Climate-related anxiety and depression is an increasingly common malady. Reestablishing a conscious awareness and a bodily connection with the ebb and flow of the seasons, by observing and documenting what’s happening outside our windows, is a grounding activity that can restore comfort.
Disconnection from nature’s seasonal cycles, and from nature in general, has become more common in recent decades, and with it has come a certain restlessness. A simple way we can reestablish this crucial connection with the seasons is by regularly taking note—on paper—of what is occurring in the plants and animals in our lives over the course of the year. Because events like leaf out, migration and egg hatch are cued by seasonal warmth, rainfall and sun angle, they elegantly reflect the rhythm of the seasons.
Taking the time to observe the changes in an organism over the course of a year can reconnect us to these cycles. And taking the effort to write down what is observed focuses our thoughts, grounds us, and more firmly cements the information in our minds.
The practice of carefully documenting the timing of events like the first arrival of migratory birds in the spring and first hint of leaf color in autumn has existed for millennia. A record of the first cherry blossoms to appear each spring in Kyoto, Japan extends to the ninth century. Members of the Marsham family have tracked flowering time in dozens of plants in Great Britain since the 1700s. These historical records are some of our best resources to determine how much the timing of events like leaf out and egg hatch in certain species have changed in recent years, serving as an invaluable contribution to science.
Taking this form of action is an antidote to the hopelessness that can arise in the face of climate change. Anxiety and depression naturally arise when we perceive we have no power over a situation. Doing something, such as documenting seasonal changes, is a way to restore a modicum of control and a sense of well-being.
To be sure, looking at plants in your backyard won’t end the climate crisis. For that, we need major policy and lifestyle changes on a nearly global scale. The value of this form of personal action is in restoring our centers and engendering personal empowerment. This can serve as preparation for tackling the larger issues.
The practice of purposefully reconnecting with what’s happening over the course of the year can take the form of journaling, posting observations of seasonal plant or animal status to social media, or making structured contributions to an established program such as Nature’s Notebook, a national program for documenting seasonal activity in plants and animals.
As a coordinator for the program, I’ve been overjoyed to hear from participants that pausing briefly from their daily routines to report on their selected species has led to new discoveries and a deepened appreciation for these plants and animals. And as a Nature’s Notebook participant, I’ve been delighted to witness green lynx spiders, crab spiders and sphinx moth larvae making their homes in the desert willow tree I observe in my backyard. I am certain I would not have noticed these lovely creatures had I not taken the time to briefly but regularly look at my tree’s leaf and flower status.
The brief moments of focus and connection I experience when I’m taking my Nature’s Notebook observations contrast sharply with the anxiety I experience from exposure to climate crisis headlines. I invite you to join me in the simple routine of documenting the seasonal transitions in plants or animals in your yard. Trade some of your climate anxiety for the sense of calm and empowerment that can result from taking a small, positive action.