Emerald Eyes

A light brown spinner with long thick legs sits on grassy ground. Two black eyes look toward us.
Wolf spinder. istock.com

She carried a flashlight to make the ground brighter.
And there she spotted us, around and beside her.
Some of us glowed emerald and some a bit lighter.
What are we?

When I go outside at night, I often wear headlamp to keep an eye out for snakes. Recently while out in the yard, I got a real treat. All across the yard were green sparkles. These tiny sparkles were the shining eyes of wolf spiders. Wolf spiders have a structure called a tapetum which reflects light onto their retina, allowing them to see better at night. Try it yourself. Go out with a flashlight and shine it on the ground. When you see a greenish sparkle, follow it and it will lead you to a spider. Sometimes the beauty around us reveals itself in subtle but spectacular ways.

To the dull mind nature is leaden. To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
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On Noticing

Small purple flowers on several thin branches of a tree
Eastern Redbud Blooms 
(istockphoto.com © earl eliason)

Each spring I look forward to the splash of purplish-pink that the eastern redbuds bring. From a distance, it is as if the colorful petals emerge directly from the gray bark. they come on quickly and with an intensity and contrast that is striking against the green, gray and brown background of the trees that surround them. These trees herald spring for me. I am always a bit sad when the purple flowers give way to the green leaves. I recognize though that in any season there are always a thousand other wonders that will arise if I remain aware and maintain a posture of discovery. I simply have to notice.

Spring is a perfect time to begin to be intentional about noticing the tangible wonders that add joy and intrigue to our lives.

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. there is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.  ~Albert Schweitzer

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A Change of Venue

In my first post, Walk 20 Blocks and Call Me in the Morning!, I talked about the role that walking played in my healing journey. Initially, I walked in my mom’s neighborhood, and then my friend’s neighborhood. And, once I moved to an apartment, through the apartment complex parking lot. A friend of mine asked if I had visited a nearby park—Lake Willastein. At her recommendation, I started walking there. It was summer, so I got up early in order to avoid the heat. My early start offered me the chance to experience many a gorgeous sunrise on the lake.

A sky with pink, purple and orange clouds reflect in a body of water below. Silhouettes of trees like the shore on the opposite site of the water.
Sunrise at Lake Willastein Park

Soon I realized that the benefits of walking seemed to be even greater as I walked among the trees in the park, enjoyed the water fowl at the lake, and witnessed the purple, orange and yellow colors of the sky reflecting on the lake. Soon after starting this morning practice, I picked up The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. In it, she cites a study by Yoshifumi Miyazaki in which he discovered that: “leisurely forest walks, compared to urban walks, deliver a 12 percent decrease in cortisol levels.” His research team also “recorded a 7 percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, and a 6 percent decrease in heart rate.”

That resonated with me. The change from walking in the neighborhoods to walking around the lake felt like doubling the dose of medication I had been taking to heal from past traumas.… Read the full post “A Change of Venue”

Novelty and the Brain

The lens of my camera moved from branch to branch, following a black-capped chickadee that was desperate to avoid having its photo taken.

A small bird with a black head and throat, white belly and grey wings rests on a small brach with purplish-pink flowers on it.
Black-capped Chickadee perching on a Redbud Tree, istock.com. (Because I didn’t get the photo. Grin.)

“What you got there?”

I looked over my shoulder to see a man and woman approaching me.

“A couple of black-capped chickadees,” I said as I turned back to the tree and pointed.

We all peered at the tree together.

The woman broke the silence. “I was just thinking that I hadn’t seen any birds yet.”

I thought about the tufted titmice I had seen earlier—the sound of their song as they took turns calling out to each other. Two turkey vultures were circling above the nearby lake just minutes ago. A pileated woodpecker cackled in the distance.

I started to tell her about them but stopped myself. “I bet you’ll see more in this area of the gardens.” We were in a wooded area of Garvan Woodland Gardens at this point.

It’s actually not surprising that she hadn’t noticed the birds. She was there to see the tulips. We all were. The striking colors and magnitude of the 150,000 tulips was breathtaking. And it was novel.

The Power of Novelty

Deep purple flowers shaped like cups with straight green stems
Purple tulips at Garvan Woodland Gardens, Melanie Thornton

I had been reading about the power of novelty in The Nature Fix (See the Resources Page). Novelty is good for our brains. Research shows that novel experiences result in the release of dopamine.… Read the full post “Novelty and the Brain”

The Power and Limitation of a Photo

I’ve been enjoying taking photos lately. And enjoying sharing them with others. It inspired me to add a Photo Gallery to this site. I’ve also been thinking about the difference between seeing a photo and experiencing a place.

Bright red and orange clouds float on the horizon and fade into a blue sky above. Silhouettes of trees can be seen on the shoreline. The sky and trees are all reflected in the water below.
Sunrise on Lake Willastein

Even the most striking photo cannot contain what our eyes and hearts can capture. The two-dimensional-ness of it cannot hold the full joy of the experience. It can’t capture the gratefulness that wells up inside at being there, at that very moment, witnessing the sun scatter colors too bright and varied to name.

It doesn’t capture the magic of not being able to tell exactly where the surface of the water is and the disorientation that follows. It cannot appreciate the moment when the eye lands on a plant that marks where the surface of the water actually is and how my mind has to recalibrate everything I see because it imagined the water’s surface to be higher. It can’t capture that moment of surprise and the enjoyment that comes from being a bit disoriented because the water and sky were conspiring to trick me and I feel pleased because I get the joke.

