Erica Wheeler: inspiring connections between people and place

Autumn Begins: Loving it from Cape Cod to the Berkshires

Autumn Begins Loving it from Cape Cod to the Berkshires
Anyone else feeling pumpkin-spice, sweater-weather crazed?
I know I sure am. Today is the Autumn Equinox, so it's officially fall!!!

Find fall near you: Have you ever played with the Yankee magazine interactive foliage map? Very fun. Try it here.

I'm looking forward to celebrating the coming season in song and story this month, from Cape Cod to the Berkshires. View calendar details here.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


updated: 12 months ago


May 2016/Nature in the City

May 2016Nature in the City
Hi everyone,

I'm thrilled to be back in DC again.

Recently I had the honor of working with the talented rangers who offer programs for visitors at our national memorials and monuments. So many people are not aware that all these special sites in DC are a National Park. (I confess: me included. And I grew up here.)

Here's a link so you can find out all the cool programs and services they offer.

Tomorrow (Saturday, May 21st) I'll be performing on the main stage as part of the National Geographic and National Parks Biodiversity Festival More info here

Nature in the City
During my performance, I'll also be speaking about my teenage years, and how participating in my local Youth Audubon Society Group really saved me. It was such a positive thing to do, and the program gave me a peer group to hang out with who were passionate, curious, fun, intelligent people be around. It also helped me see that right within this urban/suburban environment there was so much "wild" nature to find.

I even went on to attend college as an aspiring wildlife field biologist. That path became clear to me when we were on one of our field trips. It was at a bird refuge at on the Maryland shore where I discovered a plaque on an observation tower that read:

"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free."
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

I had found my tribe. My direction. My lodestar. Right then and there.

And it has woven throughout everything I've done so far.

When touring the park with the rangers on the National Mall this past February and April, I was so often struck how nature wove itself all through my experiences of the monuments and memorials. There was the sun blazing on the names of the Vietnam Memorial, the ducks and geese landing on the reflecting pool, the clouds drifting, giving me a moment to pause, breath and slow down. It was calming to observe, and helped me process everything I was learning. Nature in the city. It's everywhere when we stop and notice.

Here's a participant comment from the training in DC:
"I liked where we were outside and using our senses to experience the area. It helped me slow down and find peace where I am. I think it's a great exercise to find inspiration in our everyday surroundings" "I am looking forward to using this with my visitors."

Upcoming Events 2016
Public Events
05/21 Biodiversity Festival, Bio Blitz, Constitution Gardens, Washington DC, 3:15 p.m. Free.
06/29 Concert, Salt Pond Visitor's Center, Cape Cod National Seashore, Eastham, MA, 7p.m. Free.

Interpretive Trainings (Staff Programs)
05/24 Governors Island National Monument, NYC
06/10 Gateway National Recreation Area, Staten Island, NY
06/29 Cape Cod National Seashore, Eastham, MA
7/21 & 22 Youth Conservation Corps, The Trustees of Reservations, New Bedford, MA

Interested in a professional development training, sense of place performance or a concert?
Write to

Hope to see you!


updated: 1 year ago


April 2016: Spring Blossoms, 2 Free Concerts and National Park Programs

 April 2016 Spring Blossoms 2 Free Concerts and National Park Programs
Blossoms will be arriving any day now in Massachusetts... I know because I've seen your pictures on Facebook, my southern friends!

Some of my favorite flowers are the wild spring ephemerals. They are the first flowers to arrive in the woods. They burst through when things are just right, soaking up sunlight before  tree leaves shade the forest floor. They always seem so sweet and private to me. I feel like I almost have to whisper in their presence. I am drawn to politely lift up their shy bloom, acknowledge their beauty and move on.

Here's my spring wish for you: May the seeds you've been planting in your life start to blossom too!

All the best,

So far, this year feels like it has been filling up with blossoms of the seeds I have been planting for the past several years. A quick recap:

January: I played a local venue, offering my "Soulful Campfire Concert" and it was standing room only.

February: Participated in two Women's Wellness Weekend camps, offering my campfire concert and writing workshop.
Offered my training for the National Park Service at the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington DC. The setting for our classroom was in the basement of the Jefferson Memorial! On the feedback form, one ranger who has been with the park service many years wrote, "I would definitely recommend this component to all career NPS interpreters."  

March: Offered two webinars about fostering a sense of place and creating engaging visitor experiences, one for the National Park Service and one for the New England Museum Association. You can watch the latter here .

