Focused on ferns

Last weekend, I was happy to come across some bushy ferns on my walk in a park in the West of Amsterdam that I was exploring for the first time. I love ferns and enjoy every opportunity I get to practice capturing the beauty of their fronds (which I have learnt is the name of the large, divided leaves on ferns).

The orange-brown tips of the leaves caught my eye as I walked down the path, such a lovely autumn colour. I love how each tiny leaf has minuscule symmetrical lines.

On looking closer I was intrigued by these intricate dark grey rows which seem to be made of small beads. If I’m not mistaken these are the core of the frond before it opens outwards with the leaves.

From the front, they look like a multitude of fingers hugging each other tight one last time before unravelling. I’ve mostly come across ferns that uncoil from a circular shape (so poetically named the fiddlehead), but had never seen a fern growing this way. If anyone knows the name of this species, let me know as I’d love to find out more about it!

*****

For more ferns, take a look at the ferns in the Botanical garden in Cologne and winter ferns in the forest near my home-town.

Observing mushrooms in the Veluwe

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #198

In the past few years, I’ve been travelling regularly to the area of the Veluwe, in the east of the Netherlands, for the pleasure of easily accessing nature to take long walks in the forest and heaths. This week I’m grateful I got to spend three fun days with a friend there in a cosy wooden cottage.

Our preparations revolved mainly around what delicious food we wanted to bring, as well as which notebooks and art supplies to tuck into our backpacks. We had a great time and though there were regular down-pours, we managed to take some long walks in the forest and collect pocketfuls of chestnuts. In the evenings, we relaxed on the sofa and chatted by the wood-stove, to the sound of the rain landing heavy on the roof.

Even in the Veluwe, it’s not always easy to get far from the road and the sound of cars, but armed with some tasty snacks from the bakery, we walked deep into the woods. With no real direction, we simply followed the intriguing shapes we saw in the undergrowth like a scavenger hunt. My hiking boots sank into the soft soil, made from layers upon layers of fallen leaves and mosses as I breathed in the rich smell of the forest.

The main highlight were the mushrooms. I was struck by their diversity, multitudes clustered by the dozen in tight bunches on decaying tree stumps, minuscule funghi on dead branches to large chunky brown ones, white ones that looked like lace, colours ranging from pink to metallic grey and even bright yellow ones that seemed to belong on a corral reef…

*****

As beautiful as it was to observe this abundance of species, I can’t help but mourn the fact that 85% of the biodiversity in the Netherlands has been lost, and we are not on track to meet the targets set up to stop this decline with the pressure of intensive farming and climate change. I can only dream of what this forest looked like twenty or a hundred years ago, and it’s vital that we safeguard what remains to make sure that in a not-too-far-away future the only trace that is left of these mushrooms is not just a few old photographs.

Sand in between my toes

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #195

Sometimes all that’s needed for a full reset is spending an afternoon on the beach with a good friend, relentlessly whipped by the wind, hair flying in all directions, enjoying the sun when it appears from behind the clouds, until every ounce of stress has been blown away.

The beach is quite empty, with just a few kite-surfers performing impressive jumps and skids in the shallows. We sit watching the waves, talking peacefully and enjoying the snacks we brought along, carrots dipped in hummus, crunchy chickpea crisps, fresh figs…

We take tentative steps in the water, only to realise the sea is not that cold and so we walk along the shore, tiny waves lapping at our feet, sun on our cheeks, chatting as we go.

Fine white sand travels in mesmerising sweeps over the surface of the beach, piling onto our blanket and back-packs, grain by grain, until all our possessions are partially buried and every inch of our skin is covered in sand.

When I get home and I shake my belongings out on the balcony, I release sand from the folds of my towel, it comes pouring out of the side pockets of my back-pack, I brush it off my legs as best I can, and I realise I’ve brought home enough sand for a mini-beach of my own.

Only for a little while, as I go about cooking dinner, I leave just a few last grains of sand, safely tucked in between my toes, reluctant to fully let go off that beach feeling.

A blissful soak

IMG_5917

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #190

Armed with our swimmers and a picnic containing an unreasonable amount of brioche and cake, my friend Eva and I took a long walk through the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen headed to the coast.

We sauntered through the woods and dunes, stopping here and there to lay out our picnic blanket in the shade for a snack and a peaceful chat. It was very calm, finally far away from the sound of traffic, and since it was a Thursday there were few people and many animals, undisturbed by our presence.  We even had the pleasure of quietly observing some kingfishers, flying speedily back and forth over the canal giving us glimpses alternatively of their bright blue wings and orange chest, and diving at lightning speed from a branch into the water to catch fish.

20200806_191111

The highlight of the day was dipping into the sea when we made it to the beach in the late afternoon sun.  After walking for several hours, a swim was exactly what my body craved.  It was divine to enter the water, feeling the sand and shells in between my toes, small waves lapping at my calves.  When we got deep enough and were ready, we finally surrendered our entire bodies to the cool water. Mine wasn’t what you’d call an active swim, no, it was a glorious release of every muscle into total relaxation, a blissful soak, the joy of floating along with my toes peeping up on the surface, carried by the sea.

20200806_193402

Cycling to Noordwijk

IMG_5901

We’d been planning this mini-adventure with my friend Eva for a while already. Our challenge was to meet up in a ‘virus-free’ way, somewhere between Amsterdam and the Hague, our respective cities. So we decided to rent e-bikes and meet at the half-way point, by the seaside in Noordwijk, for an afternoon.

