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Photograph Trees and Get Exercise too!

The short trunk on this cottonwood supports many large and uniquely shaped branches.
Cottonwood with many uniquely shaped branches.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and some of us may have gained a pound or two after feasting on turkey and all the trimmings, it might be fun and healthy to get some extra exercise.

 

Recently, I took a walk along the beautiful walkway that follows the Animas River through Farmington, NM, the city in which I live. It was great exercise, and I found some trees with unusual shapes. I snapped a few pictures of them. It's been fun to look at those pictures and remind myself of the trees' artistic shapes.

 

If you'd like to explore some areas near where you live, grab your camera or iPhone, put on a pair of comfortable walking shoes and bundle up if you live where it's cold. Then drive to places where there are quite a few trees. Take a walk through each area and enjoy the trees that you find. Take pictures of the ones with the most unusual shapes.

 

Some trees have a typical tree shape that includes a trunk and branches that grow upward from it toward the sky. But sometimes trees have taken on different shapes. Maybe they have several trunks with lots of branches spilling everywhere. Or maybe some of the branches have twisted into creative shapes.

 

When you find trees with unusual shapes, take a picture of each of them. Then make up a name for each tree so you can identify it later. Making up names for the trees can be almost as much fun as taking pictures of them.

 

Once you're back home, take a look at your photos. Decide which ones look so unique that you'd like to have prints made of them. Once you have the prints, choose a few that you'd like to hang in your house. Buy frames for the prints. Then have fun fitting each picture into the frame that suits it best. Find the right place to hang each one in your house.

 

If your pictures are good enough, consider entering them into a local photography contest. If you win a prize or if someone decides to buy your photo, consider it a sign that you have the talent to keep taking and displaying unique pictures.

 

Have fun hiking, taking photos, and losing a few pounds after the Thanksgiving feast!

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Do Trees Heal Hearts?

Trees planted in neighborhoods can help to reduce stress and improve heart health.
Neighborhood trees can promote better health

The Green Heart Project is planting thousands of trees throughout Louisville, Kentucky to learn if trees can prevent heart disease in humans. The project began in 2018.

 

Aruna Bhatnager, director of the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute at the University of Louisville, is overseeing the effort with lots of help from interested people as well as $14.5 million in donations. Major donations have come from The National Institutes of Health and the Nature Conservancy.

 

Through the project, about 10,000 trees were planted in many neighborhoods in Louisville during the last three years. According to a 2015 report about the city's trees, approximately 150 trees a day die in Louisville, or 54,000 trees a year. They die from bigger storms, diseases, attacks from invasive beetles, and other factors.

 

The city has other challenges too, including homicide, suicide, cancer, drug addiction and angry reactions to the death of Louisville resident Breonna Taylor in 2020. Heart disease has become a serious problem in the city, which has some of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in the United States, according to an article about the project in the May 2021 Discover Magazine.

 

Pollution levels are high enough that the American Lung Association has consistently given Louisville a poor grade for pollution levels. Research over the past 15 years has shown a correlation between air pollution and the development of heart disease.

 

The Envirome Institute wants to conduct environmental research that will help to create healthier cities. A pilot project of the institute recently found that planted trees reduced pollution by 60 percent around a local school, according to the Discover article.

 

Bhatnager specializes in environmental cardiology. He became fascinated by information he discovered in literature that both cigarette smoke and pollution impair nitric oxide production in the body. The molecule nitric oxide plays an important role because it helps to regulate insulin in the body, and it relaxes the inner muscles of blood vessels so that blood circulation increases.

 

He and his staff began doing toxicology studies to find out how many different pollutants affect our cardiovascular system. Their studies showed that pollution causes many problems. Among those problems is vascular damage in humans. In a study of mice, that vascular damage suppressed stem cells, which are needed to repair damaged blood vessels.

 

He also learned that dozens of studies show a relationship between living near green spaces and better health outcomes, among them lower stress levels and lower rates of asthma and depression. Bhatnager is convinced the Green Heart Project can make a positive difference in many people's lives.

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Riverside Nature Center Herb Garden

This shumard oak is among many trees, herbs and grasses identified by plaques at the Riverside Nature Center's herb garden in Farmington, New Mexico.
Shumard oak at the Riverside Nature Center's herb garden.

The city of Farmington, New Mexico, has a wonderful herb garden at the Riverside Nature Center. There are lots of herbs, grasses and trees growing there, and all are identified with special plaques. Other cities may have similar resources as well. If you live somewhere else, ask the local Chamber of Commerce or visitors center if your city has something like it.

 

If you live in or near Farmington and want a peaceful, enjoyable and educational place to take family, friends or visitors, the Riverside Nature Center is a great place to go. And it's free! Turn off Browning Parkway into the municipal complex that contains some city offices, the regional animal shelter and the Riverside Nature Center. Follow the signs to a parking lot near the nature center. Don't be surprised if you see deer or chickens walking near the trail.

