Plenty of colours

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #210

Last weekend I took a little walk near Amsterdam Zuid station. Despite the biting cold and a short rain-shower here and there, the plants seemed keen on showing off their fresh beauty as I made my way around. It was so bountiful, with dashes of unexpected colour calling out for my attention every few steps.

A tiny magnolia tree in front of a brick wall (the shape of its unopened flowers reminiscent of the claws that my cat Villanelle is so determined to sink into my flesh when she sits on my lap to cuddle.)

The rugged green petals of an intriguing tulip, ready to unfurl.

The pink exterior of a bud just about to reveal its fresh green leaves.

A flush orange bush with tiny popcorn puff flowers.

The deep shiny green of these leaves wrapped so beautifully around each other.

Snowy walk

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #208

Recently storm Darcy swept across the Netherlands leaving a layer of snow over the city and immobilising public transport. The first couple of days the clouds hung heavy and the wind was blistering cold, but that didn’t deter anyone from going out. The streets and parks were full of people dressed in full-on ski-suits and colourful hats and scarves.

Wrapped in my many layers, I also went to explore, enjoying the crunch of every step in the fine snow. It’s amazing how these paths, that I’ve been walking along so regularly during the last months to keep my sanity during lock-down, looked so new and exciting just thanks to a beautiful dusting of snow.

It was also fun to watching people on long-distance skis making laps around the park, children on fancy sleighs or simple constructions made from kids’ chairs cleverly tied together, snow-people and snow-forts being built on the side of the road…

Purple

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #207

On the last day of 2020, I took a long solo walk in the Amsterdamse Bos. It was a calm sunny morning and I wanted to be outside and feel the cold air on my cheeks as I reflected about the crazy year that was coming to an end. The path I chose to walk down was a bit muddy at the start which I guess discouraged other walkers and so I was alone nearly the whole time, accompanied just by birds singing and fluttering from branch to branch. As I strolled along slowly, it turned out to be a treasure trove of gorgeous winter details. I especially fell in love with this beautiful purple colour – also to be found on the photo on my last post. I will never tire of the unexpected colourful details to be found in the forest and the joy of observing nature as it moves through the seasons.

A taste of that holiday feeling

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #206

Lately I’ve been trying to see things in grey scales – and no, I’m not referring to 50 shades of Grey;-), I mean less thinking in black and white or in extremes. For example, I’ve been craving a far-away holiday to ‘get away from it all’, but obviously that is not really ideal right now. Instead of thinking, ‘Argh, I can’t go on holiday’ and closing off that thought, frustrated, I tried to see if I could find an in-between way. I reflected on what it is about that holiday feeling that helps me feel so good, to see if there was any other way to tap into that without travelling anywhere.

I came to the conclusion that it was not so much about where I went, but that it was more of a mindset. When I’m travelling I tend to be disconnected from the internet and screens, more in the moment and attuned to everything new and exciting around me and to spend time outdoors without rushing, being productive or feeling like I should be tackling things from my to-do list. So a couple of weeks ago I planned an Artist Date that I hoped would give me that feeling, time scheduled just for myself to do whatever I want with no plans.

I slept in and upon waking made sure to stay offline and leave my phone in the other room. I made myself crêpes for breakfast, sprinkling them with sugar and lemon juice like when I was a kid, and ate them while looking out over the gardens and watching the birds.

Then, belly full, I went for a long walk in the sun along the Oeverlanden, close to where I live. Just as I would have done if I was on holidays, I switched off and refused to entertain any thoughts about laundry that needed doing or applications that needed sending. I slowed down and fully enjoyed traipsing along, listening to the sound of the water lapping at the bank, exchanging a few words with a fisherman who had just caught a gigantic carp, and generally let my thoughts wander to the rhythm of my feet.

When I arrived home, pink-cheeked from the ice-cold wind and ravenous, I dug up a home-made curry from the depth of my freezer, all I had to do was heat it up and I could tuck in, practically like going to a restaurant. Then I flopped onto the sofa to read cosily under a blanket for a while. By the time I reconnected with the world later that day, I felt fresh, recharged and rested. Turns out it was as easy as that.

