It was just past three o’clock as I ran up the path towards Turtle Rock. The shadows were long, the sun was warm and a gentle breeze was blowing in the air.
As I sat there listening, I could hear the sounds of crows cawing, buzzing bees, the annoying mosquitoes, and squirrels running up and down the trees, but mostly I noticed the absence of humans and their sounds, which meant I was all alone.
When I was a child I spent hours across the street in a patch of forest called Nadaka. Once a Campfire Girls camp, it quickly turned into a child’s paradise.
As I entered, I walked past the very ancient trees while looking down to see if my feet were leaving prints in the mud. Being Oregon and moist there was always a good chance of this. After my feet had left “the bog’ I would quickly run to the back of the forest grove to ring the bell on the tall pole. There was a dual purpose in this. The first was to hear the birds fly in a panic, and the second was to let my mom know that I had arrived “safely.”
From there I would journey to the Great Fern Patch. As I lay down the ferns would cover me completely until I had become part of their world. Long stems unfurled into beautiful green palms. The young fiddlehead fern blossoms I would eat, as they are a Pacific Northwest delicacy. Lying there, I noticed ants walking up and down the stems in a single file. As one group came up, another line was walking down into the earth.
Inside the patch, the ferns became a new world; they were a large forest to smaller life. I loved to take shelter there. During the rainy months, the fern patch was a great protector from becoming wet. In the summer, it offered a front row seat to wildlife. For years, through every season, I explored and lived within the chosen boundaries of the natural world known as “the Good Neighbor.”
Did you have a special place you went to as a child? A place you could explore and live in nature?
I’ve noticed with my own children that each time we have moved into a new house, they run outside immediately in search of a hiding place. It might be on the inside of a big butterfly bush, behind a pile of stacked wood, inside corn stalk rows in the summer or at the base of a favorite tree. They’ve all had an instinct to find a quiet place of discovery; a spot they feel unified with.
One enticing aspect of living in our current home is our four acres of land. As we were deciding if we would buy it or not, the children claimed “It’s a magical garden!” That sealed the deal. I could easily create a map filled with all of the enchanting and magical hiding places and the wonderment that happens here.
Little O lives around the old rose cypress tree. There you will find him building fairy villages, aqueducts, and fortress walls. From up above, high up in the tree, you will notice Fred and Wilma, two Red-tail Hawks, peering over the side of their nest or coming down to inspect O’s work from a lower branch. Here’s a little secret …when O leaves the tree for the day, Fred & Wilma steal the sticks from the fairy houses for their nest.
Mimi often holds court in the upper branches of a very old magnolia tree.
And Zuzu, if she isn’t upside down on the swing, loves to simply lie in the grass and watch. She is our family’s ultimate cloud spotter.
Through the years, each one of them has come to know their little piece of nature intimately. They notice when the seasons are in transition by how moist or dry the earth is, and what changes are happening to the leaves or wood on the branches. They have noticed which birds, animals, and insects live there, but more importantly they are not separate from their little world but a part of it. Everything and everyone interacts with each other. Often times it is so easy to look at ourselves as observers of nature, exploring it as if we are separate from it.
What I have come to discover is when we show up daily to our secret places, through every season and every time of day, the animals and birds who live in our environment no longer look at us as intruders but as part of their world.
For some time, every afternoon as we ventured through the forest to the tree house, the ravens and blue jays let off so many warning signals that everyone knew we were coming.
I cannot say how long this went on, but I do remember when we realized it had stopped. One autumn day as we walked down to the tree house, we noticed the ravens flying nearby but not making any sound. Day after day we made note that none of the birds were making any warning sounds. Why? Our consistent presence, over time, made us part of the forest.
Last spring we had a family of foxes living in our front yard. Day after day I sat on the lawn taking photos of them and just observing their habits and patterns. In a short time the mother fox incorporated me into her world and felt very comfortable sitting in my vegetable garden as I worked, lying near me on the lawn as we watched her babies play. I learned her distinctive hunting cry at night and watched her little family grow into young foxes, as they became night hunters as well.
You may think that this is unique to my yard, but the truth is that we are surrounded by life which is waiting to welcome us. Whether you live in a neighborhood with only a front lawn, an apartment building with one tree stuck in the concrete, or a vacant lot, all of these places hold more life in it than you could ever imagine.
The Kamana naturalist program has a core activity called “spot-sitting.” Each person goes out every day to spend time in nature. It is the same place through every season, type of weather, and occasion. The time we spend in our sit-spot leads to great conversations about our discoveries, beautiful journal entries and our incorporation into our natural world.
How to Spot-Sit
There aren’t a lot of rules. I know the most important concern is for your child’s safety. Set up guidelines for what is safe and what isn’t safe. Set up check-in times or, better yet, check-in signals.
Once the safety concerns are addressed the rest is very simple.
:: Discover a place nearby which feels like it is calling to you; a place you feel a connection with.
:: Spend some time there every day. A half-hour is great but fifteen minutes will do. Make sure you go there during different times of the day. A true added bonus is the nighttime view.
:: As you are in your special place make notice of what types of plants are there. What color are they? What do their leaves look like? See any bugs? Close your eyes. What do you hear? What do you feel? Just sit quiet and be still for a moment.
:: When you feel like getting up, do so. Do you want to collect any items? Do you feel like making a fort from sticks? Do what feels right to you but please remember to be a caretaker of your special place.
:: At first you may feel nervous or fearful. That’s ok. What’s making you feel nervous or frightened? When we can identify what it is that’s making us frightened we can learn about that issue and grow from it. Remember that the more you get to know about your sitting spot, it will become a good friend to you.
:: It is very important to wear the correct clothing. My mother always said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Dress appropriately for all seasons and have a great time.
:: Be sure to share with your family all of the wonderful things you have discovered. These moments in special places lend to wonderful conversations for all involved.
It is my greatest wish that you enjoy many wonderful moments in your special places, creating many memories.
Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book, derives the greatest pleasure from taking the books she reads and helping them come alive with her family, book club, friends, and workshops. An advocate for literacy, Valarie spends many quality hours helping at-risk readers. She spends her days with her husband, three creative children, and one adored cat. Together they live in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. You can also visit Valerie on her blog, A Place Like This.