Thursday, July 5, 2012

Natural History

Welcome to the July Mindful Mama Carnival: Mindfulness and Nature
This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month our participants have shared their experiences of mindfulness and the natural world. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

7:30 am.  In the car, in costume.  Living history, ho! 

I tried to muster up a level of appropriate enthusiasm, though the night before I hadn’t even thought about my costume.  I’d spent the last week helping my son put his together, wasn’t that enough?  What does a female Russian cowherd living in a fort on the California coast in 1821 wear, anyway?  The teacher had given us a handout about headscarves and long skirts with no adornment.   As I had stared at it in a ten pm daze, I regretted waiting until long after the thrift stores were closed to begin this process.  My closet offered up a rather hilarious collection of items that somehow added up to an overall Russian peasant effect when I added my son’s old kindergarten apron over the top.  Threw a sleeping bag into the car, and I was set.

Upon arrival at the fort, one thing became instantly clear: there is no rest for the weary.  Or any sitting down.  You must remain in character and make sure your “employees” (read: children) are properly preparing authentic Russian food for 40 people without any modern conveniences, unless you count the pottery butter churn as a convenience, which, I suppose, it was in 1821.  Within a few hours, it was clear to me that the leather boots, which seemed such a great addition to the costume, were a bad idea, and my feet were just going to hurt like heck until our return to the 21st century. 

In the afternoon, someone needed to hike back to the cars to get an emergency form for a girl who was sick and needed to call her parents.  I volunteered.

“Where are you going?” some of the short endentured workers asked.

“Oh, I’m a cowherd, I need to move the cows from their pasture to the barn for milking.” 

I felt like an escapee, slipping out the big fort doors, temporarily removed from the unrelenting work of trying to keep the kids focused on the cooking.  I strode along the coastal path, head ducked against the high ocean wind.  Thinking about the woman I’m pretending to be, her life 200 years ago, and whether she walked this same path with her cows.  The chill air pushing through my clothes made me aware of her in a way I hadn’t been before; her woman’s body had felt these same winds, this same cold.  And she wouldn’t have ever been back in a warm car in another 24 hours, resting her feet.  So we walked together, as I started to understand how intense, immediate and taken for granted was her relationship with the natural world. 

I love camping, I like to be outside, I even enjoy getting cold, wet, and exposing myself to the harshness of the elements at times.  But there is a moment-to-moment choosing in my doing so, a decision to temporarily push myself, that makes these exposures seem like daring fun, not burdensome chores.   Not the cows must get in before dark, never mind that it’s raining and freezing, you simply get it done.  Not the direct and necessary reliance on nature to provide what is needed which humans, for most of history, have experienced.

Once I had retrieved the paper I needed, the cowherd’s ghost and I decided to walk back by a different route, looping through a stand of redwoods and over a hill.  God, my feet hurt!  And I could only imagine how hers must have felt every day, with boots probably made of coarser leather than my own, not to mention that she probably didn’t have any custom orthotic arch inserts for hers.  Down through the shadowy woods we went, aching feet and all, and then up towards the fort, breaking out of the trees into… a miracle.  A small, everyday miracle: trees block wind.  Paraskovia and I were suddenly on a field of sun-warmed grasses, perfect for the cows to graze, and just walking across it was a rest.  I didn’t stop—I was needed back at the fort, but my shoulders sank back into warmth and my sore, sore, feet relented just a bit.  A patch of hillside where the wind doesn’t reach you, and you can finally feel the sun.  Rest for the weary. 

The immense relief of the break from the wind made me understand that for all the time I spend extolling the virtues of nature and “enjoying” it, I am almost entirely protected from it.  For me, it wasn’t the carefully chosen historic foods, the Russian words, the cannon or costumes that gave me a real sense of lived history, it was the wind, and the cold, and that tiny moment of warmth.  For in that moment, a rush of gratitude so deep and real came over me, and I felt a closer connection to the natural world than all my experience of breathtaking views, introspective hikes, and caretaking my plot of earth has ever given me.  I paused, took a breath, said a silent “thank you,” and kept walking.


