In the fall, I will collect pinecones, acorns, and the spiky balls of the Sweet Gum tree and place them in wooden bowls, pottery and baskets. I find comfort in staying connected to my surroundings whether it be ocean, mountains, or forest. I have always found these places a source of relaxation and restoration.
The Maine coast holds a special place in my heart, however. Something about the wide expanse of sand and sea and sky, gives me permission to pause, to breathe in the salty brine, and breathe out all my worries. At the ocean my shoulders relax, and I feel truly at ease. I want to take that feeling with me. I want to create the same mood indoors and keep it all year long. I can bring my seaside escape with me and make it truly part of my surroundings, part of how I feel and who I am.
Last week, after a day of wild rain and wind, my husband and I ventured out on the last day of our South Carolina vacation. We biked along lush paths, sat by the pool to soak up some sun, and then drove to one of the beaches we have come to love. We walked down the long path to the beach. On either side there were dunes and a creek and scrub pines laden with huge pinecones. As we approached the fencing, we saw the vast expanse of sand, sea, and sky.
The sky was decorated with amazing clouds. I gasped and thought, “This is what sublime is. Sublime is the surf and sky dotted with this dramatic cloud cover in shades that run from bright white to cream to pale blue to pink to lavender. I said to my husband, “This beach is never the same twice. There is always something new and beautiful. Just look at that sky!”
I started to laugh remembering a time I spent last year with a group of three-years-old children, who were observing the cloud formations and commenting on all the shapes they saw. Some saw turtles and pirate ships, others saw castles and giraffes. Of course, one young pragmatist clearly proclaimed, “Don’t be silly! They all look like mashed potatoes!” I wrote more about this here.
As a poet, photographer, and teacher, I am attracted to the elusive nature of clouds. They represent creativity and possibility. They can shape-shift. If I was a superhero, I think that’s the superpower I would like – to change my structure – to become something else and then something else again. Clouds break apart and come together; they change color and shape and quality. They embody what it means to be creative. They are the definition of sublime. I wrote more my connection with clouds as inspiration here.
When my husband and I take photo trips, whether near or far, I am often attracted to doors and windows. I like exploring small quaint towns that have been revived by artisans and documenting what I see. Maybe I am drawn to doors because they signify possibility to me: “one door closes, another opens…” I am curious by nature and enjoy imagining what might be behind each door. Who”s inside? What stories do they bold? If the door is painted, why did the owner choose that particular color? How does that color reflect the mood and personality of the inhabitants? The door is like a dressed up package. Untie the bow, knock at the door, and find out what’s in store for you. There are so many choices – all is possible. Hope is at hand.
In the same way, I am also intrigued by windows. Where doors are solid and impenetrable, windows are translucent and reflective. I can see through, into the building and also see a collage of images in the reflection. To me, windows represent both the past and the future. I can look both back and forwards in time. What is created in the photograph is a connection been the past and future – what I left behind and what still awaits me. Photographing windows gives me the opportunity to play with color and light. I am able to compose and create a unique collage. Below are some examples of the photographic play I did on a recent trip to South Carolina.
Isle of Hope. I am enchanted by that name. You might think it’s a fictitious place, but it is very real and also historic. The Isle of Hope is about eight miles south of Savannah, Georgia. On this narrow strip of land lies Wormsloe State Historic Site. In 1737, Noble Jones built his homestead here and raised a variety of crops. Jones died in 1775 and left the estate to his daughter who later passed it on to her brother, Noble Wimberly Jones. The younger Jones, who also was a doctor, became a major figure in Georgia colonial history and was friends with Benjamin Franklin. During the Revolutionary War, Wormsloe was burnt down by British forces, and Jones was imprisoned in St. Augustine along with three signers of the Declaration of Independence. After several months, he was released and resumed his medical career. Dr. Jones built another home at Wormsloe and planted a grand garden. Many subsequent descendants lived at Wormsloe throughout the Civil War and into the mid-1900s. Dr. Jones’ grandson came to live at Wormsloe in 1893 and planted more than four hundred live oak trees. Wormsloe remained in the family’s possession until 1972 when they donated the land to the Nature Conservancy.
