Stress-busting at the Huntington Botanical Gardens

Have you noticed that stress is cumulative? I put significant effort into ameliorating the effects of daily stress. I try very hard not to let it build up, but I don’t operate under any misconception that I can eliminate it. However, I know that if I regularly tap into quiet I am better prepared to offset the barrage of noise and clamor that seems to come with living in a busy world.

One of my favorite places to find that peace is the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Once the home of Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella, the library contains priceless literary and artistic treasures rivaling collections found in the greatest museums.

I will undoubtedly take you along with me on one of my trips inside the many buildings and exhibits associated with the library and art collection. But this weekend I was mostly interested in spending some time on the grounds. The botanical gardens cover 120 acres with rare plants from around the world. It is incredibly satisfying to just walk the grounds.

A benefit of being a local is having a membership offering early entrance to the grounds. I took advantage of some free time to enjoy the beauty and soak up some silence three hours before the Huntington opens to the general public.

Dodging sprinkling systems, tuning out the incessant drone of leaf blowers, and making note that silence is a rare commodity anywhere in Southern California, I  focused on the beauty of a lovely fall morning.

I wasn’t alone in early entrance to the garden–I do fantasize that I can have it all to myself for just an hour–but I noted others who were also committed to being as silent as possible. One woman had her sketch book and pencils. One man was sitting in the sunshine of the rose garden reading a book. Many more were like myself with camera in hand.

For a brief time I walked behind two young women accompanied by their children. The children caught my attention because I really wished I had my two granddaughters with me to explore and enjoy the birds and squirrels busy with their morning meal. The women were chatting, loud and clear, about school preferences, challenges they were experiencing with a particular teacher, and debating the suitability of the educational system as tailored to meet the needs of their children.

Yet the children were walking by themselves, looking and touching and taking it all in without the benefit of either mother using the opportunity to engage with them. They weren’t “together”–they weren’t sharing this wonderful  hands-on teaching environment.

I thought back and wondered if I had been that unconscious with my own children. At times, the answer is probably “yes,” but one benefit in getting older is realizing opportunities need to be grabbed.  It’s about “now” not later.

I did have time with Sophia and Karina on Saturday. The girls were at our house in the afternoon and we had several hours to do with as we pleased. So we took a nature walk around our own neighborhood.

I left it up to them to decide what was important to notice. They talked about palm trees, rocks, a piece of bark, a stone, squirrels, butterflies…somehow an American flag made it into our “nature” observations. But they noticed. That’s all I wanted.

We came home and colored pictures of what they had seen. Since Sophia is still working with a broken arm I encouraged them to create on paper we could cut out and tape into a new nature journal I had purchased. They spent about an hour coloring and “writing notes” in our new field observation guide! We now have one full entry. But we can do this again each time we have the chance to walk and look around us. What a delightful record of their childhood this will be for me!

And so a new week begins. There will be stress…for all of us. For those living in the path of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, the word “stress” isn’t even adequate. However, everyone has moments that feel like mini-storms.

I do encourage considering what you’ll do to capture even a moment or two of  “peace and quiet” this week.  I guarantee we need to regularly access quiet, not just on the weekends, in order to strengthen resilience and keep stress in check. And maybe start your own journal–poetry, photography, painting… keep track of what it means to stop and be mindful and notice how good it can feel to jump off the treadmill!

For my American friends–we may be in for a bumpy political road this week. I’m going to try to get outdoors as much as possible and tune out ALL unnecessary noise.

Let’s all breathe lighter, shall we?

58 thoughts on “Stress-busting at the Huntington Botanical Gardens

  1. That does seem like a lovely place to go to just chill out and unwind. It’s great that you were able to have some time with your granddaughters. I love their pictures – they’re gorgeous xx

    • The Huntington Library and grounds are truly spectacular, Charlie. I like to fantasize that I live there! :-) It’s amazing how relaxed I can get if I just walk the grounds! I did have fun with the girls and our little journal. Thanks for taking the time to encourage. :-)

  2. Stress? I put in 33 years inner city high school. Near the end I was so burnt out I could not do it another day. I never thought I would be thankful for coupla heart attacks but they helped me quit in 2006. Triple by-pass and I feel great and will make cartoons forever !

