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Trees Anticipate the Coming of Spring

When trees such as Russian olives sprout new leaves in spring, they provide safe nesting places for birds and other animals.
Leaves sprout on Russian olive tree, providing shelter for animals.

During warmer days of late winter, a taste of spring hangs in the air. I notice it sometimes when I walk near a tree. There is a sense of anticipation, almost like an awakening that comes from the trees.

 

Most of nature rests during winter months. With the approach of spring, there is the hint of new growth and sunny weather that wraps trees, bushes and plants of all kinds in expectant energy. Fruit trees collect that warmth to know when it's time to blossom into colorful flowers with a promise of fruit later on – if cold, frosty weather doesn't return.

 

Anticipation of the spring to come carries bumps along the way. Among those bumps for trees are below freezing weather late in the season and harsh winds.

 

Life is like that. There are cracks and barriers on our pathways. Sometimes they seem overwhelming, especially when several problems show up close together. They appear one right after the other before we've even had time to recover from the last one.  But, like the approach of spring, there are more good days than challenging ones.

 

As you walk near trees during this late winter season, absorb their confidence that spring is coming. Remind yourself that good days ahead will outnumber unpleasant ones. Absorb that knowing from the trees. It brings hope. And hope helps us to keep going even during the worst of days.

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What Helps You Know Spring Is Coming?

Almond tree blooms in spring with pink flowers
Blooming almond tree

As I trimmed a rose bush in my back yard this week so it will be ready for warmer spring weather, I looked at other plants outside my house. Were buds starting to swell yet? No, it still isn't time for bushes and trees to start blooming in the area where I live. But as the weeks progress and the weather slowly starts to warm, they will sense that warming up time. When their intricate inner mechanisms tell them that blooming season has arrived, it will be time for buds to swell, for fruit trees to start the blooming process, for grass to green up, and for the neighborhood to sparkle with color.

 

If trees and bushes and other plants can tell when it's time for spring, how do we know that spring is coming? Do we also have an inner clock? Does something tell us warmer weather is on the way even while we still bundle up in our sweaters and jackets?

 

I imagine that we each have our own ways of telling when spring is on its way. Not only can we see that the thermometer is slowly climbing into higher digits, but we notice it doesn't take quite so many layers of clothing to stay warm outside.

 

Perhaps, like the plants, we have an inner mechanism that tell us when spring is coming too. Do we start to feel a little more excited? Now that January is finally over, does it seem like spring is less far away?  Do we feel the anticipation of warmer weather, of working in the garden, of playing with friends outside in weather that doesn't make our cheeks turn red with cold?

 

Here's a thought. If you could draw a picture of what your inner mechanism of spring's approach looks like inside of you, what would you draw? Would you draw a hidden away switch somewhere between your heart and your brain? Or would you draw something you can see outside of yourself? Would you draw yourself standing beside a bush surrounded by snow that holds its head high with the hope of spring? Would you draw a picture of your dog rolling joyfully on its back in grass still yellow with winter's sleep?

 

If you do decide to draw such a picture, once you're done, talk about it with your family. Ask how they sense that spring is coming. Hang your picture up in your room or on the refrigerator, or show it to your friends and ask them what their inner spring sensor looks like. You all will likely have different ideas to share. Have fun!

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Take a Rest to Be Productive

Cottonwood tree has no leaves in winter
Cottonwood tree in winter

On these cold days, sometimes I look at trees with leafless branches and think that they are taking a well-deserved rest.

 

A rest is something that could benefit all of us. There are times, if we can find them, when we need quiet, restful moments to help us refuel before more active, busy times. Trees, like nature, instinctively understand the value of slowing down and taking time to rest.

 

Sometimes we're so busy and so focused on the next thing that needs to be done that we can't imagine taking a little time off. We think if we take a break, the competition will overtake us. Or we'll never catch up. Or we'll miss important things that are taking place.

