John Milton (Founder and CEO of Way of Nature)
Karen Henderson (El Sagrado Farm, La Jara)
Emilia Trujillo (Student, Antonito, CO)
The log I sit on is weathered, worn by wind, dust, rain, and time. There are bright orange and green splotches of moss clinging to its bark. I hear crickets flying about, clicking their wings in a loud sporadic pattern that rises above the cheerful noises of the river. A slow and steady hum of bees weaves in and out of cottonwood trees. I notice the way the wind tugs at my hair and feel the sun warm my skin. I feel the dry grass crunch under my feet, and I smell the crisp air of a morning breeze. The Rio Grande river flows gently, reflecting muted colors on the surface of the water. Three massive trout hide in its shadows. The trees are relaxed, wise, watchful against a backdrop of mountains dusted in powdered sugar snow. In this moment, I realize that there is nowhere to be, no one to please, and for the first time in a while, I breathe in the relaxed pulse of the natural world.
So often, when I’m in nature, I’m on the move. Backpacking, running, biking, or skiing, I’m usually doing an activity that carries my legs and my mind across many different ecosystems and many different thoughts. I find myself rushing through nature, focused on some arbitrary time or athletic goal. I don’t stop to look around. I’m trapped in my own head. But today, it’s different. As I sit still along the riverbank, I begin to feel a new sense of comfort. I feel grounded. Alive. I’m aware of the bee buzzing in my ear and the sharp prickle under my leg. I feel humbled sitting along the bank of Rio Grande, awed by a sense of beauty and wonder at my newfound magic spot, and grateful for the teachers who showed me how to connect to the powerful force of nature over the past few weeks. In fact, I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with three nature experts around the San Luis Valley who have encouraged me to look outside myself to connect mind, body, and spirit, with the life cycles of the earth. They delve into the idea of what it means to be human through the lens of the natural world.
River near La Jara Reservoir
Environmental expert John Milton, co-founder of the Way of Nature, explains his philosophy of connection to nature as a balance between our inner and outer worlds. In 1979, John founded a retreat center in Crestone focused on providing guests with deep relaxation experiences, solo wilderness quests, and meditation retreats in nature. His retreat center aims to give people the skills to recognize instability in their own lives by teaching them how to notice patterns in the ecosystems around them. In our interview, John emphasized the healing power of nature for the human body. He reminded me that re-establishing our sleep-wake cycle circadian rhythm can play a critical role in this healing process. Circadian rhythm is a 24 hour cycle that is part of the human body’s internal clock shown to directly influence diverse aspects of physical and mental health. John explains that one of the simplest things we can do to re-establish our circadian rhythm connection is to go out each morning before the sun is high for at least 20 minutes. He suggests going barefoot to ground ourselves to the earth. In direct contradiction to the blue light of screens that permeate our routines and disrupt sleep patterns, natural morning light can help to revitalize our circadian rhythms, and sync our bodies to the cycles of life. By practicing this daily morning outdoor ritual, John encourages us to experience nature as a sacred space, in order to deepen our authentic relationship to ourselves, create harmony with those around us, and create meaningful change in the world.
Way of Nature Video
Karen Henderson, from El Sagrado farm, has a different approach to connecting with the natural world. She lives on a homestead in La Jara surrounded by lambs, llamas, donkey’s, horses, and chickens. She and her husband grow their own vegetables in a greenhouse on the property. Her philosophy centers around the importance of the observation of animals and their interactions with the world around them. She feels closest to nature when she is with animals. She shares, “Nature can teach us so much. We think we are better than nature. Nature is something we can’t even comprehend. It’s healing to humans to spend time in nature with animals and see what they can learn. It helps with understanding our place in the world.” When I first visited the farm, I was surprised to learn that the animals they raise are not for a profit, or a farm business model. In many ways these animals are pets, teachers, or even family to her and her husband. They treat their animals with respect, kindness, gratitude, and wonder. Karen grins at me, “Miracles happen everywhere. Nature is just waiting for you to notice.”
Lambing Season at El Sagrado Farm
After interviewing two people with lots of life experience, I decided I wanted to speak with someone younger. I asked one of my students, Emilia, an 8 year old girl living in Antonito, what she liked about nature. She smiled, “It’s perfect. It's refreshing. There are no electronics. I feel calm and relaxed in nature. There is fresh air. I like making crafts from nature with my dad.” Emilia is always bringing me nifty looking sticks, rocks, or bugs that she finds at recess that my eyes skim over. She takes my hand and points out a cool pattern in the ice that looks like swirling paint brush strokes. Her excitement for these little natural wonders is contagious, and these moments with Emilia nudge me to take notice and celebrate them.
I feel inspired and thankful for John, Karen, and Emilia who reminded me of the importance of connecting with something greater than myself. My quiet morning meditation along the riverbank of the Rio Grande was inspired by their teachings. Through it, I realized that a sense of place and belonging comes from these quiet moments. I am drawn to nature when I need to get away from the noise of expectation and be allowed to exist as myself in the present moment. So often, we rush through nature. We have a goal: hike to the top of a mountain, climb a cliff face, ski a perfect line, or bike at a fast speed. These goals can motivate us to push our bodies to their limits, encourage us to accomplish different challenges, and provide us with a sense of adventure. But, there is something we sometimes miss when we pursue these purely athletic outdoor endeavors. Something we forget is there. It’s alive, breathing, steady all around us, powerful. It’s in the backyard, with the birds and the squirrels that play chase through the trees. It’s in an ant crossing the road while cars wiz past. We are not separate from nature. If we open our eyes to the here and now we will see it is everywhere; and we must do everything in our power to protect it.
How do you connect with nature?
(Your response is appreciated below)
By: Isabel Lisle (SLVEC Communications Manager)