Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending a day volunteering on the farm where I get my veggies from, in the West of Amsterdam. It was a beautiful day with a fresh breeze which made it perfect to be working outside, though I was glad I had my sunscreen and hat to protect me as the sun was really beating down. I enjoyed harvesting some greens, forking the soil, placing the tarp along the row, planting some pumpkin plants at a regular distance, watering them…
I dedicated the end of the afternoon to clearing weeds from a long bed. It was the perfect exercise in mindfulness, I was focused on the task at hand, careful to extract as much of the deep roots as possible to avoid the weeds growing back, with the satisfaction of the pile of weeds in my crate getting bigger and the row looking more and more clear of weeds. We finished off the task together with one of the girls who works there, chatting as the sun made its way towards the west and became less harsh.
I’m very grateful for the opportunity to experience working there and learning more about how the CSA is run. The farmers were really kind, patiently explained and showed what needed to be done and answered my many questions. It was physical work and I came home very tired, but in a good way, with the joy of having spent hours with a calm mind and hands in the soil, admiring earthworms, healthy soil and thriving vegetables. Spending time with passionate people and hearing about their experiences, is wonderful because it opens up a world of new ideas and possibilities.
After spending too much time reading the news on Saturday, I decided to go for a walk to get some fresh air, as it is unclear how long we will still be free to do so. I took my camera along and did what is best when my mind gets overworked, which is to enjoy forest bathing and focus on details.
So far in Amsterdam we are still allowed walk outdoors freely, as long as we keep our distances from others. There was a cold wind blowing, but the sky was bright blue with wispy clouds floating by. Spring is progressing undeterred by what is going on for us humans.
It felt really good to be among trees that are coming back to life after winter, with tender leaves budding and catkins of all sorts. I liked how the sun shone through the leaf above, creating a tiny scene with the shadows. As I was walking quietly, a male pheasant crossed the path and disappeared into the undergrowth, leaving me just enough time to admire its bright colours.
I was also captivated by this surreal-looking fungus which looks like very delicate skin. A quick google search leads me to think it might be a Wood Ear Mushroom – but I’m not sure and would love to know more about it if there are any experts reading this:)
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #168
I am grateful for meeting up early with a friend, on my Friday morning off, to take a walk in the Vondelpark. It was a lovely way to start the day, feeling the wintry air on my face, walking along the paths trying to avoid getting too muddy, watching energetic dogs playing together, as we chatted about how our week had been and all sorts of things… As someone who usually takes a while to get out of the house when I don’t need to go to the office, it felt like a great way to kick-start to the day by moving and connecting with my body. I must remind myself to do it more often, either by myself or with the added bonus of going with a friend:)
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #163
Last Saturday I went with two dear friends for a walk in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug national park as a belated experience-gift for my birthday. As we walked away from the station with its noisy traffic, and entered deeper into the woods, time seemed to slow down. It felt so good to breathe in the smells of the humid forest. I felt my legs getting more energised with each step on the path.
The landscape kept surprising us, changing from oak forest to pine trees, to sandy open spaces, to paths winding through mossy forest floors… Also we were graced with a wide range of different weather in just a few hours: sunshine, clouds, rain, rain and sunshine at the same time, and even hail, as we continued to put one foot in front of the other, without haste.
As always it felt really good to be away from the bustling city, not to mention the snacks and thermos full of boozy tea that we had along the way, which took the experience to another level;) But mostly it was our chats and laughs that made my day. I’m so grateful for sharing this calm afternoon, talking about what’s on our minds and catching up in such a relaxing setting.
With Paolo we’ve been joking recently about how many random things I can get done when I am procrastinating from doing my writing assignments. I’ve been found baking spontaneous apple pies for instance, cleaning the bathroom or sorting out and tidying the attic (something that was on my to-do list for at least 6 months).
When I’m feeling blocked and just can’t seem to find the way to start writing, I try and remember that taking a walk, while it does not contribute to getting words on the page, is generally a good cure for break my mental resistance. In the worst of cases, I tell myself that even if I still don’t write afterwards, I’ll have at least stretched my legs and gotten some fresh air. In the best cases, I come back with a sliver of a new idea to work on.
Saturday afternoon was one of those days, so after sitting frustrated for a while and uselessly distracting myself by reading other people’s writing, I decided to go out and catch the last of the afternoon light. I set myself the challenge to attempt to capture the colour contrasts in that lovely low autumn light. So with my ISO set high, I looked around for bursts of colour to photograph while trying to hold my camera as still as I could.
