Activities for Earth Day

Earth Day marks the anniversary of a pivotal moment in time, when 20 million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable relationship between humans and the planet. Earth Day founder, Senator Gaylord Nelson, proposed setting aside an official day on the calendar to commemorate the event. His efforts eventually led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Act.

This year, we have even more serious and global challenges in the form of climate change, peak oil and mass extinction of species. Although no one of us can solve the world’s problems all by ourselves, we can set aside the day to be mindful of our role on Earth, to think about how we may contribute to the healing of our planet, and to take small but important steps lesson our personal impact on the environment.

These steps don’t have to cost anything or contribute to further commoditization (solving problems with more STUFF instead of systematic changes). They can instead contribute to mindfulness, deeper relationships with our friends and family, healthier activities and an appreciation of what we already have. Here are six things you can do to celebrate Earth Day that cost little or nothing:

1. Reconnect with the land by going on a contemplative hike. Recently, a friend of mine told me that she’s met people who have lived in the Denver area their entire lives but never traveled up into the mountains or gone hiking in the foothills. I found this to be astounding and almost inconceivable. How can one look at the mesmerizing views to the west, which change not just seasonally but almost daily, and not want to explore its mysteries and beauty? Many hiking trails are within an hour’s drive of the Front Range suburbs, maybe even as little as 10-15 minutes away, depending on where you live. You don’t need any special equipment to hike most of the trails around town, just a small jug of water and some good walking shoes. If a person has lived along the Front Range and has never gone hiking or exploring in the mountains, they are missing out on blessed silence, the sound of birds that don’t typically reside in the suburbs, fresh air, a sense of peace or wonder or enchantment, or the fragrant whiff of a forest of pine and spruce trees. They are missing out on the access to something timeless, mysterious and wondrous. Nature is neither welcoming nor rejecting. It’s non-judgmental. For this reason, when you’re in the woods or walking through the meadows and canyons, you are free to be yourself and feel whatever you want to feel.

If you live in the Denver area, check out my MeetUp group.

2. Invite friends over to watch an uplifting or thought-provoking movie about nature or the environment. Whatever you feel about nature or animals, someone somewhere has already felt and expressed a similar sentiment. That’s why it’s inspiring to experience the visual arts, film, literature, poetry when they reflect our values and feelings, and share the experience with our friends and family. Earth Day is a great day to go outside, but if you’ve spent the day hiking and just want to relax, pop in a good nature flick and invite some friends over for some local brew. If you plan ahead, you can order these films from Netflix or Blockbuster Home Delivery.

My personal Favorites are the Planet Earth series, Into the Wild, Winged Migration, The Yearling, and The Girl and the Fox, a French film from 2009.

3. Plant some hardy flower or vegetable seeds. Whether you have a garden where you live, or just enough room to put out a clay pot near your front door, late April is the perfect time for many hardy varieties of vegetables and flowers. You can plant pansies, alyssum, peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, potatoes, spinach, turnips, cabbage and lettuce. If you can only do pots, then spinach, lettuce and hardy flowers seeds can be planted now. Gardening is relaxing and connects you to the weather and climate of the land, because when you’ve invested time and energy into the soil and into your seedlings. You know exactly when it will rain, how much precipitation your garden received, and ultimately rejoice in a good balance of sun and moisture. There’s nothing like gardening to make a rainy day seem welcome. You’ll become aware of when the nighttime temperatures get above freezing, when the date of the average last frost occurs, and how what exactly constitutes “normal” in terms of climate, from one year to the next.

4. Honor your land by picking up the trash around your neighborhood.

There’s a lot of trash that accumulates along the side of the road near where I live in Westminster. It’s not because people are necessarily littering out of their cars. It’s mostly because of what happens on windy days. Recyclables get blown down the street, paper products fly out of the backs of pickups, dumpsters, and parking lots. Plastic grocery bags get snagged on wire fences and in the branches of trees. It’s hideous, and someone ought to clean it up. Why not take an hour and let that “someone” be you? Who knows, you might inspire someone else to do the same thing.

5. If the weather is nice, eat dinner with your family outdoors, picnic-style, and enjoy the sunset. I actually enjoy eating outdoors this time of year, when it can be warm and pleasant but the bugs and wasps aren’t out in full-force yet. The sun will be setting around 7:40 p.m. on Earth Day in Colorado, so that affords plenty of time to pack a lite dinner and head off to the local park, your backyard, or a nearby picnic area. Challenge yourself and your family to spot at least 5 different kinds of birds or animals while you enjoy your meal.

