A World of Gratitude

“I live in the space of thankfulness – and for that, I have been rewarded a million times over. I started out giving thanks for small things, and the more thankful I became, the more my bounty increased. That’s because – for sure – what you focus on expands. When you focus on the goodness in life, you create more of it.” Oprah

How many days have you had in the past couple of years where you don’t want to look at the news?

I read it online most mornings just to keep an eye on the state of the world, and mostly my little corner of it. When it becomes overwhelming, I’ll take a news-free day (or two) to decompress.

The pandemic has turned our world upside down, but we have so many things to be grateful for. This past Tuesday, September 21 was World Gratitude Day, and this week’s post is dedicated to the healing power of acknowledging and appreciating the good things in our lives, even the tiny ones.

You may already practice gratitude, but if you’ve only heard of it and thought it was bogus, I can tell you from personal experience that it works.

For the last few years in which I was working at a Monday-to-Friday job, it became harder and harder to get up in the mornings, achy and tired from the fibromyalgia, and push myself into a functional state. One particularly dreary morning I decided to try saying aloud five things that I was grateful for – anything I could think of off the top of my head. I was grateful for having a decent job with a pension, for a great hubby, for a car that was running well…I don’t remember them all, but by the end of my little recital I did actually feel better.

I’ve done this many times over the years, and my impression is that it’s like a reset button, breaking you out of a mental loop that keeps replaying everything that’s bugging you – which, if you think about it, is both non-productive and depressing. If you pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re in one of these loops, you’ll notice that your dissatisfaction keeps building until it poisons the entire day. How much better to snap yourself out of it and keep moving forward?

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude will lower your stress level, which benefits your immune system. it will improve your self-esteem (tell that severe inner critic which exists in all of us to just shove it!), improve your sociability (which your boss will appreciate), and help you sleep better (now that you’re not grumbling and beating yourself up). Concrete physical benefits include greater cardiovascular health and lower rates of inflammation. Life serves up both good and bad, but understanding how to mentally balance them will improve your resilience.

On days when gratitude is hard to summon, find other ways to break the cycle. My favourite method is to go out into nature and let the trees, the wind, the birds all wash away my frustration and resentment. I’m so grateful to live on such an amazing planet, with so much beauty to look at:

The silken interior of a milkweed pod
Autumn crocus glowing with sunlight amid a carpet of blue plumbago
Pumpkins for sale at a local farm market

World Gratitude Day was developed in 1965, out of a conversation at a Thanksgiving Day dinner in the meditation room of the United Nations building. A spiritual leader named Sri Chinmoy suggested a day of thanks that the entire world could celebrate.

If you’re uncertain on how to start, you may want to check out Gratefulness.org, a wonderful and thoughtful place to learn more and even participate in a global community. I particularly recommend watching the 5-minute “A Grateful Day” video on their World Gratitude Day page. It’s a beautiful and profound statement on why we should be grateful to be alive.

All photos are by me and all rights are reserved. E Jurus

For love of our global home

Here in southern Ontario the heat of August has finally broken, and it’s been an absolute delight to be able to open the windows of our houses to let fresh air back in.

We’ve had hot summers before, so this year’s wasn’t anything new, but around the world the signs of climate change are unmistakable – melting polar snow, widespread forest fires, increasingly powerful hurricanes.

A study of impacts globally during the past 50 years (1970 to 2019 ) from weather, climate and water extremes, has shown that climate-related disasters are now five times higher than they used to be, with an enormous cost to the local economies. It’s been estimated that the fires in British Columbia this summer cost $600 million dollars just to fight them, much less the lives lost, compromised health and damages to homes and business disruptions.

Last month the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released an assessment of the current dire condition our planet is in: we must take action immediately in order to prevent a catastrophic future in as little as twenty years. Some of the changes that have already happened will take hundreds of years to reverse..

Lots of people are working on the problem, but it’s our job as average citizens to understand the seriousness of the issue, to value what we’ve been blessed with until now and to help in any way we can.

KAIROS Canada, a coalition of religious organizations across denominations, along with advocates from around the world interested in human rights and the preservation of our planet, has designated September as Climate Action Month, and as a graduate in ecological and environmental science myself, I’ll be following some of their initiatives throughout the month.

