I’ve been enjoying some time off to explore near and further afield in the Netherlands. Last week, I took a walk in the Amsterdamse Bos which is just a 10 minute bike ride away from my house. Initially, I was disappointed, having just returned from the Hoge Veluwe I was expecting lots of colourful mushrooms on the side of the path, but this was not the case.
As often happens with expectations, it was just a question of realising I was holding on too tightly to them and letting them go. I reminded myself this is a different ecosystem and I should stay curious and keep walking along patiently. In the end, the mushrooms turned out to be much more discrete. Either a multitude of teeny tiny ones on a dead stump, or huge ones that push up from the ground covered in leaves and therefore harder to spot.
I also tried to alternate looking very close up for details and staring out over the fields at the autumn colours and menacing clouds on the horizon. It always takes a while to get into the creative flow and start to ‘see’ patterns, textures, combinations…
My favorite find was this tiny little snail, perfectly camouflaged amongst the seed pods of this plant. Can you see it? Such a gorgeous colour combination!
Sunday as I cycled home from the bookclub, I noticed some bushes covered in what looked from a distance like small yellow tassles, against the blue sky. After picking up my camera at home, I took a short walk back through my neighbourhood until I reached the square, located between four roads, where spring is starting to show in the nurtured flower beds.
I took a closer look at those branches to find them covered in what looks like cheerleaders’ pompoms made with crepe paper, encouraging ravenous pollinators to come visit them.
Though the purple crocusses popping up through the grass are more striking, I love the colour combination on these ones, perfectly suited for a 70s kitchen.
On branches that were bare just a few days ago, tiny leaves are sprouting, deep lines etched into their surface like the grooves on your fingertips after lying for too long in the bath, and clusters of tiny yellow flowers spread their pistils like antennas searching for signals in the warm spring air.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #118
Despite the underlying worry regarding climate change, I’ve been enjoying these precocious Spring-like days that we have had recently. I found myself naturally drawn to walk part of the way home after work, strolling through Amsterdam’s city center, crossing bridges to be sure I was on the side of the canal which the sun shines down. As I go, I like looking at the details of the steps leading up to the fancy houses, peering into the basement offices and shop windows, watching cyclists just avoid tourists stepping unexpectedly onto the bike path to take pictures…
As I move my body after a morning of mostly sitting at the computer, I also start to process what happened during the day on the way. I think of the conversations I had, information received and try to make sense of how I feel about all this busyness and complexity. When I process my thoughts during the day as I take one step after another, I realise I tend to sleep better too. Usually I catch the tram for the last stretch of the way home, and by then I already feel more in touch with my mind and can let go of the work things. The power of walking is incredible:)
Just a five minute drive from the house where I grew up, there is a forest where I love to take walks. There are several options: you can take the tarmac path straight into the heart of the forest, you can explore muddy side paths or you can walk right at the foot of the trees, your shoes sinking with each step into the deep layers of fallen leaves.
Today I mostly ignored the paths and spent the morning deep in the humid undergrowth, guided by every splash of colour or unusual shape, looking at the tiniest details to see what I could find. I was welcomed by trees, mushrooms, mosses and lichens of all types, as well as slugs patiently gliding along and snacking on mushrooms.
On my treasure hunt for beauty, there was just the sound of birds calling to each other. I felt perfectly in the moment, taking in all the beautiful colours and textures. I experimented with photographing what I came across, until my jeans were dirty and humid from kneeling down to get close to the forest floor.
Forest bathing is so healing. Looking at myself in the mirror when I got home I was glowing like I’d just had a long nap or a restorative massage, my body kindly reminding me, yet again, that I should surround myself with nature more often:)
Lately the days are getting shorter and shorter, and even during normal daylight hours the clouds are so low that I sometimes need to switch on the light to see properly inside the flat.
Yesterday was one of those dark days, but after sitting indoors half of the afternoon, I decided to go for a walk, more because I knew that it would do me good than because I really felt like it. I took my camera along just in case.
