Here’s a simple exercise to hone your skills at finding and making beauty for a wounded place.
  1. Go outside and find an ordinary, nondescript, even boring patch of ground no larger than five feet square.
  2. Sit down with it.
  3. Now watch.
  4. When you get bored (not if but when) and decide to leave, plunge your attention back into watching.
  5. Observe what happens.
  6. Before you really do leave, thank the place for revealing itself to you. Consider rearranging some of the natural elements or bringing in new ones from the surrounding area to make a gift of beauty for this patch of Earth that, so recently, you had assumed was simply ordinary.
Chance are, you’ll notice colors in new ways. You’ll see how things (blades of grass, an insect crawling through, the way the sun moves) are connected. You’ll become aware of sounds radiating from around and maybe even within your little patch.
Chances are you’ll discover how alive is the Earth.
In the film Living in a Time of Dying, Chiricahua-Apache elder Stan Rushworth tells how he was introduced to a practice like this. When he was six years old, his Cherokee grandfather took him out and indicated with a nod of his head that the boy should sit. Rushworth did so, then waited impatiently for something to happen, for his grandfather to explain the purpose of this outing. But every time he glanced at his grandfather, the older man simply nodded in response. Finally Rushworth came alert to the plethora of life returning to the place: dragonflies, rabbits, birds, all living their lives as if no humans interfered—which, at that moment they weren’t. Those humans were just gazing, just witnessing, just letting it all in. The boy noticed that noticing was the whole point of the visit.
When we’re willing to let the natural world reveal itself to us, we part the veils of the very familiar to see what’s behind. This exercise never offers the same wonders twice. Guaranteed.

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.

Image Credit:

  • Mahoney: James Mahoney

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