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A winter moment

ROB GREENE SANDS

Mindfulness is an incredible skill to have for those who, like veterans, deal with the effects of trauma or who struggle with experiences that have negatively impacted them. Being in the moment can reduce stress and anxiety while allowing the opportunity to connect to a world outside of you that isn’t confined or limited by the past. Like our gardens at Rose Haven, such a world can offer the soothing balm of the natural world.

An ever-growing body of research makes the case that transcendence, connecting to a world of meaningful experience beyond one’s normal daily life, is key to recovering from trauma. Studies show that just being in nature can engage that transcendental connection, so imagine the benefits of moving through and interacting with the plants, the animals, the landscape, the wind, sun, moon, clouds or even snow, through all of our senses.

At 7:30 a.m. last Friday, I was in the moment at Rose Haven, enjoying that natural connection after our snowfall. It was quiet as usual in the gardens; birds were vocal about the morning — they sounded happy — the big bird feeder hanging at the council ring portal was as busy as a Waffle House. The snow draped gently over tree and shrub, the carpet of white still mostly pristine, with small prints of those we share our gardens with visible up close.

That 20 minutes I spent in the gardens was a mindful interlude, “a moment,” soothing and naturally intoxicating and setting the stage for the rest of the day.

Saturday, that next day, Bella, our puppy, and I went back to the gardens and worked, but that winter moment was gone. Thank you, Mother Nature, I thought. Still, I can only stand a few of those “winter moments.” I have winter anxiety from my childhood in the Midwest, where I shoveled what seemed to be mountains of snow, with stiff fingers and toes, and put on wet boots and gloves that hadn’t dried yet on our old clanking register.

But there was another moment that captured me in its embrace, equally arresting and equally mindful — the gardens melting away the blanket of snow in the afternoon sun. The blooms of the daffodils and irises, once hidden by the snow, bursting forth in color, the buds on the azaleas one day closer to breaking out. The birds sounded even happier, the “lunch counter” at the bird feeder had pecking room only, the scent of spring was back, and, as I laid bricks to finish our seating pads on the ring, I could hear the snow melting like the gentle melody of a small creek. That moment lasted all afternoon. I am still in its thrall as I write this the following morning.

One thing about moments, they end, but that just means another one is out there waiting patiently for you to pick up its call. I can hear the ring in my mind. I know it’s the gardens calling, the bricks are waiting. Plus, I get my moment in the gardens and in the process, help to make sure the female veterans and all others to be helped in the future will hear those same calls. Gotta go. I never put nature to voicemail.

Robert Greene Sands is an anthropologist and CEO of the non-profit Pamlico Rose Institute for Sustainable Communities located in Washington.