Mindful Mama Carnival -- Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ Visit The Mindful Mama Homepage to find out how you can participate in the next Mindful Mama Carnival!
On Carnival day, please follow along on Twitter using the handy #MindMaCar hashtag. You can also subscribe to the Mindful Mama Twitter List and Mindful Mama Participant Feed.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Zen and the Art of Raising Chickens Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction has found a connection to nature in her very own backyard, thanks to her chickens.
  • Healing Gemstones and Crystals for Children Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses which genstones and crystals are best used by children to support physical, emotional, and/or spiritual healing.
  • A Gardener’s Meditation Andrea at Tales of Goodness shares how she finds peace and renewal through gardening.
  • Weeding My Thoughts Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro discusses how nature keeps her in the moment and stops her endless stream of thoughts.
  • Grounded in Nature Rani at OmSheSaid shares her walk in nature, and through expressive words, shares this journey to coming home.
  • Embracing the Magic of Moonlit Nights Lucy at Dreaming Aloud shares ways to embrace the magic of moonlit nights with your children and as a woman.
  • Meditation for a Mindful Mama Alinka at Baby Web guides you through her research on the science of meditation, its numerous benefits, and presents to you a life changing meditation exercise.
  • The Wild Within Naturemummy at Motherhood: My Latest Adventure reflects on the soothing qualities of wild places.
  • Nature’s Lessons in Mindfulness Tat at Mum in Search wants to bring the same mindfulness that comes so easily in nature to her relationships.
  • On Manicured Nature: We Roam in Small Spaces Featherstory at The Aniweda Dream shares her gratitude for her limited natural settings and her plans to expand her children's experience with the natural world.
  • Garden (Time Out) Meditation Do you ever need a time out for yourself? Amy at Anktangle finds that during a difficult parenting moment, taking pause to spend a few minutes outside is just the thing she needs to be able to experience renewed patience, focus, and energy.
  • Nature Makes Me a Better Mother Terri at Child of the Nature Isle could not imagine parenting without Mother Nature.
  • The Healing Power of Sunshine Karen at Playful Planet shares her experiences of reneweal in the natural world.
  • Natural History Kenna at A Million Tiny Things gets out into nature, 200 years ago, and isn't sure she likes it there.
  • Nurtured by Nature Darcel at The Mahogany Way shares with us how being in nature helps her feel centered and connected.
  • Mindfulness and Nature Zoie at TouchstoneZ explores the connection between mindfulness and the natural world.
  • A Sense of Awe and Wonder Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares the feeling she never fails to get from the natural world and how it guides her to the mindfulness she craves.


  1. I love your writing Kenna :)

    Funnily enough, I was recently re-reading the Little House/Laura Ingalls series (my mom bought them for my almost 2-year old...I figured as she isn't really ready to take advantage of them yet I would). Anyway, I was in this kind of constant awe/horror at how drastically nature was involved in their lives...the blizzards, winds, fires, etc. that could and so often did just wipe out everything in moments. And they just went right on...

    I can't say I would want that...but in ways those lives were probably more real...and more grateful for miracles like like the trees breaking the wind.

    1. We've been re-reading the Little House series too! My boys loved it so they are buying the hardcovers one by one as birthday/holiday gifts for my 6 yr old daughter. And that gives them an excuse to re-read them even if they are officially now into Harry Potter & co. I think Pa is the original superhero, larger than life, but we do spend a lot of time thinking about those girls and their lives (even if the books never once admit that they had to use the bathroom).

  2. This is a wonderful story. I don't often pause to give more than token thanks for the choices we have. Or to put myself in the shoes of a woman long ago and compare our similarities or differences. I am often thankful for the sun, but perhaps not that thankful. Thank you for this insightful post. (And beautifully written.)

  3. what a rare and beautiful experience - thank you for sharing!

  4. "for all the time I spend extolling the virtues of nature and “enjoying” it, I am almost entirely protected from it." - Very well said - we can all get a little romantic about nature - because we can protect ourselves from it most of the time. Nature is beautiful, but also tough.

  5. Wow, this is such a beautiful story! It was so interesting to experience the transition you felt from frustration and annoyance to understanding and appreciation of the moment: truly seeing the world through someone else's lens. Thank you for writing this!

  6. So very beautiful and moving to read this! I was taken back to a time unknown, yet very known........wonderful depiction of working with, for, and along side nature and all her powers!

  7. Beautifully written, Kenna! I loved reading about your adventure ... very reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie! After growing up 40 miles from DeSmet, South Dakota, and realizing what they must have gone through, I'm a bit obsessed with that series.

    And I loved your comment in the comments that the Little House books don't admit they had to use the bathroom! I always thought that was funny, too ... that alone would have been a major problem during The Long Winter. Deb @