nature 11.29 Holly

By the time you are reading this, Thanksgiving will have whizzed right by us. For many of us, it is a favorite day, one without commercialization because, well, it’s hard to package and sell gratitude. Being thankful is intangible, and thank goodness for that. We are sorry to see the holiday go, perhaps, mostly because of what comes rushing in right behind it. Already people are complaining that because Thanksgiving was late this year there will be hardly enough time to prepare for the upcoming holidays. Oh no! Only four weeks to shop!

Remember when no one took more than a week or two to get ready for the holidays? When advertising was limited to the weeks after Thanksgiving and no one dared put up a wreath, lights or a tree until the turkey soup was gobbled up? It seems like a long time ago in a land far away these days. I may be old, but I have to admit I miss the old-fashioned approach.

I enjoy the holidays as much as anyone, but like many others I get worn down by the constant commercialization aimed at making us all feel like we just aren’t doing and spending enough. If you watch enough commercials on TV or online, you can soon become convinced that everyone else is channeling their inner Martha Stewart while you’re lucky to remember where you packed away the tree ornaments last winter.

In the midst of a season of gifting, I suggest we save a few gifts for ourselves. We don’t have to spend a penny. We just need to find a little time and space for ourselves in a crazy season. Getting outdoors will do both. Stop laughing; you can do it.

If you’re a planner with a bunch of to-do lists and calendars, add a walk outdoors to your lists at least twice or three times a week. Daily would be ideal but I understand and accept reality. Add a drive by the beach. Better yet, add a half-hour to sit and drink your favorite coffee, tea or hot chocolate in your car at the beach if it’s too cold or nasty to get out and walk.

Collect wild greens to make your own real decorations. A sprig of cedar or holly in a Mason jar tied with a scrap of ribbon can look beautiful and doesn’t cost a cent. Add a few pine cones or seashells, a few boughs of pine and a clipping of wintergreen and you’ll swoon every time you walk by. Never mind the fake scents of potpourri or scented candles. Enjoy the real thing.

If you already feed the birds, maybe add a new feeder to your wish list. New ones for holding dried insects and worms are now available and will make many birds, including bluebirds, happy. Make a few feeders of your own but remember to hang them in places where the squirrels won’t simply cut them down and carry them away. There are lots of cute and clever ideas online, but the old-school pine cones rolled in peanut butter, then in seed and hung with a bit of yarn, still work and the birds love them. You can make this a triple threat gift by including children. That way the birds, the kids and you all benefit from a fun afternoon or morning.

Taking time for a walk may seem like a hysterical and silly suggestion for those of you juggling work, families and holiday obligations but a quick walk outdoors is a great stress releaser and can save your sanity and restore some peace of mind. Even a 10-minute wander around the neighborhood can be fun. Take the kids or your partner. They could probably use a little walk, too. Look for winter birds, signs of deer and see how many different kinds of berries and hips you can count. These are valuable winter foods for local birds and maybe you’ll get some ideas about what to add to your own yard next spring.

Nature is always there, always free and always a few steps away. We don’t have to travel far during a busy season. We live in a natural wonderland. Take a few minutes each day to enjoy this free gift. It will make the rest of the crazy season easier to enjoy.

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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