Celebrating the delicate balance of life, nature, and beauty through photographs
Many varieties of water lily open for only a short time, even as short as one to three days. During these months at home, mostly alone, we took the special moments to recognize and appreciate the short window of time we had to see these beautiful flowers bloom.
"Citizen's Eye: A Kaleidoscope of Nature"
“Something this pandemic should have taught us is the interconnectedness we have with nature. We are part of Nature.” ~Lindsey K, The Finding Place-LV
Recently the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education located near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania held a call for their 3rd Annual Community Show "Citizens Eye: A Kaleidoscope of Nature." They prompted locals, professional photographers and everyday point and shooters, to reflect on this past year and submit photos of experiences in and with nature through the pandemic. We were asked, "What role has nature played in your life throughout the pandemic?"
A little background on this establishment; not only does the SCEE have a long running nature preschool with beautiful Reggio-Emilia Inspired decor and outdoor learning settings, an environmental education center, hiking trails, fort building, summer programs, and amazing online webinars and discussion groups on Thursday evenings, they also host an environmental art department. It really is a diamond in the rough. I have lived in and around Philadelphia for most of my life and never knew that this place even existed. I had the pleasure of attending a full-day NB-outdoor teacher's workshop here a few years ago through an organization I have been a member of for several years, ERAFANS, Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools. I am truly grateful for that opportunity to spend an entire day at the SCEE, tour the facility inside and out, and meet many wonderful faculty members as well as ERAFANS members.
The Role of Nature in your life
After writing a full, well-thought out response with my photo submissions, somehow, my response never sent to me. I had this amazing, inspiring reflection on what role nature has played in our lives since last March and now, I have no idea what I wrote. Where do I begin?
Okay, I probably have some idea of what I said, but my response came out similar to Will Ferrell's debate rebuttal in "Old School" where he blacked out and just said all the right things in a sea of intellectual catch phrases and scientific data. Maybe it was something like this: Choose three photos—three images—that sum up my experience with nature since March? How do I even choose? Where do I begin? I have been somewhat isolated and yet I am so surprised that so many people were staying in their homes during isolation. We have been outside everyday challenging ourselves to complete our #1000hoursoutdoors challenge for 2020. We have walked barefoot on every square inch of our yard. We have been working to identify every plant on our property and recognize that most of the vegetation host medicinal and healing properties.
There is beauty, art, science, math, engineering, history, and language in every blade of grass, every falling leaf, every budding branch, every corolla of each flower. We are learning more about ourselves every day and more and more about nature. Nature has been the one constant in our lives when everything else seemed to be cut off. It is healing and calm and calculated. It is actually the one thing we can count on. "What role has nature played in my life throughout the pandemic?" It seems so simple right? To me it is anything but simple. What role has nature not played in my life throughout the pandemic is more like it.
*Center photo taken at Columcille Megalith Park, Bangor, PA
Submission to public call for nature photographs representing the impact of nature on our life during the pandemic. Barefoot children collect flowers to give to a garden Buddha. A tree with a heart scar. A single water lily blooming on a small fish pond full of ripples and droplets.
Oh, nature, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...
Nature has taught me many things and time, and time again, it has reminded me that I am nature. We are all nature and it is a part of us. We cannot disconnect from it, and yet we have tried. Through this time, I have reflected on issues of self-self, self-others, and self-nature relationships. I have contemplated my relationship to my community, my food sources, the food chain/market supply chain, transportation, money, the government, neighbors, land, privacy, sustainability, knowledge, and power. What? Nature made me think of those things? Yes. The importance of nature is unparalleled and yet, we too often over look the beauty, power, and the influence of nature on our every day lives. I have gone straight to the source this year more than ever. I want to eat clean, healthy, nutrient-dense food that has traveled through the least amount of distributers, buildings, hands, germs...
I buy as much at my local Farmers' Markets as possible, every market. I hit up Emmaus Farmers Market every Sunday that it is open and spread the love. I want fruit? I go to the local orchards' farm stands and wait in line to go into their tiny little shack and grab up some apples, potatoes, onions, and local, raw honey. I want to feel like I have an iota of actual power over my life, I take a look at my back yard, my windows, my stoops, my porch, and I buy seeds and seedlings and grow as much as I can. Sustainability means I don't have to rely on others, on the grocery store, on the markets, on the distributions centers, on people who are also stressed or worried or concerned. I reuse what I have, I think about what I need, I grow what I can, I share what I have, I spread the love, and then I repeat.