6. Turn off the TV and computer and pay attention to the nature around you. Nature is everywhere. Your pets are nature. Your friends are nature. YOU are nature. Nature is not something “out there” to be either feared or revered. We are part of the circle of life. Contemplate this. Spend an evening unplugged and really see what you haven’t noticed lately. Ask your spouse or partner what has been troubling them lately or what’s given them joy in the last few days. Write a poem about what you see outside your window. Meditate under a tree. Take a walk around your neighborhood and say hello to the people you encounter. When you make a habit out of mindfulness and outdoor activities, pretty soon you’ll discover that you feel happy anticipating things that cost nothing and require nothing of you: longer and warmer days, trees budding out, the return of meadowlarks and other migratory birds, the smell of the air after a thunderstorm.

Commemorating Earth Day doesn’t have to be about protest, or doom-and-gloom, or angst over societal apathy or stalled political action. Those frustrations can be set aside for a day, while you actually listen to what the Earth is trying to say, what you’re working so hard to accomplish the other 364 days of the year, and why.

How to Do a Medicine Walk

Coulson Gulch Road/National Forest Trail #916

Location: West of Pinewood Springs, between Lyons and Estes Park

Directions: From Boulder take the 36 through Lyons toward Estes Park. Immediately past Pinewood Springs, turn left (south) on Cr-118, where you’ll see a brown sign for Big Elk Meadows and National Forest Access. Drive another 3 miles until you get to the “Y” fork in the road. Take the left fork, following the sign pointing toward National Forest Access. This last half mile is a very rutty dirt road best accessed by high-clearance vehicles. Park along the road in front of the metal barrier. Walk south past the metal barrier where the road continues and spreads out into a bigger area. Veer slightly east where there’s a second metal barrier and locate the narrow dirt trail directly west of it that descends into the trees below, indicated by a brown National Forest Service sign that states “Trail 916.”

Duration: 4 hours or longer

Access Notes: Camping is allowed at the trailhead in certain areas, so you may encounter a few cars already parked at the trailhead in summer. The last half mile of dirt road is not maintained in winter, so this hike is accessible when the roads are dry—after Memorial Day. Elk hunting is permitted in this National Forest area during the fall, and it is advised to wear bright orange during that time when hiking in National Forest. There are no facilities or restrooms at the trailhead. Dogs are allowed on leash.

The Hike

This is one of the trails within 30 minutes drive of Boulder that feels like you’re stepping into wilderness. It’s quiet, bucolic in summer, with no road noise (except maybe ATVs in nearby Big Elk Meadows and Johnny Camp) and long, green views of the valley between Pinewood Springs and the north Boulder foothills.

The start of the trail is a narrow slit in the dirt that cuts through a sloped, grassy meadow that descends into the trees. It then follows a small creek through a thicket of woods and brush at the bottom of a gully. In the spring and summer you’ll see a variety of wildflowers dotting the trail, including lupines, yellow peas, prairie chickweed, western dayflowers, columbines and others. The view of the meadow below (Higgin’s Park) is most spectacular the first portion of the hike, before you enter the woods.

After the cool and pleasant walk in the woods next to the stream, you’ll come to a more exposed section of the trail where you can look across the valley to the west and south. After a steep and sketchy descent down a section of trail with a lot of loose sand and gravel, you’ll come to an old abandoned log cabin—a relic of the earlier part of the last century. There’s no roof, but a rusted bed frame, mattress springs and headboard are propped up inside the decaying structure. There’s even a rusty skeleton of a wood-burning cookstove flung onto the forest floor nearby. It feels odd this far into the trail, and makes you wonder how people used to bring in such items this deep into a forest. A little further down, an old livestock enclosure fashioned out of logs borders what once was a home to someone who lived this close to nature.

As you come out of the woods past this abandoned homestead you come upon Higgins Park, a large, rolling meadow with views of Cook Mountain and North and South Sheep Mountain. As the trail turns east and away from the grassy hill, you have to make a decision—go another half hour toward Button Rock reservoir or another 20 minutes to a footbridge over the St. Vrain river, following the trail until it dead ends up the river.

