For years I thought of myself a freewheeling, spur-of-the moment, let’s-keep-our-options-open kind of person. I lived in a smaller town where I could see friends easily and spontaneously — and that’s the way I liked it. Then I moved to New York City and everything changed.
I learned that my friends in NYC book their lives months in advance. People are crazy-busy, there is a glut of interesting things to do, and events sell out early. Out of necessity, I began to schedule my free time. That’s when I discovered something wholly unexpected: there is a hidden pleasure in planning.
The Surprising Delight of Anticipation
If I see social events on my calendar I get a momentary rush of anticipation. And I’m not alone. Happiness researchers have found that anticipating something can be a powerful, positive emotion that can help us live happier lives.
When I began to slow down and pay attention to nature in New York City, I learned that the natural world is also on a schedule. Here are a few of my favorite natural events that I look forward to each year in NYC:
- March: Notice how the magnolia buds fatten and bloom
- April: Spot the first chipmunk of the season, newly awake from hibernation
- Mid-April and May: Look for the spring arrival of tiny acrobatic songbirds
- May: See the horseshoe crabs mate on NYC beaches
- June: Catch a whiff of the blooming Linden trees
- July: Spot humpback whales and dolphins off the Rockaways
- August: Stay up late to see a meteor shower
- September: Look up in Manhattan to see migrating monarch butterflies float by
- October: Count the migrating hawks flying overhead
- November: Compare fallen leaves and acorns
- December: Look for a bat out in the sunlight on a warm day
- January: Listen for white-throated sparrows whistling in the cold
- February: Check out the harbor seals sunning themselves under the Verrazano Bridge
I have written more about my favorite seasonal ephemeral events in NYC here.
Put Natural Events on Your Calendar
If you want to simplify your life and pay more attention to urban nature, I suggest that you try this experiment: Put natural events on your own calendar. Give yourself reminders to pay careful attention to wildlife migration and plant life-cycles where you live.
Here are a few ways to begin:
- This week, take a slow nature walk and take notes. What wildlife do you see? What do the trees or plants look like? Do you see or hear insects or birds? Add these notes as a reminder on your calendar one year from now. Will you notice the same thing next year?
- Add some of the natural events I listed above to your own calendar. Seek out monthly prompts to focus your attention and cultivate anticipation.
- If you are interested in learning what plants are blooming in NYC, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden offers a monthly bloom calendar
- Go on a guided bird walk in May or September to learn more about bird migration
I’d love to find out if you use any of these ideas or if you keep your own “nature calendar.” What is a natural event that you look forward to seeing each year? Let me know by leaving a comment below.