    • I can only imagine the stressful demands of your previous job, Carl. Inner city work of any kind, but high school? Wow! It it interesting that it so often requires our health to be compromised before we are really aware of how much the stress is taking from us. I’m very glad to hear that you are in good health now, and I would think that the creativity and attention to detail required to produce quality cartoons on a regular basis would be very good for your overall well-being! :-)

  3. Mini-storms…that’s a great way to phrase it. The pictures from the Huntington look just amazing. I can imagine how peaceful that must have been and how beautiful. A great way to start the day! Glad you enjoyed a walk with the girls too. I love the field journal. Mr. N and I used to do that. Haven’t done that in ages…we should do that again. I’m sure I’m guilty of not engaging every moment with the kiddos too. Today though – we made all about them for that very reason and it was a great day. Breathing lighter for sure. :) Have a great Debra!

    • I don’t think it’s possible for parents to be tuned into the children with every moment, Kristy. And I know I didn’t. I think what hit me as interesting with the women I was following was the realization that we were in such a heated conversation about “missed opportunities” in school…blaming a teacher! :-) It was a bit ironic. I’m so glad you had a good day with your two darlings. We all have so many pulls on our time and attention that when we know we’ve had a good and quality day with our children it is just very special! I do hope you have a good week…keep the mini-storms at arms’ length anyway!

  4. Wonderful thoughts, Debra. So glad that you tune in to your granddaughters when they are near. Love the idea of creating a Nature Journal together.

    Silence creates space for clarity . . .

    • Our little nature journal is going to be special for me anway, Nancy. I’ll hope the girls stay interested. It was very fun to see what they thought was worth noticing and reporting on. You’re so right about silence and clarity. It’s no wonder to me that people are on emotional “red alert” all the time. At times we just seem so unwilling to say “enough” and get still! :-)

  5. What a peaceful post, Debra. I may return to it several times in the coming days, as our country seems to be tearing itself apart. I’ll be glad when the election is over, but it only ushers in the next one and the next one and the next one………

    I think I’ll just get outside with you. :) We may be on opposite coasts, but we can still walk outside together.

    • Oh I hope we can walk together, Andra! I love the very idea of that. I am also very concerned about the way the political process has deteriorated to name calling and personal attacks. I don’t think it’s going to end either, but I’ll be glad to have fewer phone calls, fewer pieces of mail, and I may take a break from listening to any analysis for a while. Do you ever go somewhere beautiful to sit and do your writing? I have seen people sitting at the Huntington with ear buds and their laptops. I wondered if you do that? :-)

      • I can’t imagine what it must be like in CA. SC isn’t considered a battleground state, so the candidates aren’t wasting many trees or resources here. :)

        I need to start getting off-site one day a week to write. I am most productive writing in bed. Truly, that’s where I do 99% of my writing. But, they weren’t kidding when they said writing is a lonely life. (At least, until I get published and hopefully have fans.) I do get tired of my own company sometimes.

      • I think it would be great for you to find a beautiful spot that you can call your own…and write there maybe as often as once a week. It might refresh your spirit. I never really thought about the loneliness, Andra. I don’t like that! But you have such a strong start, you will get there! Hey! If you have fans now, and you do, it will only get better! :-)

    • Thank you, Lori. I don’t think you have to work quite as hard as I do to find some quiet! :-) When you post those beautiful photos from the trails I don’t think you encounter leaf blowers! Ha! But I adapt to my environment as much as I need to and can tune out a lot! I also have to remind myself continually that slowing down and being still IS doing something beneficial! Thanks for breathing lighter with me!

      • Actually, on the trail I run most often, which is paved and runs through the outskirts of town, I do occasionally encounter a trail maintenance volunteer with a leaf blower. I almost lost one of those perfect views to a leaf blower — I got the shot right before he came through. When hiking in the mountains, I frequently hear airplanes — they are discouraged but not prevented from flying over National Parks. True silence is precious and fleeting, which makes it all the more valuable when you find it, doesn’t it?

  6. I have some marvelous photos of Huntington that my Daughter and her husband took when they lived in America…. Our time constraints when we visited them did not allow us to visit the gardens… and I regret that, but there was so much we wanted to see in such a short time… and we actually only got to see the east side of America…

    • Maybe you’ll be able to return sometime, BD…but it’s a long trip, isn’t it!! Did your daughter live here long? California? The Huntington is very special to me, and it’s where I also formulated the idea that we share a similar climate. So many of the plants that thrive in Souther California are from South Africa. I’ve started to key into that as I make selections for my own garden. They seem to do well and not take too much water, which is an important factor to me! :-)

      • My daughter and son-in-law worked on the East coast… they are both Microsoft accredited programmers, but whilst they were there they got to travel a bit around America… they were there for 3 years… now back here with their own company programming and making the “bucks” ….their business is encoding my program that I developed and have saved me hundreds of thousands of dollars… they are my partners in the program that will hopefully be my ship coming in…there is no other program like it in the world and we have great interest from all over the world… so here’s hoping…

  7. Huntington sounds like such a great place to go when one’s batteries are ready to short circuit. Having your Granddaughters with you makes it all the better. It’s great to rediscover these places through their eyes.
    I lived near Lincoln Park, its Zoo & Conservatory being 2 of my favorite places in the City. In the dead of Winter, I could stroll around the Conservatory among the palm trees and see orchids in bloom. A magical place. And then there’s the Zoo, magical in its own right. No matter my mood, no matter how stressed, I leave those places in much better spirits. Some take sedatives. I take a stroll among palm trees.

