Transcendentalists…ever hear of them? Henry David Thoreau was one…you know, the guy who lived by Walden Pond…
Hippies…you’ve heard of them…minimalists… That’s where we are today.
The American bent for conspicuous consumerism has a quiet but persistent counterculture presence in a 200 year-old philosophy that began with the Transcendentalist group that Thoreau was part of. He’s the one who spoke the title of today’s blog, and who first said, “…Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”
What Qualifies as Simplification?
Well…I couldn’t simplify for many years…continuing to schlep off to work in the city. One fall morning, as I stood on the train platform with all the other super-commuters, I heard far overhead the distinctive throaty cooing of migrating sandhill cranes. Tending toward the quiet, I just tipped my chin up to watch.
The chattier ones in our group asked each other what they were…and since no one else knew…I spoke up. “They’re sandhill cranes.”
They were surprised…so I filled in for them what I knew…and then relayed a story about a recent night when I had lain awake listening to an owl hooting in the backyard…and the following relief to find that the rabbits were gone from the yard.
A commuter next to me said, “Wow. That’s when everything seems right with the world…”
Get a “Nature Prescription”
Doctors apparently agree that the natural world has a positive effect on humans…did you know that they are starting to write so-called “nature prescriptions”? They are aiming “to help treat a variety of medical conditions, from post-cancer fatigue to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes” by directing people to engage with nature (webmd.com).
You could get a prescription…or just skip right to Thoreau’s advice…in your own backyard. Sure you can play games on the lawn—nothing wrong with that!–but let’s think for a moment about quieter, individual pursuits.
Take a look at this video of ants, busily carrying tiny white things…hurrying along some invisible path. …Ok…I can hear some people calling me out, “Really? Maybe I should just watch paint dry!” I suppose you could, but then doctors aren’t writing prescriptions for that…
Oddly…I couldn’t stop watching the ants, and eventually pulled out my phone to capture the tiny busy life. I’m betting that I’m not alone in this fascination.
Finding the Wider Universe in a Close-Up View
Other evidence of life scurrying along without me reveals itself in negative space—a couple of days after I had found 3 monarch butterfly caterpillars, I couldn’t find a single chrysalis in the milkweed.
As I wondered aloud about this, a friend from my garden club confirmed that hungry birds are lightening fast. She had found a monarch caterpillar…ran inside to get a jar to save it from the birds…and when she came out found only half of the caterpillar left!
I assume that in my yard–in the absence of chrysalis evidence—that some bird must have feasted on the juicy fat colorful morsel.
Other flying life came in and out of my narrow view. They were mostly bumblebees and hummingbirds, with only the occasional honeybee. According to a beekeeper whose talk I attended, this means that their hive was somewhere within a 2 mile radius.
Thus, I am learning to be content with the life that comes calling. Learned to accept the human inability to see or control all of nature and found it very soothing.
Growing Taller Than Trees
Thoreau knew all of this when he said, “I went for a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”
I accept the truth of his observation…but how exactly does that work? Let’s speculate that the human interaction with nature—so completely devoid of evil intention—cleanses us from anxiety. Of course, this conclusion only points to an effect, without any information about the process.
Yet, an acceptance of the wholeness of the experience…without any need for details…is part of the prescription. Go out and be in it…we’re not trying to conquer it…or analyze it…just be in it.
Still, our ancestors’ lessons might caution us that there is plenty to be anxious about in Nature…that is, in the truly primitive outdoors, in which we just become part of the food chain…Point taken. We won’t judge our hunting neighbors who participate in the natural process to feed their families…that’s a different topic.
So does it fill the prescription to engage only in a suburban naturalist’s level of digging around in her own back yard? Can we write and fill our own prescriptions?
If you’re hesitating about gardening…this Fall is a perfect opportunity to plant the simplest flower of all…any bulb or rhizome (like a bulb only oblong shaped) will do. Irises, tulips, daffodils, crocuses,…take your pick from the bags at your nearest garden center. Pictures on the bags show what the flower looks like, and they’re very cheap. Next, pick a sunny spot in your yard…and I promise it will only take 1 hour to get them in the ground. Next Spring, you’ll have your own private spot to be in.
It’s cheaper than a trip to the doctor. It won’t cost much either in currency or time. As Thoreau also said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
Why don’t you find out and tell us about your experience?