There are many opportunities to view and listen to wildlife along the way—chirping and crowing birds, squirrels, elk, or deer. Sometimes the more open you are and in tune with the land, the more animals you notice.

The remote feel and peaceful setting make it an excellent location to do a Medicine Walk.

Medicine Walk

Native Americans believed that every animal or object in nature had a spirit and contained special powers that were beyond the normal ability of humans. The landscape and its inhabitants was not an inanimate object to be quantified and assessed for monetary value as it is in Western culture, but a place alive with mystery and purpose, omens and symbolism. The spirit, or wakan in Lakota, of hawks, coyotes, elk and other animals symbolized such qualities as courage, success in courtship, or a deep and clear seeing. When animals appeared to humans, whether in reality or in dreams and visions, it held special meaning. There was an intimate connection between the animal realm and the human realm, each one needing the other.

It was believed that every person had their own spirit guide from nature, represented by some animal or object. This spirit guide gave the person emotional strength to endure challenges in life and the insight to succeed in hunting, love or leadership.

Spirit guides were particularly important during vision quests. Vision quests were sacred rites of passage in Native American culture where adolescents (and sometimes adults, when seeking answers to difficult questions) would fast in the wilderness for three or four days, which helped incite hallucinations and an altered psychological state in order to get a vision to guide them in their life. The quester would bring along talismans of their spirit guide they carved or created on their journey, packed in a sacred medicine bag.

During their time in the wilderness, there was symbolic meaning from things they observed from the weather, animals and the landscape that they interpreted in relationship to their own life. The “messages” they received told them of their purpose in life, revealed their special gifts and talents, and instructed them how to use those gifts to benefit their tribe when they returned.

A medicine walk is like a short vision quest, during which you pay attention to the omens in nature in order to find your medicine, which in the Native American sense is anything that is healing  and positive to body and mind. During a medicine walk, you find a place where you can spend at least a half a day alone, walking, sitting and meditating in nature with as few distractions from civilization as possible. You focus on an important personal issue and seek wisdom and guidance in nature by looking for symbolic meaning from the things you observe.

Medicine walks can be undertaken in preparation for important transitions in life: a new job, a divorce, a new relationship. It can be a healing, insightful practice when you’re feeling stuck or confused about something in your life. The insights you receive from a medicine walk can be subtle or immensely profound, and sometimes the answers aren’t what you were expecting. But simply by embarking on a medicine walk, you invite a more mystical quality in your life. You acknowledge that the world is more than a collection of profane objects, but rather a world alive with both meaning and mystery.

To prepare for a medicine walk, you select a place where you will spend a half day or longer, a place where there aren’t too many people (preferably a trail that has little or no visitors on certain days of the week). If you have a favorite trail or a place that draws you in some mysterious way, that’s a good place to go. The key is to have a place where you’ll feel comfortable and unembarrassed to walk slowly, sit for long periods of time or even have a conversation with an animal or plant. The reason you want to be out for at least a half day is because you’ll naturally come with a lot of mental chatter, and it will take at least a few hours for that chatter to subside enough for you to be open to what the outside world is trying to say.

It can be a time during which you take water, but no food. The reasoning behind this is that because fasting can further eliminate distractions.  Personally, I think hunger is a bigger distraction and I prefer to take along a snack. In planning for your walk, be prepared for any weather possibility since the weather can be completely different at the end of your walk as it is when you embark. Or, try to plan your walk on a day when you know the weather will be as agreeable as possible. Be sure to tell someone exactly where you’re going and what time you expect to be back home, in case you get injured or something happens and you’re out longer than you want to be.

I selected the Coulson Gulch trail for this activity, because it is on National Forest land and has less visitors than other trails near the Front Range, especially on weekdays. It feels like you’re deeper in the wilderness than you actually are, and provides the solitude and quiet that you’ll need in order to benefit from this contemplative activity.

When you arrive at the trail, set an intention for your medicine walk. You’re here to ask guidance from nature and you want to stay open to all omens and signs. Perhaps you’re confused about the direction you’re going in life. Maybe you want guidance about what your true talents and gifts are, and what to do with them. Whatever the question, it should be of a personal nature.

Find an imaginary threshold that you will step over to begin your medicine walk and journey into dream time, or a period of time when everything that happens and everything you observe has special and sacred meaning. You will be stepping back over this same threshold upon your return. This threshold could be the metal barrier to the trail, or the trail sign, or a stand of trees.

