Nature Column

This year all the holiday hullabaloo started especially early. Some embraced this enthusiastically while others grumbled like traditional Scrooges. We can all complain about the commercialization of the holidays but really, haven’t we just commercialized everything? Our economy is based on consumerism, so we shouldn’t be shocked or surprised by this emphasis. If you’re like me, however, it can wear you down.

We can, however, choose to minimize it and look outside of stores and the internet for our gift giving. We can shop local, support artists and craftspeople we know, and eschew big box stores and big internet companies. Amazingly, some of the best things in life still are free. Many of those things are only a few steps away outside our own front and back doors.

Nature doesn’t have a cash register, though she does keep track of deposits and withdrawals in a natural way. She knows when you use poisons, for example, and she also knows when you nurture and nourish, whether in your garden or at your bird feeder.

There is a bounty in nature that is immeasurable, and we can draw on that as we consider our gift giving. Making dates for walks and explorations is one way of making a gift that keeps on giving. Maybe you can schedule a walk a month at different locations. For those hesitant, such as certain teens, invite along a friend and promise a treat at one of their favorite places at the end. Very few teens turn their noses up at hot chocolates from their favorite local hangouts.

For those that are artistically inclined, gather dried flowers, leaves, and grasses and make some paper. There are many tutorials online and guess what, even books in the library, that will help you through the process. Maybe some folks would prefer making dyes or inks while others might like to gather pine needles and make little baskets. Discovering various ways to do these things is fun and involves talking, storytelling, and sharing of experiences and creativity. Let the kids make videos that you can share later.

Did you know there is natural clay here on the Cape? Check it out. Make some rock art or build some twig furniture for fairies or dolls. Introduce friends and children to Andy Goldsworthy for inspiration.

Little kids love to plant seeds, so why not help them create an indoor garden? Don’t just grow pea plants and lettuce, though. Plant some acorns and pine seeds. Take notes and make comparisons. Plant some of those maple “helicopter” seeds as well. Go for a walk and collect seeds and berries to plant in cups in a sunny window and see what grows. You can do this with organic lemon and orange seeds as well but finding your own wild seeds is fun and gets you outdoors. Don’t forget to plant a few rose hips and milkweed seeds while you’re at it.

If you’re feeling crafty, gather some friends or family and make small wreaths, ornaments, table centerpieces, and mantel deco rations. Dress up some pinecones and make elves, gnomes, or Santas with berries, leaves, moss, and grasses for eyes, hair, hats, and more.

I’ve done some of these crafts with teens that swore they weren’t going to do such “dumb” stuff, but it usually only takes them a few minutes to get involved. I do request that all phones take a rest while we do the project and rarely have gotten an argument. Most take photos to share with their friends, so they do get to use their phones a little. I’ll take a win-win any day.

Some of us like to walk and watch and listen every day but if you ask around, you’ll find that many others would like to do this but don’t know where to start. Don’t snort or laugh. Just invite them along. Start slow. Plan an hour at most for newbies and end with coffee or a picnic in the car overlooking a lovely spot.

Giving a gift of nature is fun and it is a gift that really does keep on giving. Know your audience and be sure they dress appropriately. I’ve sent more than one person back inside to change shoes, grab a hat, or add a jacket. No need to be uncomfortable, I say. Just bring it with you and you’ll have it if you need it. I never have to say another word. The weather usually does that for me.

If you feel you must spend some cash as well as time, add a sketchbook or notebook, a guidebook, a book of local walks, maybe a class or museum visit. Just keep it simple.

When we give a gift of nature, we are giving a gift of our time, which in the end is the most valuable asset we have. If you look at your own bank of memories, I’m sure you are like me in that the best memories you have are of time spent together, not gifts people bought us.

Nature is a quiet companion. She allows us to explore and enjoy at our own pace and in our own ways. Don’t worry about some trumped-up supply shortage this holiday season. Make your own fun. Even far-away family and friends can share moments and projects with you on Zoom.

Give the gifts that keep on giving. Nature is already really good at this. Follow her example and enjoy her bounty in whatever ways suit you and yours best.

Mary Richmond is an artist, writer, naturalist and educator who grew up on the Cape and lives in Hyannis. More information at

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