April: Earlier this month I gave a training at Historic Deerfield, in Deerfield, MA.
Soon I'm headed off to Salem, MA for another training. I will say, one of my favorite parts about doing these professional development programs is the research. I visit the sites, take tours and learn all I can to get my own 'sense' of each place so I can customize each program. That is so much fun.

With that, I'll let you know I have an exciting schedule of programs coming up. Many trainings, as well as two FREE public concerts. See below.

Spring/Summer 2016
Public Events
05/21 Biodiversity Festival, Bio Blitz, Constitution Gardens, Washington DC, 2 p.m. Free.
06/29 Concert, Salt Pond Visitor's Center, Cape Cod National Seashore, Eastham, MA, 7p.m. Free.

Interpretive Trainings (Staff Programs)
04/26 Salem Maritime National Historic Site & Saugus Iron Mill National Historic Site, Salem, MA
04/30 National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington DC
05/05 Castle in the Clouds Historic House, Moultonborough, NH
05/10 Springfield Armory National Historic Site & Coltsville National Historic Park, Springfield, MA
06/10 Gateway National Recreation Area, Staten Island, NY
06/29 Cape Cod National Seashore, Eastham, MA
7/21 & 22 Youth Conservation Corps, The Trustees of Reservations, New Bedford, MA

Your event?
Last summer I had a blast offering a backyard Soulful Campfire Concert for a friend of a friend. They put together a gourmet s'more buffet, and I brought a customized set of songs. The host wrote, "Erica's Soulful Campfire added magic to our 60th Birthday celebration. Her pre-party, insightful questions about the birthday girl helped her customize a concert to honor her. It was the highlight of the party for everyone in attendance." It's easy to do one. Is your backyard or living room next?

So, if you're interested in learning more about the trainings, or interested in hosting an event such as a workshop or performance, write to me.

updated: 1 year ago


December 2015/ Solstice mp3 + gifts + January concerts and retreats in New England

December 2015 Solstice mp3  gifts  January concerts and retreats in New England

It's winter solstice, that magical journey of the longest night of the year, and of  welcoming returning sun. A great time to curl up with candles, music and spend time with those you love or with your own sweet self in quiet reflection. Here's some free gifts to nourish you on the journey!

Some gifts for you!
  1. If you're new here, I always give this song away for solstice! It's my version of Gordon Lightfoot's "Song for a Winter's Night" from the 2002 Signature Sounds  recording "Wonderland." Free mp3 of my song here: You can purchase the whole disc on the Signature Sounds website—it's full of great artists and songs here
  2. Paul Winter generously gives away a free download of his winter solstice concert in NYC each year. It's a fantastic musical journey with different artists each year. You can download it here
  3. Danielle LaPort is a wonderful writer and soul sister..., and she's giving away a bundle on her site. She's great for you if you're feeling like reflecting on your life and dreams, and you will love this: She's giving away her digital books and workbooks for free here

Wishing you a magical holiday season.

Live Webinar for the National Park Service: Mastering the Art of Interpretation: A Sense of Place Perspective. (Write me for details if you want to join us. It's free!)

22 & 23
Women's Wellness Weekend, Beckett, MA YMCA  Wonderful women + concert, workshops, hikes, crafts. Fun! Registration for the weekend info here

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Lenox MA, Evening Concert.  For registered guests. Info

Mocha Maya's, Shelburne Falls, MA. 8 pm, Tickets $15 (buy early—only 40 seat room!) Info here

Coming up
February 16,17, Facilitating my training for National Park Service Interpreters, National Mall and Memorials Parks, Washington, DC
April 26,  Facilitating my training for National Park Service Interpreters, Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Salem, MA

More to come!

updated: 1 year ago


November 2015/ November Twilight + Cranberries +  Youth Leadership Video!

November 2015 November Twilight  Cranberries  nbspYouth Leadership Video
I've been thinking about the rich colors of the season this month, and about my family and our Thanksgiving traditions. Below I'm going to wax poetic, then nostalgic, and share a video created with some awesome youth I've been working with. Enjoy!

November: The Later Twilight

"October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight." Henry David Thoreau, from Autumnal Tints, Atlantic Monthly, 1862.

Henry starts this article by saying "Europeans coming to America are surprised by the brilliancy of our autumnal foliage. There is no account of such a phenomenon in English poetry, because the trees acquire but few bright colors there." He goes on to describe with poetic beauty the colors, scents and scenes of the season.