 

At the center, you can ask for a handout of all the herbs growing in the herb garden. There's a xeriscape garden nearby too. The handout even has recipes for making an herb blend and one that combines tomatoes with a variety of herbs. There's a recipe for lavender-lemon cookies and another one for apricot lavender jam. You will see some different kinds of lavender growing in the herb garden.

 

Plan to spend an hour or more walking among the herbs, grasses and trees that grow in the herb garden. There is a lot to see! Well-marked trails take you on pathways through the garden. If you get tired, there are tables and benches not far away where you can rest.

 

When some friends and I recently toured the herb garden, we felt so relaxed. Being near all that natural beauty has a way of calming you.

 

A visit to the herb garden gets even better if you add a visit to the nature center itself. It's in a building with lots of exhibits and even has some interactive things to do. You can select some mementoes of your trip at the gift shop. Sometimes you'll find used books at a very cheap price there. For more information, call the center at 505-599-1422.

 

If you want to stay a little longer, head over to the nearby regional animal shelter. Ask if you can take one of the dogs for a walk. The shelter relies on volunteers to help them walk the dogs waiting for someone to adopt them. The animal shelter is not far from the Animas River, where there are wonderful walkways built along the river. They meander near the water for a few miles through town.

 

If you're looking for something to do this month when the weather is still comfortably cool, try the nature center and its surroundings. It's an activity that your whole family can enjoy together.

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How Do You Say Goodbye to a Well-loved Tree?

Splintered wood chips in the stump of a huge old spruce tree shows how hollow it was.
Stump of centuries old, well-loved spruce shows its hollowed out remains.

Trees do so much to make life pleasant for us. They provide shade and a place for wildlife to live and play. Kids and cats climb them and play around them. How do you say goodbye to a well-loved tree that has become old and hollow inside?

 

Several years ago, a more than 200-year-old huge spruce tree, which had become a favorite at a family camp, suddenly fell. No one was staying at the camp when the tree fell. It toppled over onto an often-used pathway that led to a creek running through camp. People who stayed at the family camp often walked along the path to get to the spruce which stood beside the creek. Its trunk was so big around that it took several people with hands linked to circle it.

 

Word quickly spread that the beloved big spruce had fallen. Pieces of bark and splintered wood remained even after the bulk of the tree was cut up and hauled away. People took some of those wood chips and made a variety of different crafts and window boxes with them. Those wood chips and bits of bark still decorate homes as a reminder of how much the tree meant to so many people.

 

It could have been tragic if the spruce had fallen on a building, but it grew far enough away from any structures that even when its long trunk fell onto the pathway it didn't reach the nearest structure, an outdoor chapel. If it had been close enough to fall on the chapel, the damage would have been catastrophic.

 

The big spruce turned out to be hollow through much of its interior. It must have had a hard time standing upright in its last months of life.

 

Though that spruce was at a campground, many people have tall trees growing around their homes. They often grow quite fond and protective of those trees. The decision to cut down an aging and well-loved tree before it can do damage may feel like losing an old friend. But the tree itself, when it gets old and hollow, is suffering. It no longer feels sturdy. It has a hard time drawing nutrition from the ground, sun and atmosphere.

 

If you own a home surrounded by trees, how do you prepare yourself for the loss of a tree that needs to be cut down before it damages your house? Take photographs of it. If you're good at drawing, paint a picture of it. Plan a meaningful ceremony to say goodbye to the tree. Keep a journal about your experience with the tree from the time you first met it until the end of its life.

 

If you know someone who's good at working with wood, have them make a table top or something else from part of the tree once it has been cut down. Place it in your home to help remind you of the tree and all it means to you.

 

Saying goodbye to a tree that has shared many years with you is seldom easy. But it is part of the cycle of life and death. The photographs, drawings, journals, carvings or other keepsakes you make from the tree will ensure that its memory lives on in your heart.

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Baby Elm Sprouts Never Give Up

This baby elm has chosen to sprout for some protection along a chain link fence.
Baby elm sprout grows along chain link fence

When I pulled up my small garden last week as autumn ended growing season for me, I hoed all the weeds that had hidden under broad vegetable leaves. Up against the chain link fence around my garden, now that vegetable leaves were gone, I found several baby elm sprouts. They had already grown a few inches. With some effort, I pulled them out of the ground by their roots. Baby elms quickly grow long, tenacious roots.

 

Those baby elms were determined to reproduce in places that protected them from being seen. Unfortunately, they chose locations where they would have no room to thrive. Whenever I found them throughout the summer, I pulled them out. In spite of that, they never gave up.

 

Baby elms like to hide between rocks or bricks, under vegetable leaves, beside flower stems, anyplace where they're hard to spot. Even though they're tiny, they know instinctively where they will be least detected. It takes constant effort to keep them from taking over my garden.

