Budding leaves

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If you are cooped up indoors and can only go to the supermarket and back with a self-written permission slip, this post is dedicated to you. You may be wondering what spring looks like out there,  well let me tell you it is magnificent!

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In between the flurry of zoom meetings and skype calls, I’ve been taking walks in the parks around my neighbourhood.  On Friday, the sky was overcast and it was cold and windy, but I went deep into the Amsterdamse Bos and walked for a couple of hours in no particular direction, letting myself be guided simply by interesting-looking branches with budding leaves.

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From afar there was not much to see, but when taking a closer look, the textures and colours were amazing.  Soon the trees will be green again, and I am so glad to have the possibility to witness the transition of the seasons and observe these wonderful details.

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A quiet walk in the forest

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:)

Morning walk in the Vondelpark

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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:)

A delicious day off

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #167

Last year I decided to try and take a day off work every so often, just to recharge my batteries and make more space for myself.  The first and last time I took such a random day off it felt wonderful and I’m surprised to see that it was almost a year ago already!

In late January, I planned to take another such day off, in the middle of February.  It seemed like ages away  at the time, but I’m so glad I blocked time for it in my agenda as it felt perfectly timed.  So grateful to past-me for scheduling it;)  I also enjoyed the special feeling of being free while most people are at work.

I planned absolutely nothing and spent the day taking it very easy. I thought about what I felt like doing in that moment and did it.  I ended up watching a movie at home in the middle of the day (something I don’t do often enough!), cooked good food for myself, went for a long walk to clear my head and watched the rough wind ruffle through the grass, I took time to edit a fiction piece I am writing…  It was just what I needed:)

Craving time outdoors

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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

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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.

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Catching the last light

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I’m enjoying these quiet days with my family,  baking cakes, chatting, eating delicious meals and of course napping.  This afternoon, I decided to get some fresh air before nightfall. I wandered with no particular destination in mind, turning into random streets in the neighbourhood, open to whatever I may come across. When I set out, it always takes a little while for me to start noticing details. At first, everything seems uniform, I just see houses, walls, gates, sidewalks…

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However when I start to look more carefully, interesting colours and textures appear.  Hanging from long vines, these beautiful dry flowers caught my eye, so in the last light of this overcast day, I played around trying to capture the simple delicacy of their unruly petals, while they were blowing lightly in the wind.

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Positive procrastination

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).

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

Taking time to just be

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #153

Last Sunday I kept an entire day free of plans, so that I could recharge my batteries.  I had some work to do on my writing assignment and plenty of other to-dos, but I decided to first take some time for myself.

I spent an hour meditating, sitting in silence and trying to focus only on my breathing (which in reality ended up being more like becoming aware of my incessant thoughts and letting them come and go).  It felt like a reset for my overstimulated brain, a welcome break from constant inputs.

Afterwards, since the sun made a welcome appearance after some very rainy days, I took the chance to go for a slow walk in the neighbourhood. I did my best to stay as much as possible on the sunny side of the street to soak up lots of vitamine D and watched people enjoying the good weather as I ambled along.

The autumn colours were beautiful, with colourful leaves holding tight to their branches and covering the pavement.  I also enjoyed observing the details of the last flowers remaining in people’s gardens, like this purple flower with its silky petals emerging from the strange black and green pod, and the petals around the remnants of this bordeaux-coloured flower.

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Books about walking

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Hibernation season has decidedly arrived and as the cold settles in and raindrops hit the windows, I’m happy to live vicariously from the comfort of my sofa, while I wait for the right season to pull on my hiking shoes and go for a long walk. Here is a short list of books about walking to accompany you in these cold months.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful memoir of how walking can lead you back to yourself in times of deep loss and grief.  It doesn’t sugarcoat the experience of long-term hiking, and it’s funny, desperately sad and hopeful all rolled in one.

Walking: One step at a time – Erling Kagge

I read this book in Italian, I was drawn to its title which is translated as ‘Camminare – un gesto sovversivo’, meaning ‘Walking – a subversive act’,  and therefore appealed to the rebellious part of me. It’s a poetic ode to walking on a day-to-day and a reminder of how slowing down and walking is a powerful way of resisting being pulled into the vortex of ever-increasing speed.

Walking to listen – Andrew Forsthoefel

The true story of how Andrew set out to cross the US by foot and actively listen to people’s stories. He shares stories from people from all walks of life, races, ages, who were generous on his way.  I enjoyed how it reveals a lot about privilege and how stereotypes are put to the test when we realise we are all simply humans trying to live our best lives.

Without ever reaching the summit – Paolo Cognetti

Cognetti’s account of his hike at the foot of the Himalayan mountains makes you feel you are right there with him. I like this book because with no intention of conquering the summit it is focussed on just experiencing the landscape at 4-5000 meters, observing its nature and wildlife, and describing the inhabitants and the human connection born on such a trip.

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*****

Putting together this post, I took a dive in my photography archive to look for some relevant pictures from when I was walking the Camino along the Northern coast of Spain.  Just looking at these photos I am drawn back to the remote places along the path, I can feel the weight of my backpack, the exhilaration of having no other task than to walk 6 to 8 hours a day and the repeated joy of overlooking an amazing landscape after an upwards climb.