Friday, July 1, 2016

A Walk with Nature - Leisure and Therapy

Leisure and therapy. When was the last time you took a nature's trail? Camping in the wood? Walking down the beach? Nature invites you to relax, to find peace of mind - and to be healed.
 Dr Abe V Rotor
Walking among pine tree saplings. Tagaytay 2008
Walking is leisure and therapy when you combine and harmonize your body, mind and spirit with nature. It is an exercise that restores gait and adds strength, and it brings inner peace. The mind becomes sharper; sensitivity is honed. And just like what the Greeks believed to be the fountain of youth, it could be the missing key to “a healthy mind in a healthy body.”

They say that to keep yourself healthy and active you must exercise regularly. It is one way to keep yourself fit with their environment. But more than physical fitness, the psyche must be given equal treatment. They must be exercised altogether. And the catalyst is Nature.

This is particularly true to one approaching middle age or old age. It is important to slow down, harmonizing the body and mind. Slow down in the same way jogging comes to the pace of easy walking. Make exercise not as a task but leisure.

To achieve this, first you must condition yourself to
• have peace of mind,
• be positive,
• be keen with nature’s presence and rhythm, and
• remember, it’s your day.

While the body responds to the physical world such as the condition of the road, and presence of people and objects, the mind is keen with the beauty of the surroundings and creates images that only the person concerned personally experiences. Here environment and imagery become one.

Listen to the Songs of Birds
One morning on the grounds of the University of Santo Tomas I heard a Philippine black-headed shrike or tarat or panal (Lanius schach nasutus). Its crispy calls signal the arrival of the Siberian High. It tells of harvest time and kite flying. The chilly air is exhilarating to breathe. Listening to its rhythmic calls, I soon found out that its kin had arrived at the same tree, and soon I became an audience of their concert. I stopped walking to hear and watch them until they moved to another tree.

At one time I saw another bird – pandangera (Rhipidura javanica nigrotorquis), named after its tail that constantly moved and opened like a fan. I searched for it in a nearby fire tree about to shed its leaves, and while it sang and danced, sent showers of yellowing leaves to the ground. Happier and more musical than that of the tarat, it also came with the annual migration of birds as the Northern Hemisphere approached winter.

What an unusual experience to find these rare creatures in the heart of a crowded metropolis –  indeed a sanctuary in a concrete jungle. To me there is nothing sweeter than recollecting of farm life, giving zest to urban living.

Take time to appreciate the creatures of the air - the epitome of freedom. Watch them soar and ride on the wind. Play hide-and-seek with them among the trees. Listen intently to their songs. Pick up a tune, imitate and put them into notes. Observe their kinship. Search their nests. Birds are among the most beautiful creatures, especially the males. Study their plumage. Marvel at how nature engineered them for flight and arboreal life. Reflect on this, “If I have wings, will I find  freedom and peace?”

Understand the Ways of Nature
While strolling along the water edge of the man-made lake at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center, I stopped to rest beside a mudflat where water had earlier receded. Seeds had begun germinating while minute snails combed its the slimy surface, leaving trails glistening in early sunshine. Holes suggested there were creatures living underneath it. And yet the mudflat looked like a wasteland – a paradox, because there was much water around.

Not far away was another mudflat, much older than the first because plants have colonized it and were vigorously competing for sun and space. I saw grasshoppers trapped in spider web, a house lizard stalking for its prey, beneath it was a toad, eyes half open. It was a mini forest of sort.

Taking the same route in the weeks that followed, the bare mudflat turned into greenery, while the older mudflat become part of the lakeshore which was to become part of its bank. I pondered on the gradual transformation of the mudflats every time I took the same route.

The ways of nature are mysterious. Learn to adapt to its laws and order continuously and without end. While you will never fully understand them, you will find them useful to living in many ways, enriching it with so many blessings.

Some years ago I wrote a verse and I quote:
“You are alone at your lowest ebb.
At low tide the sea reveals her shore
That bathes under the sun to its edge.
Go to the sea and learn its chore.”
                                       - A.V. Rotor, Nymphaea: Beauty in the Morning

Learn the realities of life as may be gleamed from the mudflats – or from the seashore in this poem. You realize that renewal is a fact and is happening everywhere. There is renaissance everyday. The cycle of nature is dynamic aimed at rebirth and stability - so with your life.

The mudflat became part of the shoreline and soon enough, became strong to protect the lake from erosion and siltation. How do we compare this with life? Similarly the foundation of life undergoes an orderly process, seasoned with time, and aimed at a goal. Stop now and then, and reflect on the dynamic evolution of the landscape and life itself.