 

There are often extra tasks to do when we get back to work. But something else often happens. Because we feel more rested, ideas flow better. Ways to tackle tough problems are easier to access. We have a better connection to wisdom that helps us make quality decisions.

 

There's something to be said for giving ourselves time to rest. Creativity blossoms, enthusiasm bubbles up, sound choices reveal themselves.

 

When I walk through my neighborhood and see trees with leafless branches, I take comfort in knowing that the leaves will flourish again this spring. And I know I too can take a break. I can give myself time to rest so I will flow with ideas, better ones than I would have had if I hadn't taken a break.

 

Take a tip from the trees. You need to rest. You're more productive when you give yourself time to relax.

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How to find peace of mind

People walk among trees near river
Walking among trees near the Animas River in Farmington, NM

As we faced on January 6 perhaps the most dangerous challenge to our country we had ever experienced, when domestic terrorists tried to stop the United States Congress from certifying the Electoral College votes that confirmed the victory of President-Elect Joe Biden, we found ourselves in different locations, different frames of mind, and different levels of emotion.

 

How do we get past that? How do we become a united country again? How do we continue to function with some peace of mind?

 

The people lawfully appointed to handle justice will determine what happens to those domestic terrorists, but how do we carry on? How do we find the peace of mind to perform our daily tasks?

 

Those of us who have developed some proficiency with prayer and/or meditation can turn to that. But not all of us are very adept at prayer or meditation.

 

In those times of agitation, fear, anger, or confusion, it can be helpful to find a place nearby where there are quite a few trees. Take a walk among those trees. As you walk, try to calm yourself by noticing details about the trees – the texture of their bark, the shape of their leaves, how tall they grow, how wide they spread their branches.

 

When you notice such things, you are starting to take your mind off of other things. One of the first steps to practicing prayer or meditation is to take your focus off of those other things and place them on getting into a state of quiet contemplation.

 

That first step can be so hard it may seem impossible. But persevere. See the trees as allies in your efforts to gain a sense of calm. As you keep at it, you may notice that your breathing slows and your mind quits churning quite so much.

 

Give yourself enough time as you walk among the trees to sense that you are calming down. You are beginning to find a sense of peace.

 

Though walking among trees is not the only way to find a calmer, more peaceful frame of mind, it can be quite effective. Whatever works best for you, see if you can practice it a little bit every day. When you do, you will find that peace and calmness stay with you longer, even when you find yourself in difficult circumstances.

 

May you find the way that works best for you and keep practicing it. The more people who do that, the more our efforts will help to expand calm and peace all around the world. Then, when we face dangerous challenges, negative emotions and attitudes will have less of an impact.

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Keeping Hope Alive

Cottonwood tree shelters a tent
Tent under a cottonwood tree in Simon Canyon, northwest New Mexico

As we venture into 2021, coming out of 2020 full of grief, worry, frustration and a boatload of other emotions, it can be hard to feel hopeful.

 

Even so, there are reasons to keep our hope alive and to look forward to positive change. When I worry that more people I know could get very sick with Covid-19 and its emerging virus strains, I think about trees.

 

What could trees teach us? They have weathered all kinds of challenges, from invasive beetles to the possibility of being cut down, and they've faced a whole host of other threats from many different sources. What keeps them going?

 

They are rooted to one spot. They can't run away from danger. But they can draw on strengths. They change their behavior as needed to stay healthy.

 

In the winter, trees go dormant. As some animals hibernate during the winter, trees slow down their metabolism. That helps them to conserve the food they have stored. They want it to last since they don't make food in the winter. That's the season when they slow down their energy consumption and growth. Many trees shed their leaves in the winter because they don't need the leaves to help them form simple sugar, their kind of food, in the presence of sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. That sugar helps to give them energy, but in winter they take a rest.