What I love here is how he comes to "know" a place through his senses. His essay infuses factual information about nature with personal story, feeling and experience. I love this because it shows how just trying to make sense of what we see, and to describe it, helps us see more. And doing that can help us feel more rooted and connected to places no matter where we are. This is a habit we can cultivate anywhere.

ericawheeler 1235

Cranberry Red

This November, I've been thinking about the rich colors of the season. And about my family and Thanksgiving traditions. Which brings me to cranberries.

Wikipedia says that in "James Rosier's book The Land of Virginia (1605) there is an account of Europeans coming ashore and being met with Native Americans bearing bark cups full of cranberries." (So unfriendly.)

It also says "The name cranberry derives from "craneberry", first named by early European settlers in America who felt the expanding flower, stem, calyx, and petals resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane." (Trying to make sense of what we see by describing it always brings up interesting, creative analogies.)

My mother made a famous cranberry sauce. She is turning 86 this month and lives in a nursing home now, but until just two years ago she lived independently at home and always loved to cook. She had a lot of famous recipes, and four years ago I asked her to start writing them down and emailing them to me.

She sent them with little stories attached. And then sent me more. And more. Until she had sent me 200 recipes.  I put all these together into a book and called it "The Beautiful Table" because we always loved to set the table just right.  It includes all her comments, and a whole section of Jewish favorites. It's really a treasure to have it, especially whenever the holidays come. Here's a favorite. Super simple. Not too sweet.


Cook on stove top.
This is the cranberry sauce that we always serve with the Thanksgiving Turkey.  Really a "family" recipe.

1 12 ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 can mandarin oranges (see next ingredient)
1 can mandarin orange juice + water to equal 1 cup
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Mix together mandarin orange juice from the can of mandarin oranges, and water and bring to a boil.  Add the sugar and boil until all the sugar has dissolved.  Add the cranberries and boil until the berries have popped.  Remove from the heat and stir in the mandarin oranges and the walnuts to make a lovely relish accompaniment to the turkey and stuffing.  Refrigerate if there is any left and it will keep for a week or longer.

It is absolutely delicious.

Try this: Your Story

Heritage and Food: Ask your family members for their favorite recipes, and urge them to include comments about them if they can. Assemble into a book for a gift that everyone will appreciate!

See more: Try and describe something in nature or describe an unfamiliar historic object just to see what kinds of images and analogies come up with when you try to make sense of it.

Youth Leadership Programs

There's a big push right now for the National Park Service Centennial in 2016 and they have developed a  "Find Your Park" campaign, which generously encompasses finding your park anywhere, not just a national park. I am interested in what people discover when they find their park.

For me parks, natural and historic, urban or wild are places to learn and explore both externally and internally. When I work with people, I teach a sense of place process which helps them learn about a place, and themselves at the same time.

Working with some awesome youth and the fabulous Nora Priest, we made a video following some of the process I am talking about, helping them find their stories of connection to a place. (Just so you know, the video is a pilot project and it's meant to be youth centered and youth made. It's not intended to be scripted or slick. I'm sharing it with you guys becasue I'd love to hear what you think!) Please share with anyone you know who might be interested in connecting youth to parks!

More about my Youth Leadership Programs here

New Bedford YLA Find Your Park
from Nora Priest on Vimeo.

Learn more about this NPS project HERE

About Erica

Erica Wheeler is the creator of "The Soulful Stewardship Method" and "The Language of Place" programs, which inspire people to discover and share their personal sense of place connections. She is a TEDx speaker and an award-winning songwriter who has performed nationally and worked with National Parks, State Parks, Historic Sites and Conservation Organizations across the country, offering professional development trainings, seminars and keynotes. Her latest CD "Good Summer Rain" was sponsored in part by the Trust for Public Land, and was the winner of the 2008 NAI Media Award for "Best Interpretive Music."

Booking Info

To hire Erica for your next community event or for a keynote, training, workshop or academic seminar, write to


"In our environmental curriculum, where sensing and understanding the connections between academic disciplines are essential, we are always looking for ways to tie together course work. Erica's workshop and concert were exactly what our students needed. She helped them bring together all their ways of knowing, so they could better understand their relationship to place." Tim Farnham, Director of the Center for the Environment, Mount Holyoke College, MA

updated: 1 year ago


August 2015/ Wild Blackberries

August 2015 Wild Blackberries
Last summer we were hiking a trail that led up to the power lines. We arrived there on a day when blackberries were ripe and exploding everywhere. We promptly started gorging ourselves on the berries when it occurred to us that there were probably others who wanted these berries too. Bears.

