Welcome back to Slow Nature Fast City. I took a bit of a break over the past few months and I look forward to once again spending more time outside in New York City.
During my hiatus, I happened upon a new technique for noticing nature. I call it the Imaginary Nature Webcam.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve discovered that you can interrupt a dull workday by watching the natural world online. One of my favorite ways to procrastinate is to peek at puffins in Maine or observe Grizzlies catching salmon in Alaska or marvel as the Aurora Borealis light up the Canadian sky.
A nature web cam offers a glimpse of the world we never see or sometimes even forget is there.
Scout a Location to Install Your (Imaginary) Camera
There are many simple ways to connect to the natural world, even in everyday city life. Sometimes we just feel sluggish, run-down, or bored and we need a little push to go outside. Try this light-hearted experiment if you know you should spend time in nature, but need a reason to start.
To begin this experiment, think of a favorite nearby outdoor space. It may be a place you always look forward to seeing on a daily walk. Perhaps it is a place you felt a glimmer of wonder. Maybe it’s the place where you first noticed an animal or flowering tree. Commit to visiting this green space again in the next few days, no matter what the weather.
If no favorite place comes to mind, plan to scout out a location. In New York City, consider visiting Central Park, Prospect Park, Van Cortland Park, Alley Pond Park, or choose another city park.
Make a Movie of the Mind
After you arrive at your favorite outdoor space, take a few moments to settle in. Put your phone away and take a few deep breaths.
Prepare to observe everything you can see, smell, and hear for the next 15 minutes.
Take your time to notice:
- The slant of the light
- The colors surrounding you
- The shapes and silhouettes of the landscape
- Movement in your field of view. Notice the movement of trees, water, clouds in the sky, animals, people.
- The quality of the air. Is it still or is there a breeze?
- The feel of the sunlight, rain, or snow on your skin
- The sounds. Do you hear wind through trees, birdsong, a squirrel rustling leaves, or people talking in the distance?
- The scents. Is it fragrant, tangy, loamy, pleasant, unpleasant?
Mentally catalog each observation for a full 15 minutes. This may feel like a long amount of time. If your mind wanders, bring it back to what you see or hear. Ease into it. Go deeper. Imagine that you will try to recall every moment later.
My own imaginary webcam is set up in the Ravine in Prospect Park. It’s here that I heard the otherworldly flute song of the wood thrush for the first time. To help recreate that moment for you, I recommend that you listen to a wood thrush.
Watch the Imaginary Live Feed
The day after your visit, continue the experiment. For five minutes, take a few quiet breaths and imagine that you are at the location again. Use images, words, and sense memories to recreate the scene in your mind.
You can also try this experiment right at bedtime or when you first wake up in the morning. Take a few moments to imagine your location.
What is happening now? What has changed? Are bats flying above the trees at night? Is there a chorus of birdsong at dawn?
You can use this as a moment of meditation or as a way to enhance your own curiosity of the non-human world.
Consider trying this experiment periodically. You can put it on your calendar to visit your favorite spot on the equinoxes or solstices. Here are more ways to put nature on your calendar.
I’d love to know if you’ve ever used this technique before. Let me know if you set up your own imaginary nature webcam and what you noticed.