If you’re wondering what you can do, KAIROS’ 30-day Challenge Card will give you some ideas:

You can download the 30-Day Challenge ACTION Card for yourself and track your actions.   

Today I’m fulfilling Actions 2, 6, 18, 20 and 27 all in the same post. I engaged in some Forest Bathing today in a local conservation area called Woodend on top of the Niagara Escarpment to absorb all the healing aspects of a simple walk in the woods and to collect samples of the beauty of nature all around us to share with you. Here’s just a little of what I found.

Cool, aromatic trails through the forest
Tiny flowers have amazingly elaborate structures
Clearings contain a complex layering of inhabitants, through which white butterflies dance from flower to flower
Throughout the area massive blocks of dolomitic limestone create jumbled landscapes
Nearby, this bark-less fallen chunk of tree has strange markings — maybe trails of subcutaneous insects that once lived there?
Another fallen trunk sports a collection of woodland fungi
Forest bathing is all about taking a break from everyday life and letting the sights, sounds, scents and healthy atmosphere of a forest replenish you. It’s important to notice all the layers; here the trail underfoot is dry and cracked from the heat and limited rainfall of the past few weeks.
Wild rose shrubs dot the airier edges of the forest, now sporting their rose hips, or haws, for the transition into autumn
This fallen trunk houses an ethereal spider web and accessories of dried leaves
A patch of bright red berries on the sunny forest fringe
Wild apples (crabapples) hang temptingly for the region’s white-tailed deer population
A wide path cut through part of the woods draws visitors in with its peace and shade

All of that in one tiny corner of our world, free for anyone to enjoy. Imagine if in twenty years or so none of that was there.

Bees, for example, are in great danger of disappearing, and that would be disastrous. Bees pollinate 80% of the world’s plants – including more than 100 different food crops: fruits, vegetables, forage for dairy and beef cattle, herbs, spices, nuts, medicinal plants and the many ornamental plants we love in our gardens. Without the humble little bee flitting around, working away, we all face starvation.

Forests clean our air. They also shelter thousands of species of animals around the world. According to Reset.org, one 100-year-old oak tree every year binds about 5,000 pounds of carbon and gives off enough oxygen to support eleven people. At the same time, the roots absorb about 40,000 liters of water from the soil every year, which it “sweats out” through the leaves to work like a giant air conditioner. On top of that, the tree filters about one tonne of dust and pollutants from the air.

Without trees, we all face climatic disaster.

I think a lot of people believe that humans are the only important species on the planet, but they’re so wrong. Earth is a massive interconnected system that depends on millions of creatures, both plant and animal, to function properly. Without all of them, humans are doomed.

How can you help? By supporting everyone who’s working so hard to change things for the better. Recycle, sign petitions to our governments, support the plants and animals we have left.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that more than 37,400 species of all kinds are currently threatened with extinction, but the actual number is even higher because there are many more species that simply haven’t been assessed yet – or even discovered!

International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, www.iucnredlist.org/

Every species counts. One petition that came to my inbox today illustrates the importance of everyone making their voice heard so that our governments realize we want them to preserve our planet, not big business.

Would you allow someone to dismantle your own home bit by bit, until there was nothing left to shelter and nourish you? Of course not. So let’s not let big business do that to our global home.

All photos by me and all rights reserved.

Steam heat

We’ve been living in a regional sauna lately — heat warnings most days this month. I go out as little as possible when the weather’s like this, mainly for groceries and to water our drooping garden plants.

By late August I’m longing for cool autumn weather — which looks like it’s still pretty far away — so for this post I’ll share some photos I took on one of the rare rainy days a couple of weeks ago, up at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. My brother and I spent some time strolling Hendrie Park, until the rain became torrential, lightning flashed and thunder boomed all around us. We felt sorry for the two wedding parties there that day!

Just looking at these photos makes me feel cooler; I hope they affect you the same way 🙂

Widespread cloud cover took the edge off the heat while we walked the pathways.
Magnificent rust-toned sunflowers nodding way over my head
I like the contrast of these fluffy Teddy Bear Sunflowers with their huge shiny leaves
An explosion of colour against cool green leaves
Dragonflies welded together in a mating dance landed briefly by this crimson water lily
These soft creamy day lilies reminded me of sheer lacy curtains waving in a summer breeze
Spot the Monarch butterfly
Pale lavender roses epitomize coolness
The stormy sky reflected in a pond shortly before the rain blew in

Wherever you are, I hope you’re keeping cool while this month burns its way into the history books.

