Fall is my favorite season. There, I said it. Sorry, Winter, Summer, and Spring, it’s just the way it is. I have more moments during the fall where I am simply walking along, turn a corner and am forced to stop in my tracks by the beauty in front of me…the vibrant red of the leaves or the yellow sun shimmering through a golden forest. It’s this feeling of awe that I feel is the starting point for conservation. It wakes a part in each of us to want to give back to our natural world.

The James River, and it’s 15,000 miles of tributaries, offers so many places to experience that feeling of awe. This month, I offer you a practice that I came up with for a group of peers at an Ecotherapy Workshop last summer. It creates a moment for you to take in the beauty around you, reflect through writing, and offer a “Gift of Words” to your local waterway.  This can be done by yourself or with a small group. All you need is 30 minutes, a creek or river, paper and a pen.

  1. Find a spot on the banks of the James River or your local tributary to sit. Let yourself wander and when you find a spot that calls to you, take a seat.
  2. Spend some quiet time with the waterway in whatever way feels right to you. Start your time silently or aloud with a “Hi ­­­­­_____ River, this is (your name). I am here to learn more about you and the gifts you offer.” 5 minutes
  3. Pull out your journal and explore the following. 5 minutes
    1. What is most beautiful and striking to you in this space? Describe the colors, textures, and possible metaphors or feelings it evokes in detail.
    2. What does the water feel like, look like, and what sounds do you hear?
    3. What is the relationship of the river to its surrounding landscape, both here at this place, upriver, and downriver?
    4. What emotions or memories does it stir in you?
  4. Using only words from your journal entry above, create a haiku (a poem with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line, and 5 syllables in the third line) as a gift to the water as gratitude for all that it gives you and life around it. 10 minutes
  5. Facing the river, read your haiku aloud.
  6. If with friends, each takes a few minutes to share anything that may have come up for them.

I took a trip to the Slate River, a small tributary of the James, last weekend and captured this moment. This haiku is not perfect, and yours doesn’t have to be either!

Slate under red leaves
Shimmering light floats downstream
Your world is mine too