Discovering and Connecting With Nature Indoors

In the cold depths of winter, many of us find ourselves spending more time indoors.  Nights are long, days are chilly.  Even when we need to go outdoors (to shovel snow, walk to the car or bus stop), we may not linger, walking quickly so that we can stay warm and get out of the cold as soon as possible.  We retreat indoors, bundling up in blankets and sweaters, piling wood onto our fireplaces, and turning up our furnaces.  We need this warmth of our houses to survive winter’s cold.

But our houses are not isolated environments, separated from the rest of the living, breathing world.  They are human-made environments embedded within the larger more-than-human world.  And in the depths of winter, when we don’t want to go out (or when weather conditions are such that it would even be dangerous to go out for an extended period), we can still connect with that world from indoors.

Here are some ways to do that:

1. Become a window observer.  Even if you live the depths of the city, there is likely something that you can observe from your window:

  • Watch and identify different cloud formations.  Notice the direction that the clouds usually move from, and ponder what this tells you about local weather patterns.
  • Install a bird feeder outside your window and watch the birds.  Notice how the plumage of some birds is less brightly-coloured in winter than in summer.  What familiar summer birds are missing (because they have migrated south)?
  • Watch for other wildlife.  In winter, when food is scarce, some animals, such as deer and elk, may descend to lower elevations and come closer to human dwellings than they do in summer.
  • Watch the snow itself.  Notice how it is slower to melt on north-facing slopes or the north sides of buildings, and notice how the wind affects how the snow falls and accumulates.
Goldfinches in the apple tree

American goldfinches in the apple tree outside our dining room window. In summer, these birds are a bright yellow; in winter, they don a more modest plumage.

2. Bring in house plants.  Being the plant geek that I am, I think that any space is a lot nicer with a few plants in it (or maybe more than a few; we share our home with 40+ house plants!), but house plants also help to purify the air, increase humidity, and generally make us feel healthier and happier.  If you’re not sure what plants to grow, I’d recommend the species known as pothos, golden pothos, or devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum) to start with.  This plant’s variegated foliage always looks beautiful, it grows almost anywhere in your home (even in relatively low light conditions), and it doesn’t need to be watered too often.

In winter, house plants are a reminder of the warmer, greener days to come.  Spend time observing your plant closely.  What does its shape and growth form tell you about what the plant’s native environment may have been like?  For example, a plant with lush, broad leaves may be native to a humid, shady forest understory, while a plant with succulent leaves may be from a dry environment.  Developing the ability to learn about a plant (or animal) simply by observing it in this way is a skill that can help you to better appreciate your native wild plants when spring returns.

Golden pothos

My beautiful golden pothos. We have several of these plants throughout the house; this is probably one of the smaller ones.

3. Seek out other living things in your home.  Although I doubt that any of us want our homes to be infested with rodents or insects, many small living creatures still manage to make their way in, despite our efforts to keep them out and to seal off our homes from the outside world.  Although you should probably deal with any infestations, many of these creatures are harmless.  Spiders help to keep our spaces free of insects that may become pests.  And I don’t mind the odd tiny moth or beetle fluttering or crawling by.  Earlier this winter, we were lucky enough to have a butterfly living in our house for a week.

Although many of us are likely used to killing any insects or spiders that we encounter in our homes, try to pause for a moment first.  Observe the creature up close, and ponder how it got here and how it is surviving in your home.  As I said at the beginning of this post, your home is not an isolated environment, sealed off from the rest of the world, but a part of that world.  This tiny creature is a small expression of the wider nature within your home.  And if it is not harmful to your health, not damaging your home, and not a sign of a larger infestation, perhaps it may be just as simple to let it live.

~~~

Of course, none of these activities should be replacements for being outdoors on the ground and under the sky.  To understand and connect with the more-than-world, we must enter into it.  We must, from time to time, leave behind our human-created environments and walk among the non-human.  This is essential.

But when it becomes too cold or the weather becomes too dangerous to be outdoors for longer periods (or when we are confined indoors because of illness), there are ways that we can still find that connection with the more-than-human from indoors.  The three activities that I have presented here are, I think, still just a beginning.  What ways do you connect with nature when indoors?

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