The joy of being outdoors, on the road to somewhere, exploring new areas, moving with my own power (and a little help from my e-bike) felt liberating.  Thought going for such a long ride was a sudden shift from my mostly sedentary days working from home over the last months. It was my first time on an e-bike and it became clear that you still need to pedal just as much as normal and having the wind against me made my initial progress towards Haarlem extremely slow.  (Also, it turns there are more powerful e-bikes than the one I rented;) Next time I’ll go for one with TURBO power!!)

IMG_5907

Cycling through areas that I normally only see from the train window or on a map was really interesting.  It made me realise how much constructed area there is on that route.  Following the cycling paths, I found myself mainly in (sub)urban areas, or surrounded by dry fields devoid of the colourful tulips from a couple of months ago.  These sad mono-cultures tear at my heart, a sorry reminder of how we are draining the resources of the land and reducing biodiversity.  Luckily there were some pockets of nature, with wild flowers and poppies, high-grasses, some gardens with lots of plants and little patches of forest where the sunlight barely passed through the foliage and the air was cool.

IMG_5905

Getting to our meeting point took me much longer than anticipated. I was pedaling hard and checking maps I saw on the way to make sure I was still on track. The bike path crossings are numbered and to be sure I followed them correctly I would scribble the next few numbers down on my forearm, like winning lottery numbers 11 – 44 – 6 – 31… to make sure I followed the right direction.

Once we met up at last, it felt even more rewarding to catch up and be able to chat in person.  We shared our experiences and enjoyed some delicious cakes, sitting on the beach overlooking the sea, watching some brave swimmers and kite-surfers, bare feet in the cool sand, the wind blowing around us. It was bliss.

IMG_5906

I rode home via a different route, part of it spectacular along the dunes with the light becoming softer at the end of the day, watching large groups of birds fly up together in shifting shapes before settling on shrubs, and big hairy caterpillars confidently crossing the bike path.  The rest of the way, heading east, with the sun in my back through the towns, a long stretch between a high-way and a road, until I started to recognise where I was and pedal the last kilometers into Amsterdam Zuid.  I’m grateful for such a lovely day, for the good company and the perfect weather.  Another great reminder that it doesn’t take much to go for a mini-adventure.

Craving time outdoors

IMG_0607

Today I’m sharing another photo from a lovely walk a few weeks ago in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug.  I love how this tree sticks out of the heather and rises up to the sky with its branches.  Just looking at this picture reminds me of how good it felt to be outdoors, to be brushed by the elements, to feel the temperature shift as the clouds came and went, to be drawn to the amazing details of plants and lichens, to pay attention to the myriad of surprising shapes and textures…

I guess I’m spending a bit too much time at the computer, what with work and writing assignments/submissions, so I’m craving being nature and to slow down, undisturbed by traffic, notifications and other distractions.  I think this weekend I’ll try to make some time for a little forest bathing:)

Outdoor time in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug

IMG_0618

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.

IMG_0633

Winter walks in Putten

IMG_0475

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #160

I am so glad that during the busy December days I took the time to plan a short trip away from the city with like-minded friends.  Even though we were just a couple of hours from Amsterdam, it was nice to explore an area I’d never been to and recharge my batteries before going back to work.

Our long walks in the woods sparked all of our senses: breathing in the wintry forest smells, observing the mosses, lichens, fungi and other details, noting the undergrowth that had been upturned by boars (or so we think;), fingers getting cold as the sun dropped below the horizon, hearing the wild-geese flying by in the sky… We were lucky to have several days of sunny weather and the low winter light shining through the mist and the trees was magic.

I also particularly enjoyed our walks because they were fueled by real conversations, and also by deliciously rich brandy-fed Christmas cake and hot chocolate! The bar is now incredibly high for the coming walks in nature in 2020;)

IMG_0394

First impression of the Deelerwoud

IMG_9714

On the Eastern side of the Hoge Veluwe sits its twin, the Deelerwoud, a very similar parc but with no entrance fee and much less people. It was recommended by our landlady, so we went to check it out on our last day in the Veluwe and found it’s a great alternative.

IMG_9695

There too mushrooms were popping up all over the place in the undergrowth, showing off the details of their unique caps.  We enjoyed a quiet walk, savoured having the path all to ourselves, meeting only one lady with her dog during the whole time.

IMG_9709

It was sunny when we headed out and we chatted as we made our way, until all of a sudden when we stopped to take some pictures we realised huge grey clouds building up behind us and pretty soon after it started to rain.

IMG_9703

Soon it was pouring so hard, we had to cut short our exploration and head back to our bikes. We were lucky to come across a little hut at the entrace of the parc to take shelter in, while we waited for the downpour to calm down. It was a cute place, all made of wood, where you can self-serve coffee and tea and have a snack. There was even locally-made ice-cream in the freezer, but soaked as I was it’s one of the rare times I turned down ice-cream.  No problem though, that just means we will have to go back – both for a longer walk and to try the local ice-cream;)

IMG_9696

Half-day holiday in Utrecht

IMG_9826

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #151

It turns out it doesn’t take much more than a few hours exploring another city on a quiet weekday morning to get a holiday vibe:-) I am grateful for a wonderful half-day spent in Utrecht with my friend Eva. Our initial plan was to go and visit the Oude Hortus (the old botanic garden) and we made it, though not before making a few spontaneous stops on our way through the city center.

We spent a perfect slow morning sipping delicious coffee in a cosy spot, then finding treasures in a great second hand shop, before enjoying a tasty lunch and chatting as the rain poured down outside. When the sun came out again, perfectly timed with the end of our lunch, we headed over to the Oude Hortus and strolled through the lovely garden showing off its autumn colours.  We also explored the laid-back green houses, home to succulents, cacti, waterplants and giant ferns. I felt my senses come alive with the smells of soft fuzzy japanese citrus fruit, the incredible textures of the plants, the splashes of sunlight falling on the foliage.