Simple, Natural Renewal for a Busy Season
By Natalya Lowther
“Oh, the transporting, rapturous scene that rises to my sight...sweet fields arrayed in living green and rivers of delight.” [Samuel Stennett, Seventh Day Baptist minister and hymn writer. 1787]
April, indoors, can be tense. Taxes, school, tests, deadlines, planning for summer. Mud tracked in makes more housework. Jobs, school and other responsibilities keep us indoors too much.
April, outdoors, structured, can be hectic. Days are too short. Projects deferred by winter’s chill demand attention. Organized activities overwhelm weekends and evenings. Gardeners are planning, planting, weeding and beginning to harvest all at the same time. The lawn mower, rake and wheelbarrow clamor for our time and energy.
But April, outdoors, unstructured, can delight all of our senses. The fields around us (even just a grassy median) are truly “arrayed in living green,” and both literal and figurative “rivers of delight” wait if we look for them.
Where can you find the time, or even the nature, to fully enjoy April? The secret is to keep it small and simple—a few minutes here and there, with simple vistas. Mindfully engage all five of your senses—sight, sound, smell, taste and touch—to get the most from this special season.
There’s as much beauty in a single flower as in a vast landscape. Even in urban areas, there’s a patch of lawn between buildings, or flowers by a parking lot. That’s all you need.
If you have your own yard, trade some of the lawn work for more natural landscaping. Less mowing means more time, and a place for nature to thrive. Even small landscaping changes add up, like deposits in a savings account. Invest in next April while enjoying this one!
Take short walks, focusing on your surroundings, not on exercise. Explore your neighborhood—or an area near your workplace—to find little spaces that delight you. Look for a bench near a public building, a special bit of landscaping near the public sidewalk, a schoolyard, and a creek winding its way through the city. Visit your special place often to take in daily changes.
April is full of special sounds, as well as sights. Seek out a small wetland, such as a drainage ditch, water garden awakening from winter ice, or persistent puddle. Even if you can’t see much, you might hear the quintessential sound of April: Northern Chorus frogs piping sweet songs into the moist air. Rural roadsides offer the best seats for their concerts, but these tiny frogs are common in more urban areas, too. Later in the season, you’ll hear tree frogs trilling at night in urban and suburban woods. Listen for the sounds of spring in parks, cemeteries, edges of parking lots, storm water retention ponds—wildlife doesn’t care if habitat isn’t perfectly landscaped or all natural.
Redwing blackbirds are common in spring, warbling distinctive liquid notes. In wooded areas, listen for migrating songbirds or a woodpecker’s drumming. Even the ordinary robin is worth listening to.
After a spring rain, drops of water patter from twigs onto last autumn’s leaves. The musical rushing of water from downspouts and gurgling runoff in street gutters can be as rejuvenating as a babbling brook, fancy fountain or majestic waterfall.
April brings the perfume of jonquil, hyacinth, apple blossom, lilac and more. Fresh-cut grass lends a spicy tang on weekend afternoons. But the dominant smell, on many April days, is the rich, complex smell of rain-soaked, sun-warmed earth.
Science is actually finding that aromatic components in fresh, raw earth have powerful positive effects on the human mind and body. The details are complex, but you don’t have to know the facts in order to experience the rejuvenating effect of breathing in the smell of damp earth.
April brings fresh baby lettuce, spinach and radishes. Early April is not too late to put a few salad seeds in the ground. These easy crops take just 30 days to harvest, in the cool nights and warm days of April. Deep tilling often isn’t required—just sprinkle seeds onto bare soil, lightly cover them and watch to see that the soil stays moist until they sprout.
Plant a few onion sets a few inches apart, an inch deep, and mulch lightly. You’ll soon harvest tender green onions. If you can find Egyptian Walking onion sets, leave a few in the ground all year, and you’ll have your own zesty treats every April.
Wild edibles abound in April! Free salad fixings are almost everywhere—just be sure they’re clean and chemical-free. Nibble on henbit, shepherd’s purse, and clover while weeding. Dandelion greens are delicious in salads and egg dishes (scrambled, omelet, quiche). Violet flowers and leaves are edible, as long as they have white, purple or blue flowers (not yellow).
April touches us with gentle rain on bare skin, good garden soil on our hands, warm sunlight, and light breezes. Touch back! Trace flower petals with your fingertip—silk never felt so soft. The polished surface of a wild bird’s cast-off eggshell is like a precious gem (remember to wash your hands after exploring April).
Engage your whole body in feeling April. Lean on rough tree bark; wrap your arms around sculptured branches. As dusk settles, enjoy the solar warmth stored in the brick wall of a building or a stone outcropping.
For a full immersion April experience, find a small patch of lawn in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. If it’s within earshot of your frog pond or woodpecker haven, the better! Tuck a fresh edible leaf between your teeth. Wear comfortable clothes that you don’t mind getting damp. Stretch out on the ground full length on your back, arms at your sides or flung wide, looking up at the sky. Breathe—nothing fancy, just experience the air and its offerings.
As you relax, fully sense both the intimacy and the immensity of the planet as it supports your body. Gaze up at passing clouds and soaring birds. Focus outside your body, outside your mind, outside your ordinary, and in a few minutes you’ll be full of April. Ready, set, go!
Natalya Lowther is a lifelong artist, writer and observer of nature. Since 1996, she has been building and operating Pinwheel Farm on the north edge of Lawrence, KS.
Farm enterprises include vegetables, herbs, fruits, and sheep, as well as agri-tourism and education. Farm products, including handspun, natural dyed wool items, are available at the Downtown Lawrence Farmer’s Market and by appointment at the farm.
Detailed observations of life and nature on the farm can be found at www.pinwheelfarm.blogspot.com
The farm’s informational website is www.pinwheelfarm.org
Pinwheel Farm is also on Facebook. Wool and other value- added products are available on Etsy at PinwheelFarm.