 

Just as trees go into a dormant state during the winter, in this time of Covid-19, we need to slow down our activities by staying indoors more, not gathering in large groups, and shopping in stores only for essentials. If we wear masks, keep at least six feet from other people, and wash our hands frequently, we also reduce the chance of getting the virus. Those are all activities that slow us down and make us practice different behavior than we normally would. It can be frustrating and downright maddening to have to change our behaviors. But it gives us and others a better chance to remain healthy.

 

Trees know how to be dormant. They do it naturally. They slow their activity level to stay healthy during the winter. If trees can adjust their behavior during winter to keep themselves safe, perhaps it doesn't seem quite so limiting to adjust our behavior too.

 

Trees also do something called respiration. In this process, they convert energy stored in the form of glucose, the sugar that leaves and sunlight produce during photosynthesis. That energy is needed to carry out the tree's metabolic reactions, which occur even in winter. During respiration, carbon dioxide oozes through the trees' pores. Carbon dioxide is essential to create the energy trees need to keep themselves healthy. They get a lot of that carbon dioxide from animals, including humans, when we breathe out that gas. In return, trees give off oxygen, which is toxic to them, but we would die without enough of it.

 

No matter how challenging life may be for them at times, trees continue to create the carbon

dioxide they need and to get rid of the oxygen that we need. If they didn't keep doing what they need to do to survive, we wouldn't be able to survive ourselves.

 

When I look at trees, I don't often think about the chemical reactions that happen within them. I just enjoy their beauty, the shade their provide, and the habitat they offer for birds and other critters.

 

I'm glad trees remain committed to doing what comes naturally to survive. It helps me think that, even though it's not easy to wear a mask, social distance, and wash my hands often, it is helping to give me and others a better chance to stay healthy. That gives me hope.

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Meditating among Trees When You Face Troubling Times

Cottonwood grows near irrigation ditch bank
Cottonwood tree

If you are struggling with an issue in your life that weighs you down or stresses you almost beyond your ability to cope, take time to visit the trees you have come to appreciate. Many of them may be in your yard or around your neighborhood.

 

When you get to one of those trees, stand near it. Quiet your mind as much as you can and focus on the tree. Notice the texture of its bark. Touch the bark to sense how it feels to your hands. Is it rough, smooth, lumpy? Look higher up into the tree. Trace the branches with your eyes. Notice how the twigs and any remaining leaves that have not fallen attach to the branches and spread beyond them.

 

Do you see any nests in the tree, any birds perched there, perhaps squawking at you for standing so close to the tree? Are there any other wildlife? Once I saw a porcupine perched in a tall cottonwood. Another time I saw a snake winding its way up the trunk of a tree toward a bird's nest containing, it hoped, eggs to eat.

 

Then bring your gaze back down to the base of the tree. Notice the roots, how they splay out from the tree trunk and bury themselves into the ground, forming a strong, sturdy base for the tree. Imagine what it would be like for you to let strong pillars of support flow from your feet deep into the earth, letting the planet nurture you and help you feel stronger.

 

Once you feel well grounded as you enjoy that connection you have forged with the earth, stand quietly as you feel strength flow into you. Look up into the tree again. If you feel so inclined, say a prayer of blessing, gratitude or encouragement for it.

 

As you feel calmness resting like a warm, comfortable cloak around you, listen to impressions that go beyond the sounds of branches brushing against each other in a gentle breeze, beyond the rustle of dried leaves on the ground as a squirrel passes by. In that quietness that takes you into a place deep within yourself, listen for any impressions that come to your mind.

 

You may become aware of an encouraging thought, a supportive idea, a phrase to cling to when life seems too difficult, too overwhelming, too confusing. You may feel filled with love so deep that it fills you up and overflows in tears of joy.

 

Is the thought coming from the tree? Is it coming from the greater wisdom within you, from the divine presence that always surrounds you even when you forget it's there? You don't have to figure out where it's coming from. Just notice the message, repeat it so that you don't forget it, and thank the tree for helping you find your way into a meditative state that allowed that thought to give you the strength, courage and stamina to carry on.