 

Now that my garden is hoed and raked with only marigold flowers and lavender still growing, it looks a little bare. The marigold and lavender plants did a great job of keeping squash bugs away from my butternut, spaghetti, delicata, and acorn squash all summer.

 

It is nice to have extra time now that the garden doesn't claim as much attention. I thought I would forget about it for a while and focus on other projects. But I often catch myself thinking about what I'll plant next year. In spite of the need to frequently battle baby elm sprouts, there's something about gardening that never gets old.

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How to Help Others Stay Grounded

This tall cottonwood leans a little before it straightens up.
A tall cottonwood

When people are sick or experience an emotional upheaval, they often have a hard time staying grounded. Instead of feeling connected to the good old terra firma, they seem to be floating off somewhere. Talk to them, and they're a little flighty and unattached. Their mind wanders, making them unfocused.

 

How do you help someone like that? If they can walk, take them outside and sit with them near a tree. Trees are so attached to the Earth with their roots that their groundedness can have a positive affect on whoever feels a little flighty, unfocused, or unattached.

 

If they are too sick to go outside, buy a potted plant, something rooted in soil. Put that plant in their hospital room or bedroom where they can easily see it as they lie in bed. They may get a sense of rootedness from the plant. It could help them feel more grounded.

 

Talk with them about ways to feel more grounded. Have them imagine they are lying on green grass and feeling the firmness of the Earth through their bodies. Or imagine they are on a beach half buried in pleasantly warm sand. That feeling of being attached to the Earth helps people feel more connected to their own life in this present moment. It can help them heal faster and feel more enthusiastic about wanting to get well.

 

If they can't get outside and plants are not allowed inside, play a game with them. Each of you imagine a tree you have seen that made an impression on you. Take turns describing the tree you remember, what its bark looked like, how its roots grew into the soil, how you felt when you were near it. Whoever isn't doing the remembering should listen carefully. Just remembering the tree can help a person feel more grounded. And just being listened to can make them feel more whole.

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Trees Can Help You Stay Focused

The leaves on these trees are turning yellow in the fall.
Cottonwood trees in the fall by the Animas River in northwest New Mexico.

If you have a hard time staying focused, if you frequently daydream or find yourself distracted, trees may be able to help.

 

How could a tree help with any of those things? Trees, by their nature, are rooted to one spot. They don't move around or flit from place to place. They keep grounded by sending their roots deep into the Earth.

 

If you spend time near trees, just being around them can help you feel calmer. It may not always be easy for trees to stay rooted to the ground, unable to physically move to another location. Yet, they have managed to do it well. Trees demonstrate by their very presence that it is possible to stay focused and grounded.

 

Trees can be damaged or destroyed by fire, flood, tornado or by human activity. This is a sad development. Yet, many trees successfully live in their rooted locations for many decades, sometimes centuries. These are the trees it can help us to spend time around.

 

Not only do they stay rooted in one place, but, among other things, they provide shade, shelter for animals, and make our yards and neighborhoods beautiful.

 

Whenever you feel the need, spend time near a tree. Notice the details of what it looks like, from the texture of its bark and the shape of its leaves or needles to the way its trunk attaches to the ground.

 

That kind of focus helps to calm our minds, which can swirl with many details, worries and frustrations. Anything that can help us focus so we forget those troubles for a few moments will help us feel refreshed.

 

After you've spent some time around trees, it may surprise you to notice how much more focused and grounded you feel. Trees help us enjoy life a little more.

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In Spite of Fire, Some Redwoods Survive

This huge redwood tree is well over one thousand years old.
Giant redwood tree

In August 2020, the CZU Complex fire burned 18,000 acres of the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, it is the state's oldest park. It contains redwoods that are sometimes more than 2,000 years old.

 

Even today, almost one year after the fire, some of the park's trees still smolder, according to a June 18, 2021 article in The Guardian Weekly. Some of the challenges now are to decide how to rebuild the park to make it more accessible to visitors and how to make it more resilient.

 

Some huge redwoods that people saw in 1902, when the park was founded, will never be seen by visitors again, except in pictures. They perished in the fire that gobbled up 97 percent of the park. The fire also destroyed the park's headquarters building, other facilities, and a variety of structures such as foot bridges that guided visitors through the trees.

 

The fire's CZU abbreviation refers to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit. That unit is the administrative division for San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco counties.

 

There is a concerted effort by people in California's state park system to save as many of the park's old-growth trees as possible. Many are favorites of visitors. One of them is the Auto Tree. It has been photographed at different times with horses and buggies and with trucks backed into its large opening that was created by previous fires. Though the Auto Tree suffered in the fire, green offshoots at its base indicate it is very much alive. Time will tell if is strong enough to remain standing.