A Short List for Sharing
How do we share our experiences with others?

Take these practical clues. Take notes and seize the moment. A scribble here, a scribble there will certainly refresh thoughts and memories. They enshrine feelings and capture imagery. Here is a list I made from my observations on the UST campus and while strolling at the Parks and Wildlife Center.

1. I discovered germinating seeds along the sidewalk and under the trees, pale green in the early sun rays, shy and delicate but daring to meet the world. Get close to them and observe the beginning of life.

2. It is the olfactory sense that works this time: the white, clustered flowers of dita (Alstonia scholaris) are most fragrant at dawn and dusk. They are inconspicuous during the day. Stop and smell their fragrance.
As the mind keeps us up in our work, so does it makes walking with nature an enjoyable experience.
3. Nymphaea water lilies come in white, yellow, red and purple, and are most beautiful if they come out spontaneously in the same pond. The flowers open slowly with sunrise. Sit down by the pond and observe them. Bees hover and alight on the open flowers, taking time to gather pollen, and kissing the dew and nectar.

4. The fire tree (Delonix regia) casts a dainty veil in the sky. What a contrast with the fire it breathes in summer! Shy, the veil is the finest of all foliage, filtering the morning sunlight into long fine rays converging in the misty air below. Such are the contrasting characters of this tree – one associated with fire and blood, the other of calmness and humility.

5. The traveller’s palm (Ravenola madagancariensis) is supposed to guide a lost traveler, providing him direction and precious water. But the fan-like arrangement of its leaves are in disarray, apparently because it has lost its sense of direction in the crowded garden. How many of us have also lost direction in our lives in crowded cities?

6. A giant African snail (Achatina fulica) leaves a slimy trace during the night, and remains docile during the day. Introduced by the Japanese soldiers during WW II, it has become an orphan and a pest, an enemy of gardeners. What a way to live!

7. A house lizard darts on flies and gnats. Either it is a late or early feeder. For the house lizard is nocturnal and sleeps during the day. But early morning finds them still on their prowl. Creatures have different biological clocks.

8. Balete (Ficus benjamina) – I find it a villain, strangling its host tree with massive prop roots. The parasite uses its host as prop and trellis until it has gained enough body to stand by itself like any tree. Man can be as cruel as the balete. Don’t get within the strangler’s hold of the balete.

Being a biped is an advantage of man over all other creatures, for at this level we are most keen to what is happening around.

9. The Philodendron is kinder, it is a soft vine, it snakes up into the branches to catch the sun, its roots clinging on its host, but not harming it. As summer arrives, it retreats, leaving but some stems from which new buds grow the next season.

10. Old camphor trees are as old as two generations, I saw them for the first time I came to Manila in the sixties. They were already mature trees then. Now they senile and dying. It is the polluted air that is killing them. So with the agoho trees (Casuarina equisitifolia). I don’t find the old ones anymore.

Oasis: Fancy or Myth?
It used to stroll at the Sunken garden of the University of the Philippines in Diliman. On a couple of occasions I conducted an on-the-spot painting contest for a summer workshop here. Even during summer this one place remains like an oasis in the desert. It is because it is the basin of the surrounding watershed. The ponds are always full. Ducks are friendly to picnickers, cicadas sing in the trees unafraid, and frogs even croak in the day. Some people throw something in the water, a coin perhaps, wishing for something.

I looked at the calm water. It was perfect mirror. I took a piece of paper and wrote my thoughts.
Tell me your throes,
Worries and woes;
And to the fishes
Your wistful wishes.

I laughed at what I wrote and threw a pebble. Ripples erased my thoughts.

Now and then you look for a “oasis” because there is drought around. Here you feel detached, even while others suffer, even if the world is in trouble. While you prefer the lighter side of life, you can’t remain in the comfort zone of the oasis forever. Otherwise you miss the many challenges of life that bring about its true meaning.

Walking is not a means of escape. It is not one when there is trouble at home, or when we want to evade responsibility. It is not recourse either. You simply can’t reason out, “Sorry it’s time for my leisure.” Even if it is in keeping with good health and groom. There must be something bigger that should aim at.

Keep on walking. Pass through the UST botanical garden, walk on the banks of the Parks and Wildlife lake, and promenade in lush greenery of the Sunken Garden. While you take time in these places, keep on walking into a bigger world to meet people, to share with them the great experience of walking with nature. It is yet the best walk you did on earth. ~

Teachers on field trip follow nature trail on Mt. Makiling, Laguna

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