Bonsai Wisdom – a door to inner peace

We have been speculating about the why of how being in Nature improves our mental and physical health. There is significant research proving that being in Nature lowers our stress levels, improves our immune system, sharpens our minds, and can heal us from trauma. But the why is  much more mysterious. Our attempt to answer the why has been focused on our past experience as a species, the evolutionary impact of living and adapting to our lives outdoors for millions of years.

Our fortunate connection with Neil, the curator of Bonsai trees at the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego, California, helped us dig deeper into the question of why.

Standing next to the inspiring Bonsai tree exhibit at the garden, we were discussing how fractal patterns, self-repeating shapes and forms that are easily found in Nature, are so pleasant to look at.

“Just like the Bonsai,” Neil said, as he pointed to a small juniper. “You’ll notice the tree has an overall triangle shape.”

Bonsai 1

A Bonsai juniper.

“As you begin to look closely, you’ll notice that triangle is repeated in smaller forms for each branch, then each sub-branch.”

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Why Nature is Good for Us

The Benefits of Chaparral Education – the research

Increasing public awareness of what healthy, shrub-covered landscapes look like (and what they are called) is one of the first steps necessary in gaining public support in developing a plan to help stem the loss and protect what is left. This is where public parks and volunteer naturalists in protected wild places play a critical role.

Once individuals are introduced to the chaparral as a viable, natural community, interest in learning about the various plants and animals that inhabit the community can grow. As knowledge and appreciation for one’s local, natural environment develops, it becomes incorporated into a person’s place attachment, or more commonly, a “sense of place.”


The concept of sense of place has multiple definitions depending upon who is applying it, but it generally involves not just the physical environment, but social features as well. A sense of place is an experience that combines both the physical setting and what we bring to it, how we interact with it (Steele 1981).

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Wisdom of the Chipmunk

What can we do? Listen to the chipmunk.

The negative news just keeps coming. How does one deal with it all and make a positive contribution at the same time? I found my answer during a 10 day solo backpack in the Sierra Nevada when I encountered a chipmunk taking on the switchbacks up Colby Pass.

My pack was pulling me into the center of the earth, my legs were burning, and every time I looked up, the pass seemed to be crawling away. The whole ordeal was killing me. So I stopped, threw my pack down, and collapsed on the incline. The weather was threatening, so I knew I had to keep moving, but I couldn’t.

Then I saw the chipmunk. He was darting up the switchback ahead of me. Although at first glance he seemed to be scurrying along in fits and starts, he always stopped when the switchback turned. Right at the corner he paused, occupying himself with cleaning his little paws and looking around at the scenery. Then he was off again until he reached the next switchback corner. This went on until my little friend disappeared into the salt and pepper granite background.

That’s when it dawned on me. I could do that – set my goal to reach a certain point, then stop. I could do ten steps. That’s it then, ten. So I put my pack back on, got my breath back into my body, stood up straight, and did my ten steps. Then I stopped. My breath was still manageable, but I stayed put until I felt ready. Then I hiked another ten steps. I stopped at ten steps whether or not I felt like I needed to stop. I avoided looking up slope to see if the pass was closer. I thought about the chipmunk.


Each time I stopped, it was like a little celebration. Euphoria was bubbling up through my body. The pain became manageable. Tapping into small, incremental amounts of will power was incredibly powerful. I set an attainable goal, met it, and rejoiced in the achievement. Sure, my vision of reaching the top of the pass was somewhere in the background, but that was no longer my goal. If it had been, I would have remained overwhelmed. I couldn’t have mustered the strength to carry on.

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