Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Warming Up the Muse in Winter

December 15, 2008 - Welcome to our blog! Because I'm a naturalist first and a photographer second, I can't resist the urge to add a few words to the thousand each picture is worth. There's too much wonder going on out there in our world every day to miss out on even a little bit of it! So, I'll be writing new installments of Nature Notes every few days to describe some of the amazing things Ma Nature is doing in my back yard, and I hope you'll write in and share your own knowledge and observations. Just email your comments, feedback, facts and ideas to me at, and I'll add them to the page.
The first piece I'd like to share is about how inspiring nature can be. It originally appeared as an article for Moonshine, the online creativity magazine.

Warming Up the Muse in Winter

Winter in the south is a bigger tease than the most flirtatious southern belle. We southerners are warmed by mother nature’s sweet sun one day only to find that she’s turned a cold shoulder on us the next, buffeting us with icy stares and button-up winds. When you combine that with all of the holiday shopping and hustle, it’s enough to make you double up on the spiked eggnog, but we’ll get to that later. In the meantime, cuddle up in a corner chair and hark unto these tips for warming up the creative despite the frightful weather:

Try Your Hand at a new Handicraft
When we try arts and crafts that are out of our comfort zone, they create entirely new neuron connections within our brains, opening up new pathways of thought. This keeps our brains young and our creative juices flowing like sap rising up a winter maple. (And we’ll get to that one in next issue’s article.) For me, in winter, there’s no better craft to try than one that will keep someone else warm: knitting, crochet, sewing, and/or quilting. Especially where knitting and crochet are concerned, the supplies are cheap and beginners (and children) can make high-quality, satisfying projects. Try making simple 7x9” blanket squares for Warm Up America (; they’ll knit them together into blankets for the homeless, those who’ve fled abusive relationships, or are in hospices, hospitals, shelters, or nursing homes. With almost the same pattern, you can also make caps for preemie babies in the developing world through Knit One Save One ( Each cap will keep a precious child warm and thus increase his or her likelihood of survival tremendously. And, of course, the possibilities for pouring your creativity and love into these small items are endless.

Take a Winter Walk

Look down: Nature may slow down in winter, but there’s still a lot to see! If you’re luck enough to have snow, start tracking animals. If you start at your birdfeeder, you’ll quickly be able to track and identify birds and squirrels. Then, as you wander farther afield, you may be lucky enough to find the tracks of everything from mice to raccoons to foxes and much more. Following fresh tracks is better than a mystery novel for true suspense. If suspense isn’t your thing, the tracks will reveal a symmetry of design, a pattern of motion, and maybe even a glimpse into the animal’s mind – the beginnings of artistry laid out before you.

Look up: Also, with the leaves on the trees now turning themselves into soil underfoot, bare branches will provide you with a much better view of our feathered, flying friends. Look for songbirds such as cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and sparrows, but also for larger predator birds such as red-tailed and red-winged hawks, who are likely to be found hunting pray from a high vantage point next to an open field. Watching wings in motion is always, well . . . moving.

Look all around: For those of us who probably won’t get snow, we’ll be lucky enough to scan the ground beneath our feet for some of nature’s best handiwork – her seeds, nuts, cones, and acorns – the sheer variety of shapes, colors, and protections for surviving winter will knock you out. And forget not, winter walkers, to get up close and personal with tree bark and standing dry grasses – there are a bevy of beautiful bugs to be found hiding out inside them, waiting for the returning warmth of spring.

Hibernate for a Day

With all of the parties to attend, children’s activities to chauffeur tots to, and errands to be done for the holiday season, sometimes Christmas can feel less like a Merry-thon and more like a marathon. Give yourself (and your family) this one gift: declare a hibernation day. Bears are far bigger animals than we are and they manage to hibernate all winter – surely we can manage one day! Plan far enough in advance so that you don’t have to cancel or miss anything you really want to attend, but then give yourself permission to reject other offers because you’re already booked to hibernate on that day. Then do it! Curl up. All day. Sleep if you can; if you can’t sleep then read, take a long bubble bath, put on inspiring music, stare out a window or into a roaring fire, daydream, drink delicious hot beverages (spiked or unspiked – you’re not driving anywhere!) and have everyone “forage” for simple food from the fridge (rather than making big meals). Tell them that this is your bear spirit’s day of rest and relaxation. By the end of the day you’ll find yourself both totally calmed and also ready to jump back into action.

Hit the Snooze for the Muse

If all else fails, remember this – each of the seasons has a lesson to impart. The wisdom of winter is that we all need rest. So don’t create anything for a while. Take a complete break. Even the most creative spirit needs time to recover, to regain all of the energy it puts out into the world. So use this time to take in, rather than give out. It is fun to receive. Allow others to give to you. Accept kindnesses large and small with gracious thanks rather than rebuffing them with an off-hand “No, I’m fine” or “No, you take it.” The giver will feel gratified and your spirit will be renewed, bathed in the light of love that shines brightest in midwinter’s darkness.

As always, to visit our website full of Nature's Colors, head to

World of Color Photography

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