Climate Education

6 ways to connect with nature in your neighborhood

Ken Keffer is a naturalist, writer and educator. He is the author of Earth Almanac: Nature’s Calendar for Year-Round Discovery.

As coronavirus upends many of our routines, remember that time in nature can have a calming effect. You don’t have to scale Mount Everest to be in touch with wildscapes. A simple walk around the block will do. Even just gazing out the window can resonate.

From 15-minute escapes for calming stress to long-haul commitments to occupy you the coming weeks, here are 6 easy ways to live in the moment and reconnect with nature.

15-minute fixes

Listen loudly

Rather than asking nature to speak up, try listening loudly. The sounds of a cityscape can dominate, but if you take a few moments to sit quietly, natural noises will become apparent: The chirps and squawks of birds are often the first clue to life beyond the walls.

Identification doesn’t have to be the goal with listening, instead just focus on hearing. Perhaps you’ll hear a steady tapping. Was it the croaks of a frog from a nearby wetland, or a woodpecker drumming on a branch? It doesn’t matter — what’s important is that you heard it. After a few listening, sessions you’ll recognize the familiar and the new sounds that stand out.

Ponder pond life

A neighborhood park is often home to a pond, a magnet for nature. Whether it’s a quick stroll around the water edge, or quiet time reflecting from the park bench, the pond is bursting with life. Turtles, ignoring physical distancing recommendations, pile up side-by-side on sunny basking logs.

Amphibians revel in the season, too. Spring peepers chorus frogs are two of the first species to proclaim their presence each year. Dragonflies cruise over the shallows, and most cattail marshes have red-winged blackbirds camped out in them from now until fall. If there are fish in the pond, be on the lookout for osprey diving into the water. Now is when ducks push north as ice melts off recently frozen waters.

Daily doses

Observe migration madness

While most of the annual passages of spring have been put on pause this year for people, avian migration madness marches on. As you’re likely feeling a bit of restlessness after days of hunkering down, birds also feel a sense of urgency as their migration nears. This zugunruhe, German for “movement or migration restlessness,” has been document in birds for centuries.

Setting up a backyard feeding station with black oil sunflower seed is an easy way to observe the wonders of migration. Take a few moments each day to observe your feeders. Species like chickadees and finches will become your regular companions. An anticipation of new visitor arrivals builds all season. Perhaps a hefty grosbeak will make a cameo. Or maybe orioles will share the neighborhood later this summer.

Watch the sunset

One of the things people seek out on vacations is an amazing sunset view. It’s almost like we forget that the sun sets every day from every location. Even if you don’t have a direct view from your house, you can likely walk to a place to see the last rays of light shinning on each day. Linger until you can make a wish on the first star you see each night. Make it a point (or “isolution”) to catch more sunsets this spring. Individually, these memories will form a collective appreciation for the subtle changes as the lengthening days march toward summer.

The long haul

Plant a garden

Make this the year you plant a garden. Even if your backyard isn’t a network of raised beds and compost heaps, you can still grow impressive amounts of food.

Windowsill herb gardens offer up a sprinkle of freshness to most any meal. A fresh plucked leaf of basil will brighten up your salad, while a sprig of mint will transform your kitchen into a speakeasy cocktail bar. A cardboard box of potato starts is a low-maintenance way to earn your green thumb. Container gardening can grow plenty of pizzas worth of tomatoes and bell peppers on any apartment balcony.

Not sold on growing your own? Note what’s already sprouting outside. Spring is the season when plants reawaken after winter dormancy. Trees are starting to bud out, and green up is occurring from coast to coast. The iNaturalist app can help you identify unfamiliar species.

Build a nest box

One solution to combat the feelings of confinement is to expand your neighborhood. Invite feathered friends into your neighborhood with a nest box or platform. Project NestWatch, administered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, has construction plans online. Wrens, chickadees, and bluebirds will be attracted to boxes that replicate natural tree cavities, and platforms are helpful to birds, like robins and phoebes, that build cup nests.

As birds build nests, lay eggs, and eventually raise young, you’ll be joyful and proud that you played a little role in providing them a place to call home. In difficult times, it’s helpful to have hope for the future. And nothing is more hopeful than a nest of baby birds.

Want another way to connect with nature? Download the citizen science app Earth Challenge 2020, and start collecting valuable data on air quality and plastic pollution today. Meanwhile, check out our 11 actions to take for the planet during a pandemic.