Walk purposefully and slowly. Allow your curiosity to seek out things that capture your attention. Don’t analyze everything you observe for meaning, because sometimes the best guidance comes in subtle ways when you least expect it.

When I went on my first medicine walk, I wanted answers on how and when to transition my career. I had a hard time receiving the messages at first. I was looking at everything and assigning meaning. Did the stand of broken aspens mean that I was making changes before I was ready? Did the wind pick up and shake the leaves on the tree because it acknowledged what I just said? Did that deer symbolize something positive or negative? Nothing I was considering felt right. It was as if I was trying too hard and making up my own meaning instead of letting the mystery unfold.

After a few hours, I started to feel tired and hungry and turned around to head back. As I was thinking about my hunger, a strange thought came over me. I looked to the grass in the meadow and was convinced I could dive into it and find food in the form of insects. This wasn’t a logical thought or even a momentary musing. It felt visceral and real, and my body almost followed my eyesight into the grass.

I had no idea where the thought came from. It didn’t feel like any I had experienced before or since. It was as if, for a brief moment, I channeled the thoughts of a bird. The sensation felt wild, foreign, and intense.

Ironically, after all that analysis of every unusual thing I observer, I came away from my medicine walk with just one simple message: don’t try too hard. Stay open. Allow the spirit guide to come to me, instead of searching it out. This could mean staying open on contemplative hikes, or it could mean staying open to what happens in life and allowing opportunities and answers to unfold instead of forcing a direction.

I haven’t channeled any bird thoughts since that one time, but now, coincidentally or not, almost every time I go on a contemplative hike I see ravens. Ravens flying in ecstasy overhead. Ravens sqwaking at me. Once, I observed two ravens, one chasing the other one that had something in its beak. As they flew right above me, I willed the raven to drop his prize, and he did, and whatever it was landed just a few feet from me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find whatever it was since it was small and landed in the snow. But in that split second when I thought, “drop it” and the bird let go of what he was holding right as he flew overhead, there was a connection between us. Once, on a hike with my husband, I was telling him about the special symbolism of ravens and how I experienced the thought of getting food from the grass, and within moments of saying that, we came upon a big raven, pecking at the grass in front of us on the trail. Coincidence or not, I felt validated somehow. The raven then flew up into the trees and watched me. It was surreal.

But what does it all mean?

To me, ravens symbolize freedom and intelligence. Their croaky cry echoing across valleys or the way they seem to fly just for the fun of it is their way of and reminding me about my own freedom. They link me to my own wildness. They’re a reminder not to take life too seriously, but to stay curious and revel in the feeling of the wind in my wings, so to speak.

When you go on your medicine walk, you will find your own spirit guide and message. Remain open but don’t try too hard to read what you’re experiencing. The best guidance comes when you least expect it. Your spirit guide will find you. You don’t need to go looking for it.

To heighten your experience, stop and have a conversation with a being. Tell a tree about yourself. Ask a bird what his life is like. Sometimes it will seem like creatures want to communicate something to you. Birds will follow you. Deer will stare at you. Trees will tremble as you approach. What is it they’re trying to say?

When you complete your walk and step back over your threshold, take a minute to offer gratitude to the land for showing you its ancient and eternal wisdom. You can bow, say thank you, lay your hands on an object or tree and offer it positive energy. Record your impressions in a journal when you get home, when they’re still fresh in your mind.

5 (Free or Low-Cost) Things To Do on Earth Day

April 22, 2010, marks the 40th anniversary of a pivotal moment in time, when 20 million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable relationship between humans and the planet. Earth Day founder, Senator Gaylord Nelson, proposed setting aside an official day on the calendar to commemorate the event. His efforts eventually led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Act.

This year, we have even more serious and global challenges in the form of climate change, peak oil and mass extinction of species. Although no one of us can solve the world’s problems all by ourselves, we can set aside the day to be mindful of our role on Earth, to think about how we may contribute to the healing of our planet, and to take small but important steps lesson our personal impact on the environment.

