Above Aspens in Santa Fe

Finding Peace In Nature

Above Aspens in Santa FeThe concept of communing with nature was something that I didn’t fully comprehend when I was a child. I mean I certainly recognized the beauty of nature, I just never knew how important it was to me until I became an adult. It is in hindsight that I realize how integral nature was to my experience as a child growing up in the beautiful small town of Roosevelt, New Jersey. Most of my favorite activities took place outside.

Rachel Peace GirlAs a young child I loved walking on paths from house to house through the woods. And I had special hiding place nestled among moss where I put a box of knickknacks that I had collected. The objects were important to me, but what was even more important was the magical location of the beautiful soft and fuzzy emerald green moss tucked under a downed tree trunk. Playing in the enclosure (a grassy area surrounded by bushes and trees) at the school was another favorite pastime of my friends and mine. And as a teenager, I spent nearly every evening hanging out at the bench near the store. Yes, that time was for social reasons, but it was also wonderful for me because it was outside in nature.

Fast-forward to my college years in Berkeley, California (where I met Andy) and Santa Cruz, California (where I did graduate work) and the great outdoors continued to be important to my livelihood. Most of my most poignant memories are with Andy in nature. Although Berkeley is a small city, the campus and surrounds are spectacular and filled with regal and fragrant eucalyptus trees. The campus is in the Berkeley hills so there are wondrous vistas everywhere. The rose garden and nearby parks gave me plenty of opportunities to be one with nature (though I have to admit that I was quite busy as a serious student so much of my time was spent in class and libraries.) I lived in a cooperative house with Andy and one of the key moments getting to know Andy took place on a house trip to Angel Island. As we hiked around, we talked and talked while taking in the beautiful sights. I started to fall in love with Andy among the trees and along the water edge of the San Francisco Bay area.

Rach and Andy in Santa CruzIn Santa Cruz I lived in several places, but all where within a short distance to the beach. I could easily enjoy the soothing sound of the waves crashing at times and lapping at other times along the shoreline. Unfortunately, again I was often so immersed in my schoolwork that I didn’t look up enough to take in all the splendor of nature. But I felt it nonetheless. UC, Santa Cruz is nestled among redwoods and the majesty of the trees is palpable. Simply walking from building to building and you can’t miss the energy around you. But even still I hadn’t yet fully embodied how nature impacted me.

Maui labyrinth for introspectionWhen Andy and I were traveling cross-country while I took a break from graduate school, we met a National Park Service ranger who led a session among the trees and rocks. When she asked the group, “Have you ever had an experience with a rock?” We chuckled and loved her seriousness and wonder about the rocks. We tucked that moment away and over the years have come to realize that we both have had numerous experiences with rocks and trees and nature in general. I even spent time literally tree-hugging in Sebastopol, California. Again the stately redwood trees served as a backdrop to my experience with nature. I was in an immersive leadership program that was held at a retreat center in the forest. Besides any number of amazing self-reflective and personal growth exercises, we spent a fair amount of time with the trees and up in them. We did high ropes courses where I climbed up redwood trees and did various leaps and tight rope walks while harnessed in a belay. I had many talks with the trees and I think they listened. I know I gave them regular hugs. Yes, I am that kind of crazy girl.

Labyrinth of our woodsNow that I live in Cold Spring, Andy and I are lucky to be in a house on a dirt road living among trees and streams and tons of rocks. And though we still do enjoy cities, having lived in New York City for many years, and still enjoy visiting cities when we travel, more and more we are finding that we are at our most serene state when we are communing with nature, having plenty of experiences with rocks.

xoxo Rachel

The ritual of fall sports

Although it is only just on the precipice of fall, I was reminded of the ritual experience of fall sports this week.  On a lark Andy asked me if that evening I wanted to go see the Hudson Valley Renegades, our local Class “A” baseball team.  It turned out that they were battling for the Penn League Title in the second of three-series against the Tri-City ValleyCats.  In keeping with our pledge to “play” (see The world needs play), how could I say no?  He added that they would be displaying fireworks afterwards, so that made the decision easy.

I had not thought of many of my experiences as rituals but in deed they are.  I love the fall sporting events as both participant and spectator because they are imbued with ritual. In high school so many years ago, I played field hockey and the crisp air and communal experience of being with a group of other girls on the team has such rich memory for me.  We would sing songs and get “psyched” about the game.  Sometimes we would have this experience in the confines of a yellow school bus on the way to our rival’s school.  Other days, we would just head out to our field for a home game with all the excitement to unfold.  The best days were when there was a bit of a chill and we would have our high school-issued navy blue sweat pants on under our pretty blue kilts.  It was at once both snugly and cozy and inward of an experience as it was also very much outward and about the team experience.

My spectator memories move to college when I lived in a cooperative household at Berkeley and we would rent out our parking area for all the people who came to see the Big Game (Stanford vs. Cal).  After all the cars were carefully parked, our house of about 18 people would go together to Memorial Stadium.  I was lucky to have been present at one of the most famous games of all time in college football: I saw “The Play” on Saturday November 20, 1982.  Stanford was ahead 20-19 when in the last four seconds of a kickoff return, Cal ran with the ball and did five lateral passes all while the Stanford marching band, who thought they had won and the game was over, was already on the field.  Still controversial to this day, Cal won 25-20.  Just a few years ago, Cal played Rutgers in New Jersey so my parents and my husband went to the game.  (I met my husband at our cooperative household so we were at The Play together before we became college sweethearts.)  As we ate leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, we enjoyed the ritual of watching our alma mater play football (they beat Rutgers too, go Bears!).  The communal experience of food, fun and loved ones in the beautiful fall outside is beyond compare.

So as we watched the Hudson Valley beat Tri-City, even though we barely knew the teams, we felt connected to our local team and to the loyal fans around us.  We cheered, ate stadium food, and then feasted on the lights and sounds of fireworks.  The ritual of fall sports was alive and well on this beautiful evening.  PS – The Renegades won last night and took the title!