    • I so agree that we do have the ability to change our emotional state by getting into a new environment. I call them my “mini vacations” and they may only be an hour or two. I’ve seen photos of Lincoln Park Zoo and thought it looked just wonderful. Isn’t it one of the oldest? I think you and I share a similar perspective that says we are responsible for our own emotional health and stress reduction. And a change of scenery really helps me! I hope you have a great week, John. It will be interesting….???

      • “Interesting week” is putting it mildly, Debra.
        The Lincoln park Zoo is the country’s oldest “no admission” zoo. it is small compared to the modern animal parks. The exhibits are relatively close together, enabling a family to spend their time looking at animals rather than walking from exhibit to exhibit. It’s perfect for the Li’l Ones. In fact, just last week was the annual Halloween party and next month they will have a night for “Caroling to the Animals.” Both events are geared towards the youngest among us. My only problem with the Zoo, and it is one shared by all zoos in this climate, is that the tropical animals must be housed indoors during the Winter months. Then again, I’m not too pleased heading out into our wintry weather either. :)

      • Caroling to the animals! I’ve never heard of anything like that and I would be so thrilled to participate! What an innovative idea! It must be a wonderful place. We were talking about Chicago this weekend and saying we must visit! It’s a fabulous city!

  8. Dear Debra, the nature journal you and your granddaughters are doing seems like such a wonderful idea to me. As William Blake said, “To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower. To hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” Such is childhood and innocence. The journal will help Sophia and Karina and you remember your times together when you were present to the world around you and to one another. That’s quite beautiful and inspiring.

    And speaking of inspiring. Your posting made me realize that I truly need to get back to a very simple Buddhist meditation I’ve practiced in the past. I simply center myself–go to that deep center of myself where Oneness dwells–and live in Presence. I’ve not been doing that for several months. I guess Life happened. But now your posting has made me long again to simply be. Peace.

    • I think you say it all with “Life happened.” I feel the same tension more than I like to admit, Dee. My stress levels have been a little higher lately and that has made me realize that going into the hefty pace that comes with each year’s holiday season means I need to “front-load” my moments of quiet and perspective taking. I hope you will prioritize your meditation, Dee. It’s a good and healthy practice and brings calm into our lives. I’m not as mindful as I want to be, either, but I continue to reach for those disciplines.

      Thank you for the Blake quote today. I’m going to inscribe that onto the front pages of the little nature book! It’s perfect! I do hope you have a wonderful week, my friend. D

  9. Debra, all the photos of the Huntington are wonderful (and I’m sure you have many more too). I am now inspired and committed to securing that membership myself. What an idea to sketch there since I’m attempting more activity in the painting arena. Have a good week ahead and continue to breathe lighter in your neck of the “woods”. See you soon. Ellen

    • What a great idea, Ellen. There are so many places you could “park yourself” and sketch or even paint. I have some passes I’d be willing to share while you consider the membership…just let me know! But it’s a good idea…and the membership is tax deductible, too. :-)

  10. Wonderful, WONDERFUL post! This one gets to me hard. Don’t we all wished for everything to just stop but ourselves.

    Love your writing on this one, most esp. when you described the other people on what they’re doing. And the last activities, really cool way for them to recall memories. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I definitely would had chronicle and take pictures :D of my pasts.

    • Thank you very much, Rommel. I also wish I’d been much more attentive to journaling or recording more of my adventures! It’s never too late to start, I think! Of course, in some ways that is what we are now doing with blogging. :-) I am glad you enjoyed the post, and we all need to consider slowing down or taking a break sometimes even when our activities are joyful! Not all stress comes by way of negative things. Some of my happiest activities stress me out sometimes! Ha! Hope you continue to do well this week.

  11. Well, I captured several minutes of peace just sitting here reading about Huntington Gardens. They sound and look very similar to our Kew Gardens and I have experienced many happy hours there :-) I am a Friend of the gardens and try to visit several times each year.

