From the start, producing Mother Nature’s Child inspired me to look at my own connection to nature. In September 2008, knee deep in research, I attended a Spirit & Nature Retreat at Shelburne Farms, an outdoor education center on the Vermont shore of Lake Champlain. Our retreat facilitators encouraged the practice of starting the day at an outside “sit spot” of our choice on the grounds. I chose a hill in an open field that afforded a wide vista of the sky and the Adirondacks across the lake. Sitting alone on that peaceful hill away from the claustrophobia of the city was a magical start to each day of retreat.
Returning to town after the retreat, I began a search for a comparable sit spot near my home and spent the next few weeks exploring. My neighborhood seemed suddenly more alive and unfamiliar as I searched for a place close to home where I could sit in nature, undisturbed by people or traffic. Our postage stamp backyard was never in consideration — why would I choose such an ordinary spot with no vista but the side of our garage where neighbors might wonder why I was sitting on a rock doing nothing at 7 a.m.?
Eventually, following a path I’d never noticed, I discovered a watershed area a few blocks from our house where I could sit on a ledge surrounded by hemlocks and gaze over rooftops at the lake and mountains in the distance. How could I have lived in this neighborhood for a decade and never known about this place? Immediately I began my days there, grateful for the privacy, pretending the distant rush of traffic was the sound of rolling surf. My delight was short-lived.
Arriving at my sit spot one morning, I noticed a few used condoms strewn among the bushes and realized I was not the only one coming to this hidden, out of the way place. Though each day after that, I tried to overcome my anxiety, I no longer felt safe and calm there by myself and gave up beginning my days outdoors. Winter set in.
This year, spring was a stressful time. I love editing the film but have been spending an extraordinary number of hours in front of a computer to do it and fretting about funding to complete the film. As the stress built, it became clear I needed to focus on keeping my balance. Working on a film about connection to nature is definitely NOT the same as having an actual connection. It was time to look again for a nature “sit spot” where I’d feel comfortable.
In desperation, I considered for the first time my boring 20 x 30’ backyard. It does have four old maples, an assortment of bushes, and, in April, a patch of bluettes were coming up by the garage. There, too, was a rock just large enough to serve as a seat. No leaves were on the trees yet but, since birdsong was waking me early, why not step out, sit quietly and listen?
At 6:45 a.m. the first morning, feeling a bit odd about journeying a mere ten steps to sit on a rock in our tiny backyard, I donned a jacket over my pj’s, took my cup of tea, and headed down the porch steps.
After all the months that had gone by since the Spirit and Nature Retreat, discovering my “sit spot” in my own backyard was profoundly humbling. I’d been looking for the most dramatic or magical place I could find, but that first morning, quietly observing the actual piece of land I inhabit on this earth, I was awed. The trees hadn’t leafed out yet and much of the bird activity in the neighborhood was visible. Squirrels stopped on the branches above me to scold and twitch their tails. Neighborhood cats stopped by to see what I was up to. The trees in the yard looked totally different from this angle. By sitting for twenty minutes without moving, my awareness opened more and more to everything around me, a nature meditation. Sitting on a rock in the rain, I began to connect to this tiny patch of earth I’d always taken for granted.
It’s been a couple months now since I settled on my modest “sit spot” and I have rarely missed a day. I look forward to seeing what precise details the world of my backyard will reveal each morning. It is never exactly the same. I don’t recognize all the birds I’m seeing but I’m becoming familiar with their songs. The maples in our yard are not all the same species – they leafed out in three different ways. Now that the trees have worked so hard to produce flowers, leaves and seeds, and there is a thick canopy above me. Before it grew and blocked out the sky, I was amazed one morning to see two eagles flying north high overhead. Another morning my eye picked up a subtle trail in the grass and this week there’s a spot where some animal is lying down and leaving a good size impression in the grass near my rock — perhaps it lives behind the garage. These morning sessions are feeding a curiosity that accompanies me through the day wherever I am. My feelings of stress have dramatically diminished.
Spending twenty minutes to do nothing but experience the mystery of the constantly changing aliveness in my own backyard may not sound like much. But it’s my laboratory, a complement to the hours of computer editing I do every day on Mother Nature’s Child. While in this intense phase of post-production, it’s my way of personally engaging the material in the film. And a daily joy. (Easy to say in June. We’ll see how it goes when winter sets in…..Stay tuned!)