Sure enough, just a ways up you could see evidence where the grasses were matted down, and they left the imprint of a happy bear sitting in the middle, surrounded by bushes. You could just imagine him sitting there swiping his paw and devouring plump black berries. Ah, summer. Just thinking about it makes me think we need to get back up there to the ridge this month.

Everybody needs a summer day to gorge on ripe fruit, sunshine and heat. Even with our busy lives, we need to carve out time to create memories we can hold close to our heart when the snow flies.

There's also a lot of evidence that berries are good for you and one of the foods that help ward off Parkinson's‎ and Alzheimer's (which my mother now has) so I plan to eat a lot of them, and at least create more long term good memories I can look back on.

How do you relish summer? What's your idea of a perfect summer day? Post a comment

updated: 1 year ago


May 2015/ How to Find a Sense of Place, No Matter Where You Are

May 2015 How to Find a Sense of Place No Matter Where You Are
This weekend, I'm driving to Ontario where I am the keynote for their parks staff training. I am so looking forward to the journey. I'm planning to stop at Fort Stanwix on the way through upstate NY, which will be a great place to learn about the history of the region. I'm staying at an Inn on the St. Lawrence River. I've never been to the region, and can't wait to go. Then I'll travel along the river, until heading up north to the lakes were the event is being held. I love that I have the time to drive, and see the land unfold, and really arrive, knowing where I am.

Over the past few years I've learned a lot about how the great rivers shaped the places we see today. I am reminded of this powerful passage from a great book I came across this while doing research for programs with the Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge:

"The land was so wild it was essentially impassable; anyone who didn't go by the river didn't go at all. In effect, the river served as its own map. A voyageur who needed to consult it had only to climb the nearest hill. There the route was unfolded, in all its blue-misted splendor: the great dragon tail of the river uncoiling through forested valleys and across the tallgrass prairies and into the vast shrouded swamps, glittering with ten thousand sunflecks, blurred by drifts of drizzle, blazing with reflected herds of brilliant cumulus, on and on toward the horizon. As far as the eye could see, the river was the only road." Lee Sandlin, "Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild."

How to Find a Sense of Place, No Matter Where You Are
This was a recent talk title. I included these three tips:

1. See the Layers: Why does this town look like this? What are the layers of time and history here? Learn about the natural, native, immigrant, industry, transportation developments that shaped a place. (This is a lifelong learning, you'll never stop once you start!)

2. Be Curious about Road Names: Why is it called that? This will give you alot of clues to where you are and what was there before you.

3.Find Your Own Stories: What do you feel, see, think and wonder in this place? What is an experience you have had here? Your own feelings and stories shape your sense of a place. You don't need to know anything to have a meaningful connection with a place, but whatever you learn can only enrich that connection.

Together, all of this will help you make "sense" of a place, and perhaps start a whole train of thought that can lead to a story, essay or song. Who knows?! Try these tips where you live, or wherever you go.

"Living in one of the most magnificent landscapes in the world and I pride myself on the many ways that I appreciate and value this gift of place. Often my attempts to capture the wonder of what I see on film barely begin to do it justice. But when Erica Wheeler comes to town, her passion to give voice to this land and to stretch our hearts wide open is beyond inspiring. I believe we all come away craving an even deeper relationship with, and a renewed passion for our wilderness home." Laurie Shepherd Brown, Certified Life Coach and Integrative Health Consultant, Jackson, WY

Love to hear from you! Write a post below.

updated: 1 year ago


November 2014/Comeback Kids: Hard Cider, Wild Turkeys and Heirloom Apples

 November 2014Comeback Kids Hard Cider Wild Turkeys and Heirloom Apples
This article focuses on success stories that are local and fitting for the season. It's about three comeback kids who were on the brink of vanishing completely, but are alive and thriving today.

The world is always changing, and with news that can consume us with loss, worry and cynicism every day, may these stories help you celebrate late autumn and ground you in the possibilities of what can happen with love, passion, persistence and good old-fashioned know-how.

Hard Cider: Once more popular than water
For early Americans, hard cider was the beverage of choice. Everyone drank hard cider, even children and the elderly in colonial times! It was thought to be safer than water. Production and consumption dropped off dramatically after 1850 due to the temperance movement. Beer became more popular and cheaper to produce and hard cider went out of fashion. Today the creation, quality and celebration of hard cider are vitally alive and well.