These steps don’t have to cost anything or contribute to further commoditization (solving problems with more STUFF instead of systematic changes). They can instead contribute to mindfulness, deeper relationships with our friends and family, healthier activities and an appreciation of what we already have. Here are six things you can do to celebrate Earth Day that cost little or nothing:

1. Reconnect with the land by going on a contemplative hike. Recently, a friend of mine told me that she’s met people who have lived in the Denver area their entire lives but never traveled up into the mountains or gone hiking in the foothills. I found this to be astounding and almost inconceivable. How can one look at the mesmerizing views to the west, which change not just seasonally but almost daily, and not want to explore its mysteries and beauty? Many hiking trails are within an hour’s drive of the Front Range suburbs, maybe even as little as 10-15 minutes away, depending on where you live. You don’t need any special equipment to hike most of the trails around town, just a small jug of water and some good walking shoes. If a person has lived along the Front Range and has never gone hiking or exploring in the mountains, they are missing out on blessed silence, the sound of birds that don’t typically reside in the suburbs, fresh air, a sense of peace or wonder or enchantment, or the fragrant whiff of a forest of pine and spruce trees. They are missing out on the access to something timeless, mysterious and wondrous. Nature is neither welcoming nor rejecting. It’s non-judgmental. For this reason, when you’re in the woods or walking through the meadows and canyons, you are free to be yourself and feel whatever you want to feel.

I’ve scheduled a free Earth Day group contemplative hike in Golden at the White Ranch Open Space Park starting at 9 a.m. from the Belcher Hill trailhead. Click here for more information.

2. Invite friends over to watch an uplifting or thought-provoking movie about nature or the environment. Whatever you feel about nature or animals, someone somewhere has already felt and expressed a similar sentiment. That’s why it’s inspiring to experience the visual arts, film, literature, poetry when they reflect our values and feelings, and share the experience with our friends and family.  Earth Day is a great day to go outside, but if you’ve spent the day hiking and just want to relax, pop in a good nature flick and invite some friends over for some local brew. If you plan ahead, you can order these films from Netflix or Blockbuster Home Delivery.

My personal Favorites are the Planet Earth series, Into the Wild, Winged Migration, The Yearling, and The Girl and the Fox, a French film from 2009.

3. Plant some hardy flower or vegetable seeds. Whether you have a garden where you live, or just enough room to put out a clay pot near your front door, late April is the perfect time for many hardy varieties of vegetables and flowers.  You can plant pansies, alyssum, peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, potatoes, spinach, turnips, cabbage and lettuce. If you can only do pots, then spinach, lettuce and hardy flowers seeds can be planted now. Gardening is relaxing and connects you to the weather and climate of the land, because when you’ve invested time and energy into the soil and into your seedlings. You know exactly when it will rain, how much precipitation your garden received, and ultimately rejoice in a good balance of sun and moisture. There’s nothing like gardening to make a rainy day seem welcome. You’ll become aware of when the nighttime temperatures get above freezing, when the date of the average last frost occurs, and how what exactly constitutes “normal” in terms of climate, from one year to the next.

4. Honor your land by picking up the trash around your neighborhood.

There’s a lot of trash that accumulates along the side of the road near where I live in Westminster. It’s not because people are necessarily littering out of their cars. It’s mostly because of what happens on windy days. Recyclables get blown down the street, paper products fly out of the backs of pickups, dumpsters, and parking lots. Plastic grocery bags get snagged on wire fences and in the branches of trees. It’s hideous, and someone ought to clean it up. Why not take an hour and let that “someone” be you? Who knows, you might inspire someone else to do the same thing.

5. If the weather is nice, eat dinner with your family outdoors, picnic-style, and enjoy the sunset. I actually enjoy eating outdoors this time of year, when it can be warm and pleasant but the bugs and wasps aren’t out in full-force yet. The sun will be setting around 7:40 p.m. on Earth Day in Colorado, so that affords plenty of time to pack a lite dinner and head off to the local park, your backyard, or a nearby picnic area. Challenge yourself and your family to spot at least 5 different kinds of birds or animals while you enjoy your meal.

6. Turn off the TV and computer and pay attention to the nature around you. Nature is everywhere. Your pets are nature. Your friends are nature. YOU are nature. Nature is not something “out there” to be either feared or revered. We are part of the circle of life. Contemplate this. Spend an evening unplugged and really see what you haven’t noticed lately. Ask your spouse or partner what has been troubling them lately or what’s given them joy in the last few days. Write a poem about what you see outside your window. Meditate under a tree. Take a walk around your neighborhood and say hello to the people you encounter. When you make a habit out of mindfulness and outdoor activities, pretty soon you’ll discover that you feel happy anticipating things that cost nothing and require nothing of you: longer and warmer days, trees budding out, the return of meadowlarks and other migratory birds, the smell of the air after a thunderstorm.