It can’t capture the amazement at the clarity of the reflection and the reminder that that the stillness of the water is the equanimity I should seek in my mind. Nor the moment of sadness and regret knowing that just recently I made a decision while the waters of my mind were rough and choppy.… Read the full post “The Power and Limitation of a Photo”

As the Winter Solstice Approaches

This coming Tuesday, December 21st, is the Winter Solstice.

Though I hate to admit it, I never gave much thought to the summer and winter solstices until I began working as a park interpreter at Toltec Mounds State Park in the mid ’90s. The park is the site of a prehistoric Native American religious and cultural center. The Native Americans constructed mounds that aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. Reading Native American legends about the sun’s movement across the sky gave me a new appreciation for the seasons and specifically for the winter solstice. While the solstice is the shortest day of the year, it also marks the point at which the days begin to lengthen. Indigenous people celebrated the winter solstice as a time of renewal. It is truly Mother Nature’s new year’s day.

A friend recently asked me what significance the winter solstice holds for me. It has become a time of reflection and renewal for me…a time for fresh starts. Personally, it feels more harmonious with the earth to celebrate and reflect on new beginnings on the winter solstice than on the beginning of the calendar year. As the days lengthen and the earth is bathed with more and more sunlight, we know that soon seeds will begin to germinate and plants begin to have new growth.

I like to contemplate what I want to grow in my own life. This year, I plan to ask myself these questions.

  • What do I want more of?
  • What would I do if I were not afraid?
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Soaking It In

To walk among flowers and breathe in their beauty,
To sit by a stream and soak in its calm,
To be covered at night by a blanket of stars,
To let the prothonotary warbler teach me its song.

The universe offers us opportunities to be amazed, intrigued, and appreciative. It is easy, though, in the business of life to become distracted by other things and not take notice of the wonder around us. To remain in a posture of wondering, to be an active wonderer,  is part of my commitment with this blog.

There is so much to learn. There are endless tangible wonders to discover—enough to give one meaning for an entire lifetime.

What will you do this week to soak it in?

Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.
William Wordsworth

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
Rachel Carson

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Dung Beetles, Howler Monkeys and Fruit Trees

I became intrigued by dung beetles several years ago when I began to notice a couple of species of dung beetles in my yard making good use of the dung left behind by our dogs! As I began reading and learning more about these amazing beetles, I ran across some fascinating research being done on dung beetles in rainforest habitats.

The research indicates that a mutualism exists between three species—howler monkeys, dung beetles and fruit trees. Here is how the relationship unfolds. Howler monkeys spend lots of time in the fruit trees of the tropics eating the fruit and foliage. They deposit the seeds of the trees mixed with their dung below the trees. Left there, the seeds would be concentrated too densely to germinate and successfully produce very many trees. That is, the saplings would be in competition with each other for nutrition and sunlight. The seeds would also be vulnerable to rodents who would use them for food. These factors would all work together to reduce the population of fruit trees.

Enter the dung beetle—an unlikely hero. The dung beetle gathers up the dung, which happens to be mixed with seeds, from the piles in balls and roles them away. The female lays her eggs in the ball of dung or “brood ball” and the male and female then bury the brood balls a few inches below the ground surface. Because of the presence of dung beetles, the seeds of the trees are dispersed more widely and are buried at a depth that protects them from rodents.… Read the full post “Dung Beetles, Howler Monkeys and Fruit Trees”

You Are Not the Sound, But the Echo

Several years ago, I took a few days to retreat in Northwest Arkansas, spending time reading and reflecting in a small cabin above the White River. One morning, this phrase came to my mind: You are not the sound, but the echo…Not the thing itself, but the reflection of it.

I spent time just thinking about what that meant to me. I realized that I tend to think of myself as very solid. The reality is that I am (we all are) ever-changing. Physically I am aging and what I call “me” now, is very different from the “me” when I was 6. How many cells are actually the same cells that made up that “me”? And in terms of my perspective, I’m also constantly evolving.

This idea of my being more like an echo or a reflection, served as a reminder to soften my firmly held view of who I am, what I am, what I think is right…to allow a bit of light and space in.

A calm body of water surrounded by trees. Text: You are not the sound, but the echo. Not the thing itself, but the reflection of it.

Recently I found myself in a situation where another person was responding to me in ways I could not understand. Their behavior changed  abruptly and I found it very confusing and disorienting, but I did not have any information about why they had changed. I started filling in the gaps with what I thought might have occurred. I then responded to them based on my own “solid” storyline about what was happening.

When my response didn’t get the results I hoped for, I started to form a narrative about myself with critical statements like “See, you haven’t made any progress at all” and even “What a fraud you are!”… Read the full post “You Are Not the Sound, But the Echo”

Finding Our Voice

One of my favorite sounds is that of the Chuck Will’s Widow. I always look forward to their arrival in spring. Its voice cuts through the darkness and rings out with a distinct call.  This is a very shy bird that is not often seen but whose call is melodic and strong.

What better symbol for the process of finding our voice. When we are trying to become more clear about who we are, what we believe, what we value, it is helpful to come to the quiet. We toss our words into the silence and listen as their echo returns to us, asking ourselves, “Is this my truth?” We fine-tune our narrative until our inner truth and words and deeds align and we can declare distinctly, “This is me. I am here!” And others hear us and recognize us by our song. Our voices, honed by intentional reflection, pierce the darkness of unconscious conformity and allow us to be seen and to inspire others to do the same.

As I begin this blog, I’m aware that I’m trying to find my voice in this new way. I hope to gain more clarity and certainty along the way.


It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.
Madeleine Albright

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