This past weekend we attended the 20th Annual Cider Days, an event that was founded by our neighbors here in Colrain, Judith and Terry Maloney of West County Cider. They are often credited as initiators of the hard cider revival, creating their own first batches in their basement in the 80's. This weekend's event was sold out, full of sampling dozens of varieties of hard cider, plus workshops and incredible farm to table food. Have you tried hard cider?

Wild Turkeys: Almost extinct by1851
Lately I've been noticing all the flocks of turkeys eating in the cornfields. There were 30 just behind our house. It's amazing to think that, according to Mass Audubon, in 1851 the last wild turkey was shot in Massachusetts on Mount Tom (Easthampton, MA).

In 1972, Mass Wildlife and UMass started a reintroduction project with just 37 birds! They were trapped in New York State and released, and today the estimated fall population is more than 20,000 birds. You see them everywhere. Huge success story, showing that, when given a chance, the natural world can thrive. Do you have turkeys where you live?

Heirloom Apples: They still grow those here?
Apples have been cultivated in America since the 1600's. Some became standouts for commercial reasons, but many varieties that would've disappeared can still be found, and are now treasured and cultivated.

Earlier this month, we attended a talk at the Williamsburg Historical Society by Russell Powell who just released his book "Apples of New England: A Users Guide" In the book he writes "Biting into a once popular apple discovered in New England tangibly connects us to our past."  A man after my heart.

Learn more in this wonderful "field guide" with histories and qualities of over 200 varieties. He had many there to taste after the talk. Who knew there was such variation? (Highly recommended gift idea!)

Try This:  Do a blind taste test.
See if you can find a market with a large variety of apples. I bought a bunch recently at our local co-op and labeled them in brown paper bags. We've tasted each one without looking at the name, just noting their qualities in a journal, and then looking them up in Russell's book to learn about the history of each one. This is a fun game and great way to celebrate apple season.

BTW, my No. 1 favorite (this time of year for sure) is still the Macoun. They don't last forever, but when they're in season they are tart, sweet, crisp and juicy all at once.

Your Story:  Know any comeback kids?
Do you have some success stories about anything regional or seasonal that was once on the brink of vanishing or being forgotten, that is alive and thriving today?
I'd love to hear your stories too!  Post them below.

updated: 1 year ago


September 2014/Tell it Slant

September 2014Tell it Slant
There's such a quality to the slant of light during these halcyon summer days, isn't there? They're so intensely beautiful, yet they cannot last forever. Might as well dazzle us now, and let us get drunk on that light, so we can go on in a satisfied stupor toward sweater weather.

This time of year always has me stop and take stock. How well am I prepared for the days ahead, both internally and externally?

We've just gotten our firewood delivered, thinking of the days when wood will warm our bones instead of the summer sun. And I've been busy preparing for some super exciting events coming up in September.

My feature article this month is about shining through life's challenges."Tell it slant," Emily Dickinson once wrote.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant, by Emily Dickinson
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

My "word of the year" for 2014 is SHINE, so I've been thinking a lot about this.I've had some amazing opportunities come up, and some challenges. The question I've been asking myself this summer is, "How can I be happy and shine my brightest when this is going on?" There isn't a minute when there isn't something to worry about somewhere. The issues and events may be different, but everyone is facing challenges, both internally and externally, to some degree, at any point in time. How we respond is the key.

Maybe it's the wisdom of age, but I am starting to see that "shine" can include a sort of patina glow. That we can shine anyway, right through the tarnish. It's not either, or. And it's that subtler quality of light that makes it all more real, beautiful and true.

From that slant, I think I can understand how we all can walk forward. Knowing this doesn't solve problems, but it does make problem-solving easier. It doesn't mean looking through rose-colored glasses, or opaque. It does mean looking for the shine, in all its hidden beauty.

My story
I tend to turn to nature or history (or poetry!) when I want to make more sense of my life. These threads of connection make me grateful for the things that stay the same in the midst of change. It's where I discover a moment of dazzle that gets woven into the day. Just one moment that makes me stop and view the rest of the day with greater appreciation. How about you?