 

When you feel ready, say goodbye to the tree and head back to your life full of challenges. No matter what you face, remember the message, the sense of love or joy that filled you with hope and strength. Carry it like a treasure in your mind and repeat it as often as you need to. Write it down somewhere so that in the coming days, when you need it most and have a hard time recalling it, you can find it and be strengthened once again by its powerful message.

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Using Trees to Bring Christmas Cheer

Christmas tree
Christmas tree

December is here, and we are well into the Christmas season. With the generosity that permeates this season, I thought about ways we could honor trees, help our local communities and do something positive for the planet on which we live.

 

I didn't have to come up with my own plan, because the business in Farmington, NM, where I buy a lot of my flowers and bushes, San Juan Nurseries Inc., already has a great plan in mind. It might be a fun Christmas season activity to check with the nursery in whatever town, state or country you live in to see if that nursery also has a plan involving trees for the Christmas season.

 

Here's how the one at San Juan Nurseries works. People may come in to buy a live Christmas tree in a pot at the nursery and use it in their home for a Christmas tree. After Christmas is over, they can donate the live tree to the city of Farmington or to any other business that participates. If you are going to do that, San Juan Nurseries will give you a discount on the purchase of the tree.

 

If you donate the tree after Christmas to the city of Farmington, the city will use it in medians and parks and around corporate buildings. The nursery is working with the city on a botanical garden at Gateway Museum. Some of the trees will be used on the river walk, a lovely trail system along the Animas River that runs through Farmington. Gateway Museum may also use the trees in other ways that promote the Christmas season and keep the trees alive and healthy.

 

I am sure San Juan Nurseries and the city of Farmington are not the only nurseries and cities that have plans to promote planting trees in the community. Check out your own favorite nursery in your own town to see what opportunities are available to spread Christmas cheer and allow you to support businesses and the community as well.

 

It brings a smile to my face to think of all the live trees that could be added to my community so that it benefits from the many wonderful things that trees do for us.

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Thanksgiving Blessings

My adopted dog, Peanut
My adopted dog, Peanut

In this time of COVID-19 when cases of the virus skyrocket and people are urged to stay at home to reduce COVID-19's spread, it is easy to feel lonely. That sense of loneliness kept growing and growing in me until I finally made the decision to adopt a dog from the local animal shelter.

 

I have had Peanut, a 31-pound mixed breed who's two-and-a-half years old, for a week now. She has banished loneliness totally. I discovered after walking her on a leash for several days that the leash approach doesn't work for me. My body protested with all sorts of aches and pains. But I do have a large back yard that Peanut loves to explore. She races joyfully around the yard, which she couldn't do on a leash. She and I go out several times a day. I watch her play, and she loves to run huge circles around the yard and around me.

 

In my back yard I have a garden plot, empty now that freezing weather has come, and Peanut likes to sniff around in it, finding all sorts of smells that tantalize her nose. This afternoon, one of those tantalizing smells was a baby elm tree that grew between my chain link fence and the cement wall that separates my property from my neighbor's back yard. She poked her nose through the chain link as far as she could and stretched her tongue out until she managed to wrap it around the baby elm. She snagged a leaf or two and ate them with relish.

 

A tall elm tree grows in my neighbor's back yard, and, as most elms do, it does its best to reproduce itself. Unfortunately, this summer I found hundreds of elm sprouts in my garden, many hiding under carrot and beet leaves. I had to methodically pull them up before they grew bigger. It was an endless task. And even today, in the last half of November, I occasionally find baby elm trees taking root.

 

How interesting that the dog I chose to adopt from the animal shelter likes to chow down on baby elm trees. That is icing on the cake. Peanut is a friendly, lovable dog who came to me housebroken and obedient. And now I discover she likes to eat baby elm trees too. Extraordinary!