I love history, but I came to Wormsloe for the trees. Live oaks amaze me. Their grand appearance on either side of the main entrance roadway is quite astounding. It is like entering a cathedral of trees, green and lush and brilliantly quiet except for the songbirds in spring. The oaks lean in reaching towards each other creating a leafy archway, and there is Spanish moss hanging in long tendrils from almost every branch.
I have long hand an affinity for trees. They are steadfast and sturdy. During my childhood they have served as both a refuge and a palace for my imagination. Now, walking down the roadway under these live oaks, they offer solace and respite from the all-too-busy world. I revel in the greenery, luxuriate in the canopy of solitude. Here, I feel cradled and secure.
More to Read on Wormsloe
Captain Jones’s Wormslow by William M. Kelso
Remaking Wormsloe Plantation by Drew A. Swanson
Wormsloe House and Its Masters by Robert Preston Brooks
Books About Trees for Kids
A Tree for All Seasons by Robin Bernard
A Tree is Nice by Janice May
Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel
Red Sings from Treetops by Sidman
Tell Me, Tree: All about Trees for Kids by Gail Gibbons
The Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Hugging Tree: A Story About Resilience by Jill Neimark
This week as part of my spring break celebration, I was able to escape to the beach for a few days. Unwinding was so necessary – more this year than any other. Working at an elementary school, while incredibly rewarding, is also very stressful at times. COVID has compounded the stress. It is evident in the teachers and the students. Although we try to handle and manage our stress, we were losing the battle just before spring break. We all needed some space to relax, renew, and revive our low spirits. I definitely needed a time out, a time to sit on the sidelines preferably in the warm sunshine.
I was fortunate to be able to grab a few days in South Carolina. The sun and seventy-degree weather immediately boosted my mood. Blue skies, ocean breeze, southern hospitality all helped cure my stress-filled mind. I sat in the sun by the pool and let my mind drift. I forced myself not to take use technology until night time, and then only for short while. I gradually left the world behind.
One day at the beach, I walked along peacefully intent on taking photographs of shells and other bits of nature that the ocean tide delivered on the sand. I sought out colorful shapes: golden yellow, pale pink, deep purple, and luminous blue. I was deep in thought, in the flow of the moment. I felt truly happy. Then all of a sudden a woman approached me, her blond hair whipping around her face. She said excitedly, “There are sand dollars on the shoreline. There’s lots of them along the ocean edge, if you want to take photos.” I looked up at her, a little stunned trying to gather in what she was telling me. “Thank you, I’ll go and look,” I said, heading down towards the waves. I walked intently along the shoreline, head down and camera ready. I found pearly white clam shells, rippled scallop shells, and a piece of a horseshoe crab. Then I spied something round and sand-colored half submerged in the water. I kept walking and quickly came upon sand dollar after sand dollar. They were about three inches in diameter but all in a variety of shades from deep tan, to light green, pink, and purple. I didn’t know they could be so many colors. I had never seen a live sand dollar. As a child, I found a few pieces of white sand dollar, which means that they are not alive. Only the test remains which is like a brittle white shell. But these Carolina creatures were alive and there was a tribe of thirty or more. I clicked away, trying to capture their beauty with my camera. I sloshed at the water’s edge, not caring that my sneakers were getting soaked. I came to a rocky jetty that was encrusted with oyster shells. People were bending over the tide pools between the stones picking up spider crabs, snails, cowrie shells, and a couple of huge conch shells. The cowrie and conch had snail inside. What a wonder! The ocean was alive, and I was able to witness these small wonders. I didn’t want to leave the beach. I could have stayed all afternoon. This day reminded me of summer days in my youth when I would be on the beach for the entire day: swimming, digging in the sand, building sand castles, and walking along the shoreline collecting all manner of sea treasures.
I am so blessed to have found this sanctuary. I was amazed, later that night, to find out that the sand dollar is a symbol of luck, and I had made the acquaintance of thirty of them! Lucky indeed. I read the legend of the sand dollar and how it reflects the life of Christ. The top of the sand dollar has five slits, which represent Jesus’s wounds when he was on the cross. The star on the sand dollar represents the star of Bethlehem. On the underside of the sand dollar, there is an outline of what looks like a poinsettia, which is often called the Christmas flower. Indeed, I am so lucky that I came across a stranger who pointed me in the right direction. The day proved to be the sanctuary I needed so desperately. Nature’s beauty does so much to restore the soul.