There are many benefits to connecting with nature. Spending time out doors among the plants, animals, and elements that surround us can do wonders for our well being. For myself, I notice a greater calm when in nature, as well as greater clarity about my place and purpose in the world. Getting to know the wilderness gives me a better understanding of who and what I am and how things work. It allows one to see the connections between all creatures and things, including ourselves. And a cool part of getting to know nature is that there is always more to learn! You can always go deeper.
How does one begin to connect with nature?
For the 2014-2015 school year I attended a 9 month immersion program at Alderleaf Wilderness College, learning about many different aspects of wilderness and nature. One of the activities they had us practice right from the beginning of the school year and continue to do for the entire 9 months is what they call a “Sit Spot.” It is one of the easiest ways to form a relationship with nature, and one I recommend starting with if you want to deepen your connection.
How to create a Sit Spot routine:
What you do is you pick a spot in nature, within a 5 minute walk from your front door. It is critical to pick a spot near your home because it allows you to visit this spot frequently, at least once a week, but could be a couple of times a week, or even everyday. We were supposed to go for at least a half hour or hour, or even longer. And we weren’t supposed to be reading or writing or using any electronic devices, except for jotting down a quick note if we needed to remember something to look up later. We were there just to observe, with all of our senses, our surroundings.
At school they suggested having a spot with a 30 foot radius around us. Basically a circle area approximately 60 feet across. And they also gave us these handy double sided papers with a circle where we could map out our sit spot on one side with various plants, animals, elements, activity, and other features, and the other side had an area we could write about our sit spot experience as well as little sections to record plants, animals, weather, sun/moon, human activity, and more.
The first time we went to our sit spot we just drew it out on the map, but didn’t fill anything else out on the sheet. It was a new experience, for some of us it was a new place we hadn’t been before, and we didn’t know enough plants and animals, and other things yet to be able to fill much in anyway.
Each week we were assigned something specific to take note of and to journal about. First we wrote down all of the plants in our sit spot that we knew. And any animal activity we saw. We were instructed to start looking up plants from our sit spot that we didn’t recognize in plant books. And same with birds. We paid attention to the bird activity and what kinds of sounds they were making and how frequently. One week we tested the soil to see what kind of soil it was. One week was focused on animal tracks and sign. One week we mapped out a five mile radius around our sit spot. One week we mapped out a 20 mile radius and had to include all of the water sources in that circumference. One week we focused on any human sounds, signs, and activity. One week we were instructed to sleep at our sit spot over night. Another week we were supposed to do our sit spot blind folded. One week we noticed all of the edible foods, water sources, and materials we could use for survival in our sit spot. And there were several other weeks where we had other things to focus on or do for our sit spot. Along with each of these things we would also fill out all of the sections on our paper for all of the different things we observed.
Over time we got to know which creatures were living in our chosen spot, which plants grew there during what seasons and what time of year they would die back. We could see changes with the seasonal rains, and know where the sun would rise and set in different months. We could watch migrations of birds, and observe what the creatures were eating. We began to decipher how and what the birds were communicating and got to learn where different birds built their nests, on the ground or in a tree, or elsewhere. We learned the times of day the birds were most active. And so much more I can’t put into one article.
Start your own connection with nature!
I invite you to choose a spot near your home where you can sit in nature. It could be in the woods, or desert, or ocean, by a creek or river or lake, or in your back yard or a park if you live in a city. Nature is happening all around us. I suggest trying to go for at least a half hour once a week to your sit spot. If you want to do maps and take notes to record your findings when you return home from your sit spot I encourage you. But if you don’t want to write it down it is ok too. Just by going to the same spot day after day for the course of a year or more you will get to know it, and the elements, plants, and creatures. You will know which flocks of birds frequent there and what time of day or year. You will get to know the plants there. I definitely suggest getting a good plant book for your area for looking up plants. Try going at different times of day and in different weather. Just sit and observe and enjoy the changing scene. You can also walk quietly and slowly through your sit spot to take a closer look at things. For learning birds I highly recommend the Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern or Western North America if you live in North America, and I also recommend the Merlin Bird ID phone app for easily identifying birds.
If you already have a sit spot practice or you begin one now, I would love to hear about your experience and what kind of things you notice in the comments below. As always, please feel free to write to me or leave a comment below with any questions or thoughts, and to share this post with others who you think might enjoy it.
Happy Sit Spotting!