The gifts of the garden
What has nature done for you? My children went through the entire garden giggling and dodging in here and there. I had no idea what they were doing. They love to make bouquets for our neighbors and put them in old jars then leave them on their porches. Something about this was different. They were both barefoot, as usual. Wild hair, dancing in the breeze of the day. Cheeks pink with heat and excitement. They were busy without a care in the world. You'd never know that our social circle had been axed into pieces, our calendar wiped clear, our day trips and clubs all canceled, or the impending uncertain doom looming over our heads. There were just two smiling children carefully choosing flowers and when I brought out a jar for them, they gestured that they didn't need it. They slowed their pace, carefully wiped the hair off their brows, gently knelt down in the stones, and arranged the flowers on and around our garden statue like an offering. All these flowers of varying sizes, structures, and colors given as a gift to a garden statue. Then they paused, closed their eyes, took in a deep breath of fragrant florals, smiled, and scurried up the closest tree like squirrels. It was quite a sight. And what has nature done for us? It has calmed us, brought us peace, slowed down the arbitrary schedules that we imposed on ourselves, showed us clarity, filled our life with color, and given us the time to appreciate little things.
“We picked these flowers...” [Yes, mom, they are all of the prettiest ones...] "And we decided to give them all to the garden buddha to show thanks for the gifts we have been given." [And mom, they're the prettiest, one of each color...]
A land of myth and mystery
I have lived in this area for a long time and so has my husband. And yet, it took a pandemic for us to find the Columcille Megalith Park. The website quotes, "All persons of good will are invited to travel quietly through our Celtic-inspired outdoor sanctuary. Please be mindful of others in the park seeking peace, quiet, or solitude." I have no idea how this place has gone under my radar: Fairies, Celtic architecture, drumming circles, spiritual healing, restoration. Did you ever go somewhere new and when you get there, you close your eyes and breathe? You think to yourself, I've been here before. Columcille Megalith Park is like that, for me. There are rolling hills, fairy gardens, secrets, mystery, mythology, paths through the woods, and people who are taking it all in peacefully. It reminded me of a trip to Scotland in 2001 when we walked through Fairey Glenn and then the woods opened up and we were at the beach gazing upon the Black Isles. It was magical. It was another reminder that we are a part of nature and nature is always a part of us. When you visit a place and it resonates with you in a way that sounds beautiful. What has nature done for me? Nature has reiterated that it is here, it is waiting, it is mysterious, and it has been here the whole time. There are places that I have never seen right around my home. There is magic that I haven't discovered yet within 20 minutes from my house. It is outside. It is peaceful, it is forgiving, it is waiting. It is a heart beat away—in a tree—facing away from the traveled path surrounded by a fairy circle; and it was there all along.
A single day
I guess I never realized that some water lilies only open for a few days. When you think about it, that means if you aren't paying attention, your water lilies could bloom, close, sink, and rot in your pond before you even see them. That wasn't me being dramatic. The botany article I read about water lilies literally said, "Pick your lilies after about 1-2 days of blooming, cutting below the water's surface, other wise they will close, sink, and rot in your pond."
Was I too busy? Did I not care? How did I not know this about the short lived life of a pond lily? During the pandemic, we took the time to smell each rose. We crouched close and inhaled the scent of every tulip, peony, hydrangea, magnolia bud, sprig of lavender, herb, evening primrose, crocus, hyacinth, any thing at all. We ran to the pond first thing in the morning just to see if the lilies had opened. We said hello to the fish. We caught butterflies on our fingers. We experienced the awe of a child and re-examined our relationship with our natural surroundings. What if we only had 1-3 days to bloom and whether or not anyone noticed us, we would close, sink, and rot in a pond. Does this sound too gloomy for an educator to discuss? I think the message really is be grateful. Cherish your time with where you are, who you are with, what you are doing, what you are eating. Appreciate the beauty of a single moment. Recognize the importance of the cycle of life. Do your best every day for you and no one else because in the end you will bloom whether someone is looking or not. What has the role of nature done for me during this pandemic? It has opened my eyes to the hustle and bustle that I put myself in because I thought other people were watching. When all I had to do was let myself and my family bloom.
I want to thank the Schuylkill CEE for hosting this current exhibit and many of your other virtual events. I can't wait to come visit the exhibit by the end of March in person and soak up these images in real life. I personally love your Thursday evening talks, especially Naughty by Nature, the animal edition of Valentine's Day romance: informative, slightly comical, and perfectly timed.
SCEE is a non-profit organization for more information about their programs and events check out their website. https://www.schuylkillcenter.org/
To view the youtube video of the current exhibit, "Citizens Eye: A Kaleidoscope of Nature" head over to The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education's channel, from there you can check out the opening night with a paneled discussion and explore the exhibit. The Environmental Art Department has an open call for more photos that can be added in person for anyone interested in participating in this installation.
This entry was in no way sponsored or endorsed by any of the parties listed. This was my own personal reflection on the question, "What role has nature played in your life throughout the pandemic?" based on the three photos that I submitted to the current open-call, nature-based photography exhibit held at the Environmental Art Department of SCEE.