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?