Woodpecker Songs: A Nature Lesson on Nourishment
If I wouldn’t have chosen divorce nine years into my past relationship, we would’ve been together 25 years today. Instead of growing through marriage, I continue growing and healing through nature.
Since moving back to St. Paul, MN four months ago, I’ve encountered more woodpeckers than I’ve encountered across my entire lifespan. There’s a Pileated Woodpecker I often see in my apartment courtyard and, because of my woodpecker neighbor, this is the first year I’ve known their laughter. It might’ve taken me 41 years to understand the theme of Woody Woodpecker, but I finally get it. I hear you, Woody!
Over the decades, I’ve become very aware of my sensitivity to sound. In fact, I think sound was one of a few factors in my divorce. I have a high startle response; I wake up to subtle noises in the night; I can’t have my stereo volume past four on a scale of eleven; my skin crawls when the TV is kept on for "background noise"; if I'm lost while driving or there's snow/rain/traffic, I have to turn the car radio totally off; and I have heard "damn, you have good hearing," by more people than I can count. It’s often a curse and can be a point of contention. Today, I intentionally focused on the blessing.
When I went to my local park to share the nature love this afternoon, I knew I was going out to focus on sounds because of a prompt from fellow mindful photographer Kim Manley Ort and her 2021 project "Seeing Clearly." In the woods of my local park today, and pretty much every time I hike there, I hear the woodpeckers.
Specifically, I heard a Pileated Woodpecker. For a more biological and ecological perspective on this amazing bird, please read this creatively written blog by Ken Bevis, a DNR Stewardship Wildlife Biologist, "Just About the Coolest Bird Around: the Pileated Woodpecker."
I started thinking about how many times I’ve banged my head against the same person/problem/experience over and over, even when it was not the least bit nourishing. That’s exactly how I stayed in an unhealthy relationship for nearly a decade.
>>> I need to take a quick detour from this woodpecker metaphor to acknowledge the sudden, tragic passing of my ex-husband in 2019. I grew up (literally and figuratively) through our relationship. May he rest in peace. <<<
Nature photography is an experience I'm happy to continue banging against. It's something I've worked at for 25 years and, while the intention behind it has evolved and there have been real challenges I've had to overcome, it has been mostly nourishing - even when I don't get the image I intend on the first attempt or the final attempt!
I've attempted to photograph this tree with the woodpecker excavations multiple times. This last time, I followed the woodpecker's lead and made micro-movements between exposures. Here's an example of how minor movements can change an image. What do you notice about how the micro-movements changed these two?
Here are additional perspectives to consider:
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I could come up with a long list of head-banging examples that were not nourishing, but instead I’ll end by sharing one of the ways I’m entering 2021 with greater woodpecker-like intention: moving forward, I will only put repeated effort into people/problems/experiences that provide (more often than not) mutual nourishment. And if it's time to move on, I will do so with (at least a little bit) of gratitude and laughter.
What nourishing situations will you put your effort toward in 2021?
Nature-based art supports a mindful life.
Over the years, I have tried multiple forms of meditation, but the one practice that has been the most consistent is mindfulness through nature photography. When I go into nature, I am fully alive, energized, and in-tune with the world.
Mindfulness and meditation are intended to help us fully drop into our lives. When we practice mindfulness, there are very real benefits:
Don't feel you need equipment, clothes, apps, and/or a "guru" to guide you. In fact, if you're spending a lot of money on meditation, you are likely contributing to cultural appropriation since meditation is an Eastern concept that Westerners have co-opted to fit our consumer culture. It's not that Eastern forms of meditation can't be beneficial to Westerners, but be conscious of the impact. Be aware of who is benefiting and at what cost. If you feel you need more information, search "cultural appropriation" and, specifically, "cultural appropriation in the field of wellness."
If you become aware that you are causing or have caused harm, it's not too late to turn it around! Quit the practice, confront your privilege, clarify your intentions, make amends, and do better moving forward.
Since the terms mindfulness and meditation are abstract concepts, here are a few ways one might describe the experience.
Nature-based art is a wonderful tool in helping us to simply secure our connection to a meaningful, healthy life. Bringing nature-based art into our homes, offices, and social media spaces, we can receive the benefits of a mindfulness practice as we go about our day-to-day lives.
Here are three ideas for beginning a nature-based art mindfulness practice:
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Mindfulness is a practice; it becomes easier and more beneficial over time. Nature imagery can make your mindfulness practice simple, accessible, and stress-free. Look around your house for a piece of nature-based art and display it for a reminder.
Also, remember that mindfulness is a self-care practice to help you stay grounded and focused so that you can take action toward creating a better world - it is not meant to be a consumer product and it is not meant to stand separate from compassionate action. Keep it simple, get centered, and then use that divine Love to fuel the fight for freedom, equity, justice, and peace.
How have you used art + nature to stay mindful?
courage. creativity. curiosity.
exploration. inspiration. transformation.
These values have become the focus of my life over the 25 years I've been consistently practicing nature photography. Personally, I’ve found that photography has helped me to become more aware of my values, process my emotions, go safely and confidently into the world, and more easily find calm in times of stress and change.
These values are my constant guides and I keep them in focus by regularly getting out into nature with my camera. I’ve found that by taking on the challenges of making meaningful images with a camera, I've also been presented with ample opportunities to become more aware of my surroundings. And taking advantage of those opportunities has slowly transformed the way I see the world. I believe being thoughtful, understanding, and capable in making images inspires the same in living life.
Yes. It’s absolutely possible to make great images using your camera on automatic and pointing the lens at nature’s stunning beauty. To tell your story through images, though, takes self-awareness, thoughtfulness, an understanding of the way your camera sees, and an ability to navigate manual settings - even on a cell phone.
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How has your life been impacted by nature photography?