Animals are living secret lives all around us all the time. As we become more aware of nature, we can become connected to them as fascinating beings we share the world with. Though it may seem obvious, these animals are individuals with their own temperaments, territories, styles, and sometimes families. To some extent, we can become participants in their stories, which are perennially unfolding on the landscape.
One of the best ways to do this is simply by spending time outdoors sitting in quiet awareness. It appears to be an emergent instinct for people to find a particular place in nature that they visit over and over again to do this. At Wilderness Awareness School, this is known as your Sit Spot. By visiting the same place in nature many times, a relationship is developed; you get to know the place in all kinds of weather, many times of day, throughout the seasons, and from a variety of your own states of mind.
A Sit Spot can become like an anchor in your life — a place to settle down, cultivate present-moment awareness and a quieter mind, and to observe the flow of reality occurring around you. It’s also a place where you can notice what the animals are up to. And they can get to know you. By visiting your Sit Spot, you may begin to discover which birds tend to sing first at sunrise, the circuit a mother raccoon follows each morning with her little ones, where the deer like to bed down, and where a robin sits fluffed over sky-blue eggs. Over time, you can notice the changes that occur with the inhabitants of your spot, how they interact, what their rhythms and routines are, and where new events come into play.
Perhaps one day Mouse will disappear and Weasel will be bedded down in its nest. Maybe water levels on a pond will rise as Beaver completes its dam, causing chew marks to be left higher up on the trees. One day, the “wheat” call note of a Swainson’s Thrush