 

When the park was founded, fewer visitors came to state parks. Today, people throng to state parks. Providing them with an enjoyable experience that is safe for the trees and for visitors requires more planning than it did more than a century ago. On top of that, climate change creates difficulties such as hotter temperatures, more drought conditions, and bigger fires.

 

Even so, there are glimmers of hope as wildflowers push through fire blackened remains on the forest floor in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Green sprouts emerge from fire damaged trees. Sounds of insects and chirping birds fill the air.

 

Eventually, people will visit the park again, though it will not look like it did earlier. In these challenging times when the changes in our climate can create catastrophic damage, the creative human spirit and the resilience of trees still give us hope.

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Treasures in the Shadow

Branches of a neighbor's pine tree lean over my fence and create artistic patterns.
Shadows on fence

A tall wooden fence separates my back yard from my neighbors' yard. In their back yard grows a majestic, towering pine tree that drapes some of its branches over the fence. They provide shade for flowers that grow in my back yard.

 

Every morning the branches create a shadow design on the fence. They form especially artistic patterns between 8 and 9 a.m. If I wait until late in the morning to observe them, the shadows have become too big to create much of a contrast with the fence.

 

When I watch those shadows, I sometimes think they are a bit like the shadow within us. "Our shadow is made up of the thoughts, emotions, and impulses that we find too painful, embarrassing, or distasteful to accept," said the late self-help author, coach, lecturer and teacher Debbie Ford. She believed our shadow is one of the most valuable gifts available to us. Ford is perhaps best known for her New York Times best selling book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. In it she shows readers how to use spiritual practices and modern psychology to deal in a healthy way with their shadow.

 

Ford explained more about our shadow in The Shadow Effect, the book she co-wrote with Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson. "We have all hidden away and repressed pain-filled, shame-filled moments, and, over time, these emotions harden into our shadow," she wrote. "These are the unexpressed fears, the horrifying shame, the gnawing guilt. These are the issues of the past that we have never faced."

 

In the mornings, I enjoy looking at the shadows the pine tree forms on my side of the fence. If I want to see the shadows at their most visible, I have to do it at the right time. Noon will be too late. In the afternoon, everything is in shadow without any patterns at all. I must deliberately choose mornings to see the display of light and shadow on the fence.

 

In the same way, if we want to examine the painful shadow within us, we must do it in a deliberate way. "You have to confront the very parts of yourself that you fear most to find what you have been looking for, because the mechanism that drives you to conceal the darkness is the same mechanism that has you hide your light. What you've been hiding from can actually give you what you've been trying hard to achieve," Ford wrote in The Shadow Effect.

 

Our shadow contains both fear and potential healing. It isn't easy to face what's in our shadow, especially what we fear most. But it is well worth the effort if we want to heal the pain and shame we've experienced in the past.

 

I am constantly amazed by how the simple act of observing nature can lead to thoughts that provide me with an opportunity to heal. No matter how old or wise we get, we will always be on a journey toward continued healing. I am thankful for trees and for Debbie Ford and many other wonderful teachers who help us find a way back to wholeness.

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Trees Form Artistic Shapes

When a large branch was cut from a juniper tree, it created an interesting design.
When a large branch was cut from a juniper tree, it left an interesting design.

Some people take amazing photographs of the designs they find in trees. Junipers and pinons are two kinds of trees that often take on wonderful shapes in this area of high plateau country in northwest New Mexico.

 

Not too long after I bought my house surrounded by front and back yards, a juniper tree in the front yard needed to be trimmed. Over the years, it had sent out a thick branch from near the base of the juniper. It stretched about 15 feet across the yard. The branch was drooping and struggling to survive. My handyman cut it off near the base of the tree trunk. Since that time the branch stump has taken on an interesting design.

 

In creative moments, I try to imagine lots of different things it could look like. It could be a sideways face with the two dark colored holes on one side becoming eyes. The smaller round circle on the other end could be a mouth creating an "oh" shape. One morning I glanced out of the kitchen window and for a split second thought I was staring into the face of a wise old man. Then the branch stump quickly took on the shape I see every day.

 

If you take a walk in your neighborhood, you might spot several different kinds of trees with interesting shapes. It could be fun to see how many designs you can imagine coming from those shapes.

 

Some people drive along back roads in the countryside to see how many interesting tree designs and stumps they can find. They often take a camera with them to record their discoveries. Some members of photography clubs have prints made of their most impressive photographs. They frame them and enter them into art shows. Others who aren't members of any particular club have fun taking pictures and posting them on Facebook, on their own web page, or on one of many other on-line sites where people can enjoy looking at their photography.

 

It's delightful to see how creative that people can be and what amazing shapes they find as they keep their eyes wide open for delightful discoveries. The next time you're not sure how to spend part of your day, try driving or hiking around to see what artistic tree wonders you can find.

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