 

At first, I wondered how I would survive having a dog in the house, because she was triggering my asthma symptoms. Then a friend told me she'd had a similar reaction with her dogs until she shampooed them with Douxo, a chlorhexidine shampoo that is antiseptic and helps to kill bacteria on the skin of dogs and cats. I ordered it on the Internet, and it arrived today. I wasn't sure how well it would work, but I put a reluctant Peanut in a bathtub of warm water and shampooed her. She graciously put up with the shampoo, and now she smells so good. She is no longer triggering asthma symptoms, and I am so thankful to my friend who shared how well this shampoo worked for her.

 

How lucky can I be to have a dog who likes to eat baby elm trees and a friend who shared such helpful information with me. As Thanksgiving approaches, I am feeling so thankful for my dog and my friend! They have both made life much easier and enjoyable!

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Reduce Stress by Walking Near Trees

Trees and the sound of a peaceful river create calmness
Trees along a river

When you feel stressed, sit under a tree or walk near where there are trees. Without a doubt, in these post-election moments, we have an extra need for stress reducing activities.

 

Focus on the trees. Notice their bark, branches, needles or leaves, the way they sway in a gentle breeze. Hear the sounds they make such as rustling leaves or branches rubbing against each other. Listen to the birds as they flit from branch to branch, then race off to find a different tree or land in the grass to eat seeds, worms, and insects. Feel the smooth or rough consistency of tree bark as you run your hands along their trunks.

 

Once you've experienced all those sensory details while immersing yourself in the experience of being around trees, you may discover that you feel calmer, a little happier. Maybe you feel less stressed over what's going on in the world around you. Though you may worry about what's happening, there is seldom much you can do about it.

 

Never underestimate the healing power of your time around trees and other aspects of nature. Being surrounded by trees, bushes, flowers, and bodies of water helps to heal us. That may be one reason some of us like to garden and why we feel sad when gardening season is over.

 

Connecting with nature not only has a way of bringing healing calmness to is, but it encourages us to take care of ourselves better by walking more. Walking also helps to boost our creativity. Getting your exercise on a treadmill may be good exercise, but walking in nature does something extra to activate creative ideas. It triggers our brains to blossom with all kinds of positive impressions.

 

If you have a dog, when you need to generate new ideas, take your dog for a walk. It will benefit both of you. Your dog will love it, and you will prime your wellspring of ideas to gush like a fountain.

 

These days, as we've gone through the long season leading up to elections and are now in the post-election season with all its temporary uncertainties, we need more than ever to take time for walking. If you can walk among trees and other beautiful aspects of nature, your stress will slide away more easily. So take a walk, and let go of stress. You deserve to feel good!

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Nature Park in Singapore Saves Wildlife, Nature, and Improves Human Conditions

Mangrove forests store more carbon than other trees, stop erosion, and help coastal cities stay above water during rise of sea levels.
Mangrove tree

Trees play such an important role in the health of our planet and of our own selves. Because of that, it's especially nice to learn that some people are promoting projects with positive results far into the future. One of those projects is happening in Singapore. It was reported in the Singapore newspaper, Mongabay, this Oct. 9. To learn more about the newspaper, go to https://news.mongabay.com. It provides news and inspiration from nature's frontline.

 

According to the article, between 1953 and 2018, Singapore lost nearly 90 percent of its mangrove trees to urban expansion and other human activities. To help turn that around, Singapore launched a new nature park. It covers 990 acres in an area where migratory birds stop to refuel. They fly from Russia and Alaska to Australia and New Zealand along the East Asian-Australasian flyway. It is also home to oriental hornbills, otters, crocodiles and many other species. The nature park is part of a larger effort to plant one million trees across the city-state of Singapore by 2030. The reforestation will not only add wildlife habitat, but will help sequester carbon, lower the city's temperature, and help to reduce erosion and rising sea levels, and improve living conditions for human residents.