Commemorating Earth Day doesn’t have to be about protest, or doom-and-gloom, or angst over societal apathy or stalled political action. Those frustrations can be set aside for a day, while you actually listen to what the Earth is trying to say, what you’re working so hard to accomplish the other 364 days of the year, and why.

Activity for the Blue Moon on December 31st

On New Year’s Eve this year, a rare celestial event will be recorded — the second full moon in a month on December 31, 2009. Two full moons in a month aren’t rare because they occur once every 2-1/2 years, but a second full moon in December happening on New Year’s Eve is.

The term that was coined for this is “Blue Moon.” It doesn’t mean the moon will appear blue in the sky, although that did happen late in the 19th century after a volcanic eruption left particulates in the skies for 2 years and created the illusion of  “blue moon.” This was also one of the origins of the term “once in a blue moon,” which defines an event so rare it only happens once in a lifetime, or longer.

The fact that the article about the Blue Moon event was the most viewed this morning on CNN is a good thing – perhaps people all over the world will step outside tomorrow night and ponder the skies for at least a moment. They will be mindful that despite everything happening in their own lives and in the geopolitical stage, there are natural cycles that churn away predictably in the background, whether we’re aware of them or not. The moon rises and sets on the horizon. The Earth revolves on its axis. The sun shines day after day, millennia after millennia. So much of this we take for granted, but it’s critical to our existence.

I used to love meditating on the sky at night when I was in my late teens, imagining that there was no atmosphere between me and the cosmos, that I could simply jump up and fly off into the sea of stars. The moon and stars weren’t just objects in the sky in my mind, they were ancient entities of energy and mass that have existed way before humans rose up on two feet and formed clans. The moon and stars are our ancestors. They’re part of the larger home of our Universe.

This New Year’s Eve, go outside at some point after sunset and ponder the moon if it’s a clear night and you can get an unobstructed view. Try to feel your feet on the ground, pretending that there’s nothing holding you back from simply lifting up your arms and flying off into space. Try to see what is making the moon so bright in your mind’s eye: the sun shining on the other side of the planet, casting its glow on the face of Earth’s natural satellite. Feel how it feels to be riding this giant spacecraft, rotating slowly, held in place by gravity, cradled and protected by the atmosphere.

What you’ll see is the past—light from objects that may have long since expired or exploded, or changed. There are things happening in the universe that we don’t know about yet, because we can’t see the light from those events because it’s still traveling to reach our eyes. How does it feel to know that when you look up at the sky at night, you’re not seeing the present? That you’re looking back in time? We don’t experience that on Earth—everything actual object (not photos or movies) we see is in “real time”.

So when you look up at the sky tonight or tomorrow night, remember that. You’re looking into the past, and you’re seeing something that’s been in existence long before you were born, or even before your great great great grandparents were born. Whatever happens in the news or in your own life today, there are natural cycles that occur without any effort from us, that are out of our control, and those cycles both keep us alive and pull us forward toward the entropy of our own existence.

Winter Solstice Ritual

Winter Solstice Ritual

Spending time in nature has the incredible ability to make us feel peaceful and grounded. As an ecopsychologist, I know that human beings need a connection to something wild, whether that be a pet, a garden, or a mountain in order to feel soulful and happy. I see how couples who backpack, hike or garden together are able to—at least for a while—put their troubles behind them when they immerse themselves in the beauty of the wilderness. Studies have shown that spending time simply walking in a natural setting (as opposed to simply walking in the mall, for example) can have immense psychological benefits, including reduced anxiety and depression.

One way to honor the natural world and actual form a relationship to the land where you reside is to acknowledge the passing of the seasons. Solstice ceremonies and rituals date back millennia, when societies were much more in tune with natural cycles because their very livelihood and wellbeing was so intricately tied to the land, the weather and their animals. Celebrations were rich with food and drink—one last feast before the start of the long period of uncertainty and possibly starvation during the cold months of January through April.

We are now approaching the next solstice, which is the winter solstice, or the first day of winter, typically falls around December 21st in the northern hemisphere. The solstice is the day in which the sun begins to rise earlier and set later, making for longer days and shorter nights. The day of the solstice is the shortest (and darkest) day of the year, but it’s also the beginning of a trend toward longer days, even though it marks the first day of winter.