The light was definitely not on my side, I had to crank up the ISO and hold as still as I could with slow shutter speeds, but it was a good exercise in spotting beauty in the remnants of plants and experimenting.
These tiny fruit that remind me of gorgeous fairy lights caught my eye and I got chatting with a lady, who was harvesting them into a small bowl. She told me they are goji berries… you know that super food that is so fashionable these days?? Turns out they grow easily in our climate and as you can see this one still has fruits in December! Perfect for pepping up your muesli:)
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #103
As I write this, the rain is pouring down outside. I am indoors, warm and watching rain drops slide down the windows, with a delicious cup of coffee by my side. Like every week, I’m wondering what I want to write about. I have a lot I am grateful for, so it is never a problem to come up with some ideas, but sometimes inspiration brings strange ideas with it.
Today I am grateful for this mushroom, spotted in a local vegetable garden on one of my afternoon walks, to get out of my head and into the fresh air while looking for some interesting details to photograph. I felt so drawn to this beautiful mushroom and I believe it has wisdom to share with me. What is so special to me about this mushroom, you may wonder…
It stands tall and dignified, not wondering if it is sticking out or whether it looks funny. It does it’s mushroomy thing, confident and unencumbered by the way other mushrooms look and behave. It is not questioning whether it is doing things right or well enough, and does not care what the leaves around it might say. It is centered and grounded, fully in the present moment, unafraid of the rabbit that may come and nibble on it in the future. I want to be more like this mushroom. These are the precious lessons that I am tucking away in the folds of my mind this week, to bring up again when the inner critic raises its head.
Some days even the most basic things seem overly complicated in my mind and something as simple as attempting to ‘breathe mindfully’ during morning meditation feels unnatural and forced. However I’ve realised there is one thing that I can count on to calm me and bring me back to myself: taking photos of details.
The biggest effort is to head out the door with my camera. Once that is done I let myself be guided by my eyes around the streets near my house or in one of the nearby parks. Looking closely at my surroundings (mainly plants, I admit;) ) I feel this curiousity and a desire to see as if for the first time, and my breathing steadies and deepens naturally as I snap the shots.
Often such an outing results in a few dozen blurry, uninteresting pictures which I can delete again as soon as I get home. Other times in a batch of pictures there are a few that make my heart sing, perfectly imperfect shots of unexpected details I’d never previously noticed or bright flowers and leaves that brighten a grey afternoon.
But I’ve realised that the photos themselves are not the point. I’m learning to trust in the process. It is not about the pictures I take but about getting out of the house to focus on something I deeply love to do, remembering how it feels like to be in flow regardless of the outcome. It is my body’s way of sending me hopeful messages that it still knows how to feel at ease when I am doing what is in line with my heart’s wishes. Now, how to apply this wisdom to other realms of my life??
In September, I had the pleasure to spend a few days in nature in the Veluwe to disconnect. One of the things I noticed was how as I walked in the forest with no rush, all sorts of delightful details were reaching my senses. It was like a treasure hunt for autumn beauty.
Apart from the impressive sponge mushroom, I came across quite a few other types of funghi but none as cute as this one with a gorgeous orange stem, illuminated by a ray of sunlight in the undergrowth.
The pattern created by the shadows of these leaves on the tree trunk are so delicate and reminded me of the elegant patterns on a kimono. So simple and beautiful!
All along my walks, I also encountered lots of these common beetles with their iridescent blue-black shells, which were progressing with incredible speed and determination compared to my laid-back pace. As I sat quietly at the foot of a tree to take a break, I could even hear the soft sound as the beetles made their way through the dry leaves on the ground.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #99
The Indian summer we are enjoying in Amsterdam at the moment is amazing. I’ve been taking long healing walks through the Amsterdamse Bos, just listening to the breeze rustling through the leaves of the majestic trees which are turning all shades of orange and yellow, quietly observing the ducks, moorhens, herons and other birds go about their business undisturbed on the water, journalling as the sun warms my skin. I am so grateful to have what feels like an unexpected extra shot of summer to charge up on fresh air and invigorating sunshine.