Looking closely

Today I’m happy to share a few more pictures from my recent visit to the Botanical garden. The picture above was taken through the glass at the back of the greenhouse (which is not open to the public at the moment due to COVID-19). Glad to see the cacti and succulents are clearly thriving with the reduced human presence;-)

In the outdoors part of the Botanical garden I took my time looking closely at the myriad of different species to spot some interesting details. I love the texture on the back of this leaf. It looks to me like a map of Amsterdam with wonky little canal houses on both sides of the leaf-nerve roads.

As always, I was on the lookout for colour combinations that catch my eye. These pinkish young leaves are lovely and I like how they gradually turn green as they mature.

I also liked the delicate simplicity of these pointy leaves, just a slightly lighter colour than the green around them and not quite symmetrical.

Over a thousand trees planted

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #205

One morning last week, I was disturbed by the sound of a chainsaw coming from one of the gardens that my balcony overlooks. I went to check what was going on and to my horror, found that a tall conifer was being sawn into pieces. The combination of the sound of the chainsaw as well as the thud of branches and logs crashing to the ground below made me very anxious and sad. In about 20 minutes it was over. Silence returned and all that remained of the tree was some scattered sawdust.

But this is not a sad tale about neighbours preferring a little more sunlight over a living tree. Coincidentally a few days later, I went to help at my local CSA where over the course of two days volunteers would help plant over 1000 trees that will grow into a thick hedge around the crops to protect them from the wind. It felt like a chance to set things right.

It’s impressive what a small group of people can achieve with team work, motivation and the right guidance. It was a cold Sunday morning, barely a few degrees above zero, but I had piled on lots of warm layers and working with our spade warmed us up immediately. We made precise trenches, digging out the compact clay. Then placed the trees twenty centimetres apart. We broke the clay soil into smaller chunks and after mixing it with rich compost distributed it around the roots. Finally we watered the trees and added a layer of mulch (steaming autumn leaves salvaged from a nearby golf-course) around their base.

There was a wonderful atmosphere, chatting about all sorts of things as we worked, and the sun even came out over the beds at the end of the afternoon. The trees may look a little underwhelming right now, but I am really grateful to have participated and cannot wait to see how the trees wake up in spring, growing together to protect the crops and create more bio-diversity.

We rounded the day off with some delicious glühwein whilst warming our cold fingers by the fire. Cycling on the way home, I was rewarded with a beautiful moody sky over the water.

*****

Planting trees is a very effective way to combat climate change and it’s easy to contribute even if you don’t have a garden. Search for initiatives in your area to participate in person or donate to. If you are in Amsterdam, for example you can consider supporting this local food forest which is crowdfunding at the moment. Another easy thing to do is using Ecosia as your default search engine, so each time you satisfy your curiosity you’ll also contribute to planting trees. Feel free to add other initiatives you know of in the comments too!

Happily mixing soil and compost (photo taken by Lisa who works at the CSA)

Autumn in the Botanical garden

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #204

Botanical gardens are a wonderful outdoor place to retreat to in these COVID times and because the plants evolve so much over a short period of time you can return regularly and feel like you are discovering a new place. No matter how often I go to the Botanical garden in Amsterdam Zuid, every visit is different and new details pop out every time.

On that cold morning, I first went to the French consulate to apply for my passport renewal. The process these days involves two temperature checks by the security guard, waiting room with face masks, handing over my paperwork to the clerk on the other side of the plexiglass added to her desk and a whole lot of hand-sanitiser gel… I’m very glad that they are taking careful precautions, but couldn’t get out of the stuffy office and into fresh air fast enough. Luckily, the Botanic garden is just a few minutes bike ride away:)

Apart from the people working in the garden, I was the only visitor, so I could really take my time strolling through the alleys, unworried about people getting too close, and slowly marvel at the variety of plants. The highlight that morning was the fall colours. Reds, pinks, yellows and oranges catching my eye all around me, the last ones hanging on the branches, on the ground, or landing among beds of other plants forming new creations…

As I start taking pictures, my breathing always deepens and I enter into a lovely state of flow. I am unaware of time passing as I crouch down to look at the ground at what treasures I might find and drop my knees into the soggy soil to closely look at the lines and textures on the plants.

*****

I’ll share more pictures from the Botanical garden soon. In the meantime for pictures of my previous visits click here. If you are in Amsterdam, I highly recommend a visit, you can find all the details and adjusted opening hours on their website.