I designed a do-it-yourself winter solstice ritual around the concept of preparing a seed that will hopefully sprout and take root in the spring, both literally and figuratively. Because the solstice is the start of longer days at the same time it’s the beginning of the coldest season, it represents the preparation for new beginnings at a time when it’s easy to forget that things will once again thrive and grow. Maybe you’ve lost something of importance to you this year. Maybe something didn’t quite turn out the way you had hoped—a relationship, a job, or a financial venture. On the day of the solstice, you want to plant “seeds” for new beginnings and new hope for things to blossom for you in the coming year. The seeds will lay dormant for a few months, just as your dreams may lay dormant while you make background preparations for the changes you want to make.

This is a ritual you can do alone or with a friend or romantic partner.

You’ll need a few days to research and prepare for this ritual. You want to lay the groundwork and give your seeds the best possible chance to grow and thrive. First, you’ll need to know what are some of the native plants or grasses that grow in your bioregion. Here where I live in Colorado, buffalo and blue gamma are the native grasses that grow in the plains right up to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. For the ritual I’m doing, I bought a small amount of this seed at my local nursery. Learning about the native plants in your area is a way to know more about the land where you live, more than just where the nearest mall is. It’s the kind of knowledge our ancestors needed in order to live sustainably with their bioregion.

Once you have a list of native plants, you can visit your local nursery order seeds online. Purchase a small amount of some kind of grass, wildflower or plant that will grow without much human input in a meadow, open space or park near your home.

Next, find out what time the sun rises on December 21st where you live. This will be important for your ritual. Also, think of a park, wild area or trail that has a good view toward the southeast horizon near where you live. Preferably, this should be a wild area that isn’t landscaped with grass, an area that would be good ground for growing the seeds you purchased. Ideally, it should be an area where the plants you purchased already grow naturally or where the ecosystem would not be disrupted with its introduction.

On the night before the solstice, take a small amount of the seeds and mix them with compost, garden soil or some kind of seed starter mix. Place the mixture in the middle of a square of brown paper bag, like a lunch bag or a grocery bag. Carefully wrap the mixture as if you were wrapping a gift, and secure it with thread or a very thin piece of tape. You will be taking this with you on the morning of the solstice, along with a pen or marker.

On the morning of the solstice, plan on arriving at the natural area or park at least 15 minutes before the sun is scheduled to rise. After parking your car or arriving on foot, take a minute to center yourself in the space and state your intention. What are you here for? Ask the land permission and blessing for your ritual. You and your partner should then begin to walk or hike on the trail in meditative silence, allowing yourself to be mindful of your surroundings. Notice the way the air smells, the way the wind sounds as it moves across the land or through the trees. Notice if you hear any wildlife. What does the sky look like in this moment at sunrise on the shortest day of the year?

You’ll want to walk or meander in this space for a short time, watch the sunrise if possible, and relax into the surroundings. Then, when you’re ready, take out the seed packet you prepared and the pen you brought with you. What do you want to let go of that you’ve lost in the last year? What new challenges or hopes do you have for the coming year? What “seeds” would you like to plant for your life on this day.

Write down some words directly on the brown paper that represent what you are hoping to incubate and nurture for next year. It could be things like a good relationships, a new understanding of someone you love, better friendships, a new job or career. Perhaps you want to nurture new, positive habits. Write down two or three words to represent your hopes and goals.

Let your heart lead you to a spot where you know your seeds have the best possible chance to grow in the spring—a spot with lots of sunshine and good soil. Take the seed packet and place it under the snow or bury it a little bit on the ground (depending on the weather that day). Place it somewhere where it won’t easily be found, where it will remain sacred and safe.

Return to your home or car again in silence, to honor the moment and contemplate both the real seeds you’ve placed on the earth and the metaphorical seeds you’ve placed in your subconscious that will hopefully take root and thrive in the months ahead.

When you return home, have a big breakfast feast—lots of delicious sweet and savory things to nourish you. Share your impressions with your friend or partner. Talk about how you can help nurture each other’s “seeds” in the months to come. This is a new “outside of your head” way of bonding with them, and you may find yourself remembering in the days ahead how magical it felt to be out in nature at sunrise on the shortest day of the year, in a solitude we don’t often experience in the city.