    Today should have been noisy and stressful in the most pleasant way imaginable – a joint meeting of our Beavers and Cubs. Sadly, of the 5 leaders, only I was fit as the others were struck down with illness (suspected influenza) so we had to cancel :-(

    I believe that peace can be found anywhere because it comes from within – you’ll gather from my blog that a crowded railway station is peaceful to me ;-)

  12. What a wonderful idea to include your Sophia and Karina in nature journaling, Debra. Kezzie is a little too young yet, but, that is something I would love to do with her, or give her and share with when I visit. Such a journal really provides two ways for alleviating stress and centering oneself; first in the act of being quite, then in recording one’s feelings, reaction, etc. Love it.

    Last month the horticulture group of the garden club took an early morning walk on the Wolf Road Prairie, which I had visited a little earlier. The member who led it asked that we all spend a few minutes just listening, then, she broke us up in small groups and we wrote poems of what we were experiencing. After the necessary grumbling, we were all amazed at what we composed. I then put the poems and some photos in a book for each one who attended. Nothing fancy, mind you, but it really helped “settle” each of us, which was retold at the next meeting.

    Okay. Now that I’ve written more than I should in a comment, I will thank you for such a thought provoking post. You know I was only at the Huntington once and loved it. What a lucky one you are to be so close. Enjoy!

  13. What a wise and perceptive post, Debra. I confess that I too am probably more observant and engaged with my grandsons than I was with my own two at the same ages as I’m so much less busy and stressed. The Botanical Gardens look wonderful and I love the idea of your nature walk and journal with your delightful granddaughters. :-)

  14. This is why I love coming here to visit you.. your blog is one of the places I “travel” to find quiet inspiration. I think your art journal is going to be so absolutely precious through the years. I, too, was a busy mom and now look back on memories of those days when I was “present”. You’ve got me thinking it’s time to go on a few more “wanders” of my own around town to find stillness. xx

  15. beautiful Debra, from your early morning quiet walk through beautiful gardens, to your reflections on the mums and kids being separate, and then your own time with your special girls. Lots of reflection from you. and how lovely to create the nature books – special memories.
    And breathe……… I’m hoping to get to my allotment in the morning, and hoping for some quiet time too !

  16. Debra, that’s such a lovely space to release your stress. Great photos! I’m taking some time now to catch up on my favorite blogs rather than get stressed out by the elections tonight. I’m hoping when the election is over that we will all feel less stressed out soon! :) Have a peaceful and relaxing week! Karen

  17. I meant to tell you, the latest post by this blog –> http://xplorelablog.com/ is about Huntington Library. It’s a legit website. Yours was posted on Nov 4. explorela’s the next day. :D Just thought you would be interested. I got surprised because I just learned about Huntington Library from your blog, then I saw another blog post about it. It’s a clear-cut sign!

  18. I so love this statement: And maybe start your own journal–poetry, photography, painting… keep track of what it means to stop and be mindful and notice how good it can feel to jump off the treadmill!
    I think we spend a lot of looking and not really seeing. This quote is a wonderful reminder. Really enjoyed reading this blog. I love the interesting perspectives you weave into your experiences. ~Thea

  19. I love the Huntington Gardens, but don’t get to there very often. I’m not a member, so I didn’t know members get in early. That must be really lovely!
    I was going to go yesterday – election day – with my laptop, but luckily I checked their hours first because they’re closed on Tuesdays :-(

  20. Debra, catching up with blogs as usual, and you reminded me to take time again for myself. I work from home but find myself doing too many things at the same time, and I feel tired because somethings are left undone. Will make the effort to relax and just be. ;)

  21. I miss the gardens, the library and the museum. I used to go there often when we lived in Pasadena. You are so right that we must find ways to not let stress overtake us in our daily lives. I was fortunate to work at UCLA for over 30 years. The campus, libraries, museum, and botanical gardens helped me so much during those years. Now, of course, I am retired in the country so I’m at peace most of the time.

    Thank you for your comment regarding the missions. I am only trying to provide my readers, many of whom never heard of the missions before, with brief summaries about the missions. It began when I found some old photos of mission visits and it has grown from there. I know that you will do more in-depth posts and I am looking forward to reading them. I never stopped by the Autry museum even though I passed by it often.

  22. To stand and stare and just be are such privileges. Loved your botanical garden pictures and the thought of the nature walk with your two grand daughters. (Most) Grandparents are truly the best baby sitters in the world.

  23. Pingback: #192: Blog of the Year/Featured Blogs Highlights/Ventura, California « The Sophomore Slump

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