Choices in difficult times

Is it just me, or does this cloud look like a balloon animal?

I needed another stress break today, so I went on an impromptu trip to one of my favourite places that’s appeared in my blog several times, the botanical garden at the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls.

One of our neighbours has two dogs, one of which hates being outside if all its people are inside. It’s a dog thing – some don’t mind being outside in the yard, but the majority I’ve seen only want to be out if their humans are as well. When dogs are stressed, they bark until the stress is relieved.

The barking went on for over forty minutes; this had been going on all week, every day throughout the day. Today I’d had enough and went over to speak to the family. I’d planned to talk to the parents, but they weren’t home, and I chose to speak to the son about the issue. I was polite, but angry.

I was at my wit’s end; we’ve had ongoing issues with this family since they moved in. Things like repeated trespassing, damage to the adjoining fence by the son over a year ago that the father promised to fix but still hasn’t, and other issues I won’t list here.

What I should have done, though, was ask the son to put the dogs in the house and to have his parents contact me.

These are challenging times and we’re all feeling the strain. Even though the world is making great progress against the coronavirus, we’re not out of the woods by any means; we can just see the outer edge of the trees. A lot of people have lost loved ones, lost a job or a business, been affected by political issues. We’ve all struggled to stay sane in general.

The father came over to our house later in the day and asked that in future if something’s bothering me I should be speaking to them, not the kids. That’s a fair request, and it’s the choice I should have made.

Everyone is irritable, as much as we try not to be. All we can do to mitigate that is try to be as considerate of others as possible.

Be nice to the store clerk, keep an appropriate distance from others in public, drive responsibly – be a good neighbour, which, although I had good reason to be fed up today, I didn’t do the best job of either.

I read an article the other day that complaints about neighbours have escalated in the Ottawa region in the past year, and I’m sure other communities have experienced the same thing. Our region also holds quite a few tourist attractions, where we’re still having issues with visitors misbehaving – sometimes, sadly, those visitors have lost their lives doing risky things.

We’re all stressed, and looking for ways to blow off steam in the craziness of 2020-2021, but let’s try to do it respectfully, and safely.

I had an issue that needed addressing today, but I could have handled it better. The whole situation bothered me so much that I had to get out of the house for a while. I relaxed as soon as I started walking around in nature. The gardens were busy today, but everyone was calm and considerate; nature is a great way to chill out. I’ll share with you some of the peace and beauty I found, as at least a virtual stress break in case you need one too.

One of the pretty paths to stroll
This was labelled as a ‘Blackberry Lily’, although the name seems odd so I’m not sure
I need this for my Halloween garden!
Several crab apple trees dot the gardens, all full of fruit
The paths at the gardens are so serene to walk
These strange plant bodies are near my favourite pond; they weren’t labelled, but they look like roots of some kind?
Quite a few frogs croaking in the pond
Lots of these pretty blue flowers in the water
A blue jay enjoying his crab apple
No idea what this tree was, but it was lovely
A pretty pink flower shows off its interior
Still trying to find out what this podded plant is – does anyone know?
Beautiful juxtaposition
Unidentified statue by the rose gardens
Shrub rose
I was sitting on a handy branch on the interior of this tree to take a break from the sweltering sun
I loved the layered mix of colours in these beds
Detail of the beautiful veining on the canna leaves
A cheerful honeysuckle flower

All photos are by me and all rights reserved.

Celebrating bees

We tend to take these busy little workers for granted, and many people are afraid of them (with good reason, for anyone who has an allergy), but in their tiny unassuming way they’re one of the most important creatures we have on our planet. Without their pollination of plants, we’d have a lot less to eat. Today’s post is in honour of World Bee Day.

It’s challenging to get a good photo of a bee. You need a lot of patience to try and catch them hanging around in one spot long enough; they do live up to the saying ‘busy as a bee’. I’ve tried many times; the photo above is one of my best, but I have plenty of photos that are as fuzzy as their little bodies.

