Cold fingers, warm feet

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #207

Lately I am trying to walk at least ten thousands steps a day in an effort to move just a bit more. Even when the weather is grey and cold, I lace up my boots, pull on several jumpers, wrap myself in my warm scarf and beanie and head out, motivating myself to wander a bit further than I may otherwise.

Today when I reached the forest I left the paved road and focused on just one task, trying not to slip on the muddy path. It was the perfect way to connect with each step and be in the moment. On a drier part of the path, I spotted a multitude of yellow catkins, flashes of colour in the bare undergrowth. They swayed lightly in the chilly wind, my fingers getting more and more frozen as I did my best to look for a pleasing composition.

On the way back, I was captivated by how the light shone through this mushroom, playing with the intriguing shapes. I experimented for a while, trying to capture those translucent effects despite the luminosity. By the time I got home, even if my fingers ached with cold in my gloves, my feet were warm and I felt energised.

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.

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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 details

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #202

My daily walks have been keeping me sane and connected to the season as it evolves. I’m grateful for all the details that catch my senses as I am strolling along.

Tiny drops of dew shining on hairy seeds.

The smell of wet autumn leaves decomposing at the feet of the trees and sensing the layers of humus that came before them as the soles of my shoes sink into the ground.

Orange seeds bursting forth from bright pink flowers.

The distinct sound of a woodpecker jabbing away at a tree and the flash of its red feathers as it flies to its next pecking spot.

Mushroom clans where it seems like the elders are looking out for the playful young ones.

That sound when you kick through a thick pile of dry autumn leaves and the joy of their multitude as they float upwards and land again, each one slightly different shape and colour than the next.

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…

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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.

Seaside walks

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #186

I’ve been working remotely for the past week in a beautiful old house in Le Touquet.  Living just a short stroll from the shore is wonderful. Everyday the beach and its surroundings look different, the weather varies a lot and it’s great to pop over and see what it’s like at different moments of the day.

I’ve been taking long after-work walks alone, savouring each step along the long white sand to the sound of the seagulls flying overhead, whipped by the wind, accompanied by the crashing of the waves as the tide comes up.

With my Mum, we’ve delighted in treating ourselves to delicious artisanal ice-cream, trying to combine swiftly eating the melting cones with chatting as we make our way in the sun along the esplanade.

I also explored the dunes, walking between the tufts of wild grasses blowing in the wind, taking deep breaths of fresh air and watching whispy clouds float quickly across the sky.

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Harvesting, planting, weeding

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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.

Cycling around Nieuw-West

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #180

In the nearly 14 years I’ve been living in Amsterdam, I’ve never seen such a long stretch of warm and sunny weather.  Yesterday, as it was a public holiday, the city was bursting with people which meant maintaining a safe distance was a challenge, so it was the perfect opportunity for a mini-adventure around the polder in Nieuw-West. It was a relief to escape to escape the crowds and take refuge in a much quieter area.

I love the feeling of freedom when pedaling without haste, being self-propelled with the light breeze and the warm sun on my skin. It felt so good to get away from the constructed part of the city and closer to nature.  We heard frogs croaking loudly among the reeds, passed large flocks of grey geese lounging in the grass by the canals and even saw a tiny baby Shetland pony.

We had a destination in mind, the beautiful Amsterdam Bee Park, but finding it out of bounds (for COVID-19 reasons) didn’t deter us from exploring the area.  Instead, we strolled along the wooden pathways of the poetically named Fluisterbos (Whisper Woods), which turned out not to be as calm as its name might indicate.  Then we found a quiet stretch of grass that we had practically to ourselves, where we could chill in shade and play Frisbee undisturbed:) A restorative bubble of calm before returning to the bustling city.

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Since we have more opportunities to explore close by due to the COVID situation, I really recommend to visit this area if you are looking for a day trip by bike from Amsterdam, there’s loads to do! See more info here, and for more of my own adventures: Fruit picking in Fruittuin van West, Local fresh fruit and Amsterdam Bee Park.

Camino cravings

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Recently I picked up a copy of the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed in my local little free library and started re-reading the story of her epic hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.  I thought these adventures would be exactly what I needed to get my mind off confinement, but instead I find myself getting increasingly itchy feet.  As I sat down to write this, I realised that four years ago at this exact time of year I was hiking along the Camino del Norte.  No wonder I’m doubly craving that incredible feeling of freedom.

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I find myself fantasising about getting up at the break of dawn to pull on the same clothes as the day before, with no other plan than to put one foot in front of the other and follow the yellow arrows, open to whatever the day will bring.

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The Camino is nowhere near as difficult or wild as the Pacific Crest Trail, but I recognise that feeling of intense relief when putting down your backpack that Cheryl mentions and those descriptions of gobbling down all the food you can get because you are so hungry after a day of hiking.  I will never forget how every apple tasted delicious, every tortilla sandwich was utter heaven:)

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I loved being alone with my thoughts for hours, hearing just my feet crunching on the path and seeing the landscape evolving with every new kilometer covered. The quiet of the moments of solitude overlooking beautiful landscapes were incredible, as well as the fun times shared with other pilgrims of all walks of life met along the way.  I think I may need to plan another long hike when it’s possible to travel safely again.

Weeding in the vineyard

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #176

The days are blending into each other. It’s day 41 of confinement for me. Every morning when I sit down to write my Morning Pages I note down how many days its been, otherwise I would have no clue, time seems very elastic.  41 days is actually not much in the grand scheme of things but I had a bit of a melt-down last week, a combination of hormones, stress, sadness and probably remaining too isolated.

So I am super grateful to my friend Nina for inviting me this week to visit the grape vines that she and her husband rent in Amsterdam Noord, part of a communal project bearing the lovely name No Chateau.  We went on a Wednesday afternoon so there were very few people around and we had the vineyard to ourselves.  Keeping the security distance, we chatted as they pruned and tied the first vine branches to the wires and I had the pleasure of weeding. I knew very little about wine-making, so it was interesting to see the first stages of growth of a vine and hear about the process of growing grapes and making wine.

Being outdoors in the warm sunshine was such a welcome break from day-to-day confinement. I felt so grounded as I was digging away and hands in the soil, pulling out weeds is a flow activity for me with little space for thinking about much else.  I felt like I was connecting to my body again. I came across some worms, smelled the manure of the nearby veggie plots, dug up some purple flowers to plant on my balcony…  As I cycled home I felt completely relaxed and that night I fell into a deep, restorative sleep.  Another reminder of Nature’s healing power.