Surrounded by octogenarians-plus yesterday afternoon, I slowly began to read from Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits.
I know these women from many other visits to this particular senior living facility near my home. I’ve read to them from my other books, led discussions about nature or writing, facilitated creative and nature-based activities with them, and I’ve also gone regularly with a few friends to ring handbells there.
Though I had a loose plan to read a few stories from my newest book, I also hoped to entice and - perhaps even – to deeply engage them (as I had during other visits) in their own stories. Using my book as a front for my subversive desire to hear their stories.
As I parked my car nearby, I remembered that some of the residents are nearly blind. My basket was filled with nature photographs, small gifts, bookmarks, and Weaned Seals… I needed objects from nature with loads of texture for those who wouldn’t be able to see the pictures. Sensory stimulation beyond the sense of sight. Along the road I picked up pine cones, nubbled rocks, different sizes and shapes of leaves, a few twigs, and a dried fir bough, adding them to my basket of goodies.
And sure enough, as I gently shared stories of encounters with wild creatures and landscapes from my book, something in these women opened up. I could see a little light flickering in one woman’s eyes, a curiosity in another’s, a question on the brow of a third, and a grimace that seemed impenetrable on another. Checking in to see who might have trouble seeing the nature photos I had brought, I passed around the images and the objects so each person could choose something to which she was drawn. I asked them to just spend a minute with their image or object - exploring colors, shapes, surfaces, scent. I encouraged them to say aloud one or two words that described the image/object; then I asked them of what it reminded them in their own life.
And, voila! The floodgates opened and stories came fast, tumbling one upon the next:
Dried fir needles evoked the word “pattern” which a woman then found repeated in the veins of a huge, wet maple leaf and the branches of a tree.
The next woman remembered the interesting trees in India that were abundant in the town where she attended high school.
Which reminded someone else of the trees in the yard of her longtime home that she left when she transitioned to the safety of the supportive services in the senior living facility.
Another woman looked at her image (sunrise at the ferry dock), and recalled sunsets on a lake in Alaska where she had lived for many years. Which led someone else to remember the sunrises over the grasslands in her midwestern hometown.
And, finally, the woman whose face had remained solidly serious for a full hour – when I gently asked if she wanted to say something about the photo she’d selected – broke into a wide grin. She told us a story about a flower in her childhood that connected to the photograph of echinacea that she’d chosen; this led her back to the branching veins in the other woman’s maple leaf, and a rock that remained on the table – both evoking memories from long ago. She went on to mention how fortunate we are to live in a place where simply walking out the door brings us into the beauty of nature!
I couldn’t agree more.
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Nature objects, imagery, landscapes, and creatures are evocative, enticing something within us to come alive again. They can put a smile on our face, make us weep with sorrow or glee, and take us back in time to important places, relationships, events. Nature brings us full circle into wholeness again with ourselves and the fabric of all life.
All blog images created & photographed by Jennifer J. Wilhoit unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: "©2019 JenniferJWilhoit/TEALarbor stories. AllRightsReserved."