Last December I went to Emily's house to celebrate her birthday. I'd never been to the Dickinson Homestead, even though I've lived in the area for a long time. While touring the house, I climbed up to the second floor, and right away noticed a beautiful sunset out a bedroom window. I stood in the doorway and watched the sky turn rosy, bronze and pale blue. And then I noticed the bed by the door also facing the window. Then I saw the desk and quill pen. This was Emily's bedroom! She would have seen the sun set just that way, out her window over the trees. It drew me to her, straight from the heart. It was a link of consistency between the past and present that totally surprised me. It made my heart soar.

Your Story
Where do you turn to make sense of your life?
What roots you to the past?
What brings you consistency, even in a changing world?
How do you shine, even through life's challenges?

Try this: Notice
Notice how the light at different times of day can shift the way things look.
Notice how the light can draw your attention to something you may never have noticed before.
Notice how things can draw your attention and then shift over time, just like the light.

updated: 1 year ago


June 2014/ Find Your Quiet Spot: Outdoor Recreation for Introverts

June 2014 Find Your Quiet Spot Outdoor Recreation for Introverts
A few years ago I was a keynote and offered a workshop at an event that had the word "outdoors" in the title. Somehow I pictured it being a weekend full of people like me. People who loved to be outside because of the quiet. Who sought out nature as an opportunity for reflection and connection with their spirit and their soul. People who thought of nature as a classroom, a best friend, and a place of worship.

But the majority of these people seemed to be athletes who loved outdoor recreation. They liked to be outside to hike, bike, canoe, run, and play sports or any other group activity. They were loud, full-hearted and fun. And they tired me out. It took me a while to figure this out. "Oh, they like the outdoors because it's challenging." They might end up tapping into their inner soul or spirit, but that's not the main point.

We had signed up for a mountain hike one day. We gathered in the parking lot to join our large, happy, rowdy group. Everyone started discussing carpool options, and there weren't enough seats. I said, "Anyone just want to go on a smaller walk, here at camp?" A few people (quietly) raised their hands. Then one person offered, "I know the trail to a heron rookery we could visit." We were pulled in her direction like magnets.

The rookery was amazing, ancient, powerful. A breathing, spiritual place. I can still see our eyes brimming with tears when we first caught sight of it the opening in the forest. I can see the still water, the nests high in the trees, the herons bringing twigs back to their mates, the soft blue sky. And I can still see the others we were with, moving slowly, communicating in whispers and hand signals.

It was a rare sight. It could have been passed by. It took someone who knew the place to take us. To open our eyes and respectfully witness a process of life that has been going on there in that spot for a long, long time. Just to experience it restored some part of me. And just to know it is there today fills me up in the same way, and quiets me inside.

This was awhile ago, and today, I'm not sure which hike I'd choose to be honest. It would all depend on what I needed most. I'm more of an athlete now myself, and these days I have come to realize how much I need strenuous activity on a regular basis to feel really good, AND how I still need time in nature for quiet connection. I "use" the outdoors for physical activity and for inner reflection. Both provide me with a sense of balance and well-being. And that's the point.

Sometimes people don't even realize that places can restore their soul. They're too busy doing other things.

In my sense-of-place work and research I have seen that there are many reasons people visit places, and many reasons we protect and steward places – for recreation, for social activities, for scenic or ecological reasons, as well as for mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

I believe their are easy, yet powerful ways to connect people with nature for its restorative value. And I don't mean doing this for a few bird-watchers, poets and photographers. Everyone can benefit from quiet time in nature – solo, or with a group of people who know how to speak in whispers, and recognize true magic when they see it.

Your story:
Can you recall a time you took the opportunity to just spend quiet time outside without a certain goal or activity in mind? How would you describe it? In what way did it nourish your soul?

Try this:
1) Plan a saunter, as Henry David Thoreau called them. A word which he explained in his essay "Walking" as "beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la SainteTerre,’ to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a Sainte-Terrer,’ a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander."

2) Take note of what you notice. Your ideas could be the start of a great song, poem, or story. The book "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed was an Oprah Book Club Pick and a bestseller. The story is based on the author’s solo journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. Hers was a recreational adventure with a goal in mind. But what she gained in the end was her soul.

3) View this TED talk by Susan Cain, author of the NYT bestseller book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking." (I picked this book up in Bar Harbor last summer while I was on faculty for an all-ages family nature camp. I wonder why I was so drawn to it…) View here

updated: 1 year ago


April 2014/ Quick: What is That Song?

