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Creating gifts that offer a connection to nature

A collection of materials with which to create.

The holidays are different this year — for many reasons — but the end result is that I am doing different activities than normal, some old traditions are on hold, and it is an opportunity to try out some new things. I’ve always made a holiday wreath out of greens and some natural materials as decorations. This year I am rethinking that and what goes into it. And expanding the idea beyond a wreath. Because I have the time for that creative thought.

I’ll use greens, certainly. They are a reminder of the everlasting life, even in the dark season. They are a reminder that even though life ends, new life always abounds. I’ll also use other things like pine cones and hickory nuts. Looking around this year, though, I’ve noticed more elements that might look good in a wreath; little bits of nature that I would like to bring in because they are intriguing, beautiful, or have unique character.

Much of this was prompted by looking for decorations for the fundraiser wreaths. To find things that were on Audubon’s property, that would hold up well in a wreath, and add a unique element to the base of Balsam Fir greens opened my eyes to a plethora of possibilities. Golden-tan beech leaves, Oak-leaf Hydrangea flowers, Sensitive Fern spore cases, Winterberry Holly berries, Common Primrose seeds pods, Blue False Indigo seed pods, and more went from winter skeletons to elements of dÈcor.

And then I noticed even more. There is a wispy grass that grows in the back yard that I have always liked. For some reason this year I noticed that when clumped together, it gave a soft, ephemeral appearance, much like a ghost, visible and yet not. The foxtail grasses that grow as weeds in the garden were an obvious decoration and I was surprised I had never noticed them before in the context of wreath decoration.

My rice in the garden this year struggled with the cool, wet, spring, the voles, and the overwhelming weed competition and so amounted to not much in the form of food… but as a nodding acknowledgement to the land that produces our sustenance, they look great in a wreath! The same is true of the shelled bean pods that twist like bows, and are the color of fresh cream; and of the early-frosted ground cherries, whose husks resemble little lanterns.

Creativity is a strong urge this time of year, after one acclimates to being awake in the dark for long periods of time. Dried arrangements, fairy creations, and wreaths are but a few of the creations I’ve made from my found natural decorations. Another nice part about natural crafts is that when they breakdown after hanging on the door, or I am tired of them on the shelf, they are not litter or additions to the landfill. Into the compost they go, to nurture next years’ growth and creativity.

The possibilities are endless, really, with the materials you can forage outdoors. You can weave little baskets with iris leaves, pine needles, or dandelion stems. You can create centerpieces with acorns, pine cones, hickory nuts, alder catkins, and milkweed pods.

You can create miniature creatures from acorn hats, milkweed fluff, cornhusks, and sticks. A simple search on Pinterest or Google for natural dÈcor or similar yields endless possibilities.

Extend it even more and acorns, acorn hats, nuts, seeds, and berries, become the makings of mandalas, temporary art that facilitates meditation. Give them to a child and they are a sorting exercise, building blocks, currency, dolls, or targets. And when you are done with them, out into the yard to be food or fuel for the growth of the wild.

Further, the elegance of a single swamp milkweed stem – twisted and subtle of color, with a slight sheen on the inside of the pod so that it seems to glow from within – inspires art, be it with colored pencil, charcoal, paint, camera, or crayon. The true gift, of course, is not the art, but the process.

You’ve slowed down, you’ve connected with the natural world and reflected upon it, which is the true character of this season.

Take a walk, forage for materials, make and create. It is good for your mind, for your hands, for your soul. Audubon can help, with some of the make-and-take workshops coming up over the winter. But you have it all right outside your door. Embrace the winter, and invite nature inside. A little sprig of pine, with some acorns, red berries, and a star-shaped leaf may be the wonder you are looking for this season.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is partially open, including restrooms, the Blue Heron Gift Shop, and some exhibits. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling 569-2345.

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