I’m lucky enough to not be allergic, so I really enjoy watching bees zip around from flower to flower. I was stung many times as a child — we lived on a farm in northern Ontario that had an extensive patch of wild blueberries across the road and up a hill, and my mom and I would go picking as soon as the berries ripened. Sometimes we emerged unscathed, but I remember quite a few times when we fled back to the farmhouse sporting a few welts. My mom was a nurse, so she kept a ready supply of vinegar around to make compresses for the stings. The berries, and the adventure, were worth it 🙂

At my home now we have several plants that the bees love to visit: a pink spirea in the front, a pea bush in the back that fills with yellow flowers in the spring and is a favourite of area bees, and a big linden tree also in our back yard which, in years when it blooms, spreads its wonderful fragrance through the air. The huge bumblebees really love the linden, and there’s something about their drowsy buzzing that makes the world feel perfect for a while. We are proud bee supporters!

There are many plants available for home gardeners that invite bees; if you’re worried about having them around, as far as I’ve observed every summer, they’re really not interested in us at all and we’ve never had an issue — except when our late dogs each caught one in their mouth and learned that wasn’t such a good idea :/

You can learn much more about bees and World Bee Day at the Food and Agricultural site of the United Nations, and you too can “Bee Engaged”.

Photo by me and all rights reserved.

Blossom time in Niagara

This week we’re celebrating blossom time in the Niagara region, which is Nature’s sign that spring has truly arrived.

Every May fruit trees all over our farmlands cover themselves in gorgeous flowers. The blossoms don’t last long, and the timing is tricky if you want to see them — like fall colours, it’s all dependent on the weather. This year, with plenty of mild weather, sunshine and rain showers, the blossoms have arrived right on cue, and I thought I’d share them with everyone who can’t come and see them in person during the continuation of the pandemic.

Our sublime May light makes the blossoms look almost incandescent — rows of glowing colours in orchards, lining our parks, and dotting our city streets.

In the photo below, cherry trees line the fringes of a historic site called McFarland House, built in 1800, and the thick showers of pink blossoms contrast strikingly with nearby red maples also flaunting their best spring outfits.

The resplendent clusters of pink flowers pop against the trees’ craggy grey-green bark.

I believe these are Japanese flowering cherries; here’s a closeup of the blossoms and new leaves for anyone who might have a better idea than I do.

It’s not just fruit trees that are livening up our landscapes; here at Queenston Heights in Niagara Falls, vibrant tulips are showing off their best colours. This historic site, which commemorates the first major battle in the War of 1812, is also the southern terminus of the Bruce Trail, the famous hiking trail that runs for 900km (about 560 mi) from Niagara northward to Tobermory on the shores of Georgian Bay.

I’m partial to variegated tulips…

…but all of the flowers were putting on a grand display of their lush petals and intriguing variety of reproductive configurations.

Niagara Falls also boasts quite a pretty 10-acre lilac garden.

The garden is free to visit; you can spend an entire morning or afternoon there, inhaling the wonderful perfume of the flowers…

,,,and admiring the different varieties. There were a handful of us getting some outdoor exercise on a lovely day, although rain was on the horizon.

I loved the pretty variegated leaves on this shrub.

Turning back toward Niagara-on-the-Lake, I found numerous pink-strewn cherry orchards…

and white apple orchards lining the roads.

Clusters of white apple blossoms were bursting out on all the branches, their sprays of delicate pistils making them look like lace.

Even the other trees are sporting froths of bright new leaves. I love this time of year, when the air is fresh and invigorating, and the sunshine begins keeping its promises.

Heading to the Fonthill area, numerous farms are studded with the stubble of last year’s corn stalks.

Even though the region is starting to drown under the weight of wineries (over seventy in about 700 square miles), if you take the time to wander the back roads you can still find pretty farms tucked away.

In fact, a leisurely wander is the best way to see the region’s spring beauty when you have a chance. You might even spot some of the area’s wild turkeys searching a field for lunch. There used to be one that patrolled an intersection near where I live, stopping traffic for the better part of an hour as it strutted up and down the road. (If you’ve never seen one for yourself, they’re huge birds, up to four feet tall and rather ornery.)

Hiking trails abound; this section of the Bruce Trail is twinned with a trail project in South Africa, surprisingly enough.

Even here the trails were luminous in the afternoon light.

At some time in the future, when life has returned more closely to normal, you may want to visit the Niagara Region in the springtime, when it shows all of its prettiest colours. In the meantime, I hope you have some lovely areas to explore and let Nature work her magic.