Natuurpark Vrije Geer

Thanks to the beautiful autumn we’ve been having, I’ve had the chance to go walking in lots of different parts of Amsterdam lately. I vary my destination based on which friend I am meeting up with, how long I have until the next predicted rain shower or if I am in another neighbourhood for some errand, and I usually try to loop through a park if possible.

The other day I needed to pick up second hand gum-boots that I’d found via Marktplaats in Sloten, an area of Amsterdam where I rarely go. While planning my route on Google maps I spotted a small green area and decided to take a look on my way back.

At first I thought I couldn’t enter the park and that it was just a green wetland for birds as there were many coots and geese pecking around in the grass undisturbed. But I cycled around the perimeter until I found an entrance and a plaque with the name Natuurpark Vrije Geer.

The sky was grey as I walked along the path. The park had recently undergone maintenance as lots of reeds and grasses had been cut around the remaining shrubs and trees. It was quiet, with birds flitting here are there among the willows, tall reeds, ferns and autumn colours…

I also came across trees laden with funny fruit that look like a small brown apple with tentacles. Some light googling later on led me to the Dutch name mispel (or medlar in English) which is a plant that has been cultivated since the Roman times and carries fruit into the winter. Apparently you eat the medlar when it is overripe and has become sweet like apple sauce. I’m curious to try it!

*****

Back home I read up about the history of the park. I found out that in the 90s the city of Amsterdam was rapidly transforming meadows and nature in the area into constructible zones and also threatened to run the tram line through this space. There were protests against this, which led to a local referendum in which over 200 000 people voted. Luckily 90% voted against housing construction and that’s how the park is a thriving ecosystem to this day. I found it interesting to read that the municipality was surprised that so many people showed up to vote for keeping a piece of land barely anyone was aware of before. To me this is an important reminder of how vital it is to involve citizens in decisions that impact their environment.

Click the links for more info about the referendum for Natuurpark Vrije Geer and the fauna and flora it harbours (in Dutch).

Walks with friends

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #199

In the last few days, we’ve been blessed with some beautiful weather, and I’ve been trying to soak up warm rays of sun while it lasts. As the measures to curb COVID-19 get stricter again in the Netherlands, I realise how lucky I’ve been to be able to go on safely-distanced walks with my friends in the months since the start of the pandemic.

Though in the past my modus operandi was heading out my front door spontaneously and strolling through my neighbourhood by myself, since March I’ve had the joy of regularly meeting with different friends for a breath of fresh air in one or the other of Amsterdam’s lovely parks, instead of going to the cinema or sharing a meal.

The rhythmic motion of putting one foot in front of the other is so grounding and perfect for catching up, hatching plans and dreams, and speculating on how the next months will unfold.

We also discuss mundane things like latest tested recipes or series we are bingeing, watch goats hidden among high nettles or hunt for the corner of the park which catches the very last rays of sunlight… making these moments a real balm in moments of loneliness, difficult decision making and uncertainty about the future.

Sometimes our walks include an ice-cream, a good coffee or a ginger ale with a side of fries, but just the act of simply getting together and airing thoughts that have gotten stuck in a loop, and sharing a chat and some laughs is enough for me to feel human again.

Holidays are for…

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #191

Lying on my bed in the middle of the afternoon, feeling the breeze come through the open door to the balcony and reading uninterrupted for several hours.

Not setting an alarm and being woken up by the sound of a grumpy and insistent jay.

Having a spontaneous skype call with a friend in the middle of the day.

Taking a calm evening walk lost in thought as grey clouds slowly fill the sky and being cooled by the thick raindrops falling lazily down on my way home.

Walking through rows of trees laden with apples and pears, carefully choosing the fruit that look ripe and unspoilt, then turning them gently upside down until they break off neatly into my hand. Filling my tote bags full of them, as the smell of rotting fruit wafts up from the grass, black and orange butterflies and wasps happily gorging themselves at my feet.

Reserving a time-slot and popping on my face-mask to go see a photography exhibition and being able to linger in front of the snapshots I like best.

Exploring the Beatrixpark at night and searching for the perfect spot, away from the light pollution, to watch lightning majestically rip through the sky.