 

In August 2020, the Singapore government announced the launch of the new nature park, which is called the Sungei Bulon Park Network, located in the northern part of the island. The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is home to smooth-coated otters, who were found there in the 1990s after they were thought to be locally extinct. It's also home to 11 of the 200 critically endangered Eye of the Crocodile trees in the world. The Sungei Buloh Park Network triples the size of the protected area and aims to protect the biodiversity of many areas, among them the Kranji marshes, the Mandai mangrove and mudflat, and the coastal Lim Chu Kang Nature Park. Within these habitats, researches have recorded 279 bird species. They include many different kinds of ecosystems. In Lim Chua Kang Nature Park are mangrove, woodland, scrubland and grassland habitats. It attracts many coastal birds, among them the gray-headed fish eagle and the baya weaver.

 

Thirty-five different plant species of mangroves have been found in Singapore, while in the United States, only three different species of the mangrove plant species have been found, according to geography professor Dan Friess from the National University of Singapore. He has studied mangroves for 11 years, and he heads the university's Mangrove Lab. It focuses on studying coastal wetlands in Southeast Asia.

 

Because of the many different species in Singapore, those mangroves have an important ecological impact. Twenty species new to science have been found by researchers in the Mandai mangroves alone. Now, visitors can view the Sungei Buloh wetlands from boardwalks and watchtowers. That will change in 2022, when they can watch migratory birds from hides near the Mandai mudflat.

 

In the 19th century, Singapore lost much of its primary forest to logging. A fast-growing population and rapid urban development in the 20th century caused the removal of many trees for land reclamation and to build reservoirs for water security. As a result of that development, mangrove forests, which in 1953 covered about 24.5 square miles, covered only 3.1 miles by 2018. Singapore's goal is to replace its losses by turning areas used for industry and infrastructure back into landscapes that look more natural.

 

Part of that effort includes the One Million Trees project launched on March 4, 2020. It involves restoring both inland and mangrove forests. The trees are coming from Singapore's tree banks, which include nurseries and trees salvaged from construction sites. Transport and housing projects could result in the removal of up to 13,000 trees over the next 15 years, but the government plans to replant one tree for every tree removed. The One Million Trees project will be placed in parks, on university grounds, rooftop gardens, roadsides and on outlying islands. The project will also create therapeutic gardens for aging people in Singapore. It is the city's goal, when the project is completed in 2030, that every household will be within a 10-minute walk of a park. It is hoped that the trees will help to cool the environment and attract butterflies, garden birds and small mammals so that biodiversity and nature can be enjoyed in an urban landscape.

 

Mangrove trees have characteristics that make them especially beneficial in this project. Their roots help to stop erosion by holding in the soil. They also reduce the impact of waves on the shore. They trap sediment between their roots and create their own soil. That could help coastal cities like Singapore stay above water as global warming leads to the rise of sea levels – if that rise does not occur too quickly.

 

Research indicates that mangroves can sequester more carbon that rainforests do. Friess said that mangrove trees can store three to five times more carbon per hectare than other forest types of trees do. A hectare equals 2.47 acres. That ability could reduce excess carbon in the atmosphere around the world where reforestation projects take place.

 

In the Mongabay article, Friess is quoted as saying, "In a normal forest, leaves and branches would die, fall to the forest floor, and quickly get broken down by bacteria and fungi, which releases the carbon back into the atmosphere. Mangrove soils are waterlogged so they have a different microbial community, so organic matter is not broken down and the carbon stays locked up in the soils."

 

A key to successful mandrake reforestation projects is to grow the right species at the right sites. For other cities, states or countries who decide to try reforestation projects, a key is to ask reforestation experts which species are the right kinds to plant in which areas.

 

If Singapore can carry out this bold and planet-healing project, then other places around the world with the will to do so also could create their own reforestation projects. Even on a much smaller scale, reforestation projects could make a positive difference. Trees are even more important for our health and welfare than many of us realize.

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