When the light faded and the cold got to me, I headed home, clear-headed. I even saw a beautiful pink sunset that I would most likely have missed were I staring at my computer screen. My inner-critic probably also got a bit frozen, because it left me enough space to sit down and start typing when I got back.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #149
I am just back from a few beautiful days in the Hoge Veluwe with Paolo where we had the joy of exploring the National Park and the surroundings of Hoenderloo by bike. Of course, mid-October in the Netherlands there is no guarantee with the weather and we did get soaked a few times, but on the whole it was not cold and we even got some sunshine here and there. The key was simply to be equipped with good rain gear at all times;)
Actually Autumn is a great time to go because of the amazing colours. The trees are shifting to orange and yellow, bright leaves strewn on the undergrowth and there are bursts of colours everywhere. I am also obsessed with the many different mushrooms popping up all over the place on the forest floor and at the foot of trees (prepare yourself to see many pictures of them here in the next posts;). It was a wonderful breath of fresh air and a good reminder that just a couple of hours from Amsterdam by bus and train we can easily immerse ourselves in stunning nature.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #137
Last night we went to see the Three Musketeers at the Amsterdamse Bos Theater, a lovely outdoor theater nestled amongst the tall trees of the forest. I love that to reach it you cycle away from the city center where most theaters are and instead head into nature.
As we pedalled along the water we passed a dignified heron who was watching the world go by while standing on one leg. After a busy week, it felt like a real treat to let myself be carried along by the story, laugh at the jokes and disconnect completely for a few hours as we sat surrounded by trees and clear sky, as night slowly fell over us.
Over the Christmas holidays, one afternoon I felt the irresistible need for some fresh air, my body craving to make the most of the little sunlight of the short winter days. So I grabbed my camera and went out, with no other plan than to walk along the streets close to home, open to capturing whatever inspired me. The light was beautiful, though I was clearly working against the clock to actually take some photos before darkness fell.
This simple window caught my eye, the colour and texture of the shutters with their half-moon crescents and the stack of mixed-and-matched plates drying in the rack. In my imaginary it brings up a feeling of home, cosyness, like everyone was off having a nap after tidying the kitchen together and in a few hours preparation for the next family meal will start…
I walked further, along the old walls of the village. A few families were out and about, several generations together walking dogs or most probably taking a digestive stroll in the chilly air. The last rays of sunshine lit up these bare trees, so it seemed like they were in the spotlight.
As the sun disappeared, I loved the sight of these pretty lanterns lining the street against the last colours of the sky.
My last find was this incredible mansion with its tower, the wooden beams in different tones of blue, perfectly colour-coordinated. It’ s a private house so I could only peer semi-discreetly from behind the wall, but I can imagine settling there to write a book, a steaming coffee by my side on an old wooden desk by tower window, overlooking the garden while birds flit in and out of the trees…
Some sunny days are for making an effort to take the train and go for a long walk outside the city, and others are for choosing simplicity and being outdoors close to home.
Whenever I need a ‘bowl of fresh air’ (as we say in French), after a long day on the computer or when the sun finally appears from behind the clouds, I usually head to this spot in the Schinkelbuurt, just behind the Olympic Stadium.
I love how the wild flowers and grasses have been left to grow freely, rather than being neatly mowed to the ground as they usually are. It makes for wonderfully messy spaces, bursting with all sorts of plants swaying in the breeze, the perfect playground for many insects and feeding ground for the moorhens, ducks, swans and other birds that abound.
Though it’s not even 10 minutes from my flat, spending some time there always helps my mind to reset. It’s a great place for people-watching and subtly eavesdropping on parts of conversations as the locals walk their dogs or cycle by, while the kids jump bravely into the water when it’s warm outside.
It’s a beautiful place in all seasons: winter, spring, summer, autumn
Being in my hometown means I have the luxury of being in walking distance of the forest. Yesterday I made the most of a rain-free afternoon to go for a walk. Though the trees have no leaves yet, the branches carry tiny buds and white flowers are growing on the forest floor, a glimmer of hope that spring is finally on its way. The path is a little muddy, winding up and down the slopes and along old rock walls. At some stage, we are deep enough in the forest to no longer hear the road, the sound of cars is replaced by the birds singing and the crack of the branches under our feet.
I love the feeling when my body gets into the rhythm after walking a while and my feet just carry me along, step after step with no particular goal, as I take in the beauty of the forest. I could walk for hours like this, until my body is tired and my mind is clear. In Japan they acknowledge the healing benefits of spending time in the forest and call it forest bathing (what a perfect name!), it’s even part of the national public health program. Imagine what the world would be like if every country did that?