April 2014 Quick What is That Song
They're baaakkk. The Eastern Phoebes. They've got a lot of personality. Or at least in my mind, I think they do. They're a brown bird who lives under the bridge above the river, in our back yard. They return every spring. A harbinger of spring really.

They have a raspy voice, that seems to get raspier. They sound to me to be proclaiming who they are, but at the same time not quite sure. They sound sort of like a confused grandmother. Phoebe? Phoebe. They question themselves. Phoebe? Then answer themselves with certainty. Phoebe. It's sort of like me when I feel old looking for my glasses. Glasses? Glasses.

The raspy voice, combined with the self-questioning tone, and the fact that they winter down south had me creating a character for her, kind of like a grandmother from Florida. You know the type? The polyester pantsuit, the blonde hair, the coral lipstick, smoking a Pall Mall cigarette, even though she knows better. When our Phoebe comes back I hear her saying, in that raspy voice, "Aw, it's great to be back. (puff)  I tell everyone in Florida about this place I got, (cough) under a bridge, not too far from the Berkshires, you know, but right in the middle of nowhere really. I come back here every year. It's so relaxing. (puff) My grandchildren come back too. We all love it here so much. Enjoying ourselves. Great tasting flies. Good to be with the whole family again, you know? Phoebe? Phoebe."

That's one way to remember a bird!

Birders have long used mnemonic devices, creating catchy phrases that mimic the song of the bird, making it easy to remember.

1) Try this:  So how about a mnemonic character? We find this very entertaining way to pass the time! (It's quiet up here…)This is completely silly, anthropocentric and hopefully doesn't ruffle any feathers (hahaha) about stereotyping, but who would your bird be if she were a person? Can you find a photo (or bring an image to mind) of what she might look like if she/he were human?

2) Try this:  Learn more about the bird you hear: You can find the pictures and call for any bird on this comprehensive site from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Learn about the real Phoebe here:

3) Try this:  Make up a saying for the birdsongs you hear: Even though I try to remember the calls I seem to forget most of them by the time spring rolls around again. (One of my favorites has always been the Barred Owl who says "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?") Here is an adorable resource to print that will get you started identifying some common calls!

updated: 1 year ago


March 2014/ Six Cures for Spring Fever

March 2014 Six Cures for Spring Fever
I think it's best to really embrace whatever season or month you are in. To fully embrace it. I always joke that we shouldn't complain about rain or snow, or "they'll stop making it."

But by March, we could use a little help. New England winters can be long, and we need a break now and then. Here are a few of my favorite cures.

  1. Visit a botanical garden. Pretend you're in Florida for an hour. I just took my mother to the US Botanic Garden, and it was a blissful way to spend the morning with her.  We arrived before the crowds, and she loved the flowers and the music. Or just get yourself a nice bouquet for the kitchen table!

  2. Work up a sweat. Going to the gym is the warmest I feel all day sometimes. Over the past year going to the YMCA has become a huge part of my life. I love the high-energy classes, bright lights and loud music.  Weight lifting is my new love, and the Step classes too.  I never thought I'd be a gym person, but it makes being outside that much better when I feel really fit.

  3. Buy a crisp white blouse. It will look so good and optimistic hanging in your closet between all the brown, black and gray.  There's a website I love called the 333 project. It's about how to use 33 articles of clothing to create a 3-month wardrobe that all goes together really well. Truly inspiring. This will get you on a great de-cluttering binge.

  4. Eat food from warmer climes.  Soak up the atmosphere of a restaurant from a warmer country. Mexican,Thai or Indian are my faves. The spicier the food and earthier the decor the better.

  5. Go hear live music. You'll forget the cold when you're gathered together with others and having a great time. (Okay, this is a plug for my concert in Connecticut at the end of the month!)

  6. Find poems that make you smile. This one is from Emily Dickinson. It was in the latest newsletter from the Emily Dickinson Museum.
Dear March - Come in -
How Glad I am -
I hoped for you before -
Put down your Hat -
You must have walked -
How out of Breath you are -
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest -
Did you leave Nature well -
Oh March, Come right up stairs with me -
I have so much to tell -

I got your Letter, and the Birds -
The Maples never knew that you were coming -
I declare - how Red their Faces grew -
But March, forgive me -
All those Hills you left for me to Hue -
There was no Purple suitable -
You took it all with you -

Who knocks? That April.
Lock the Door -
I will not be pursued -
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied -
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That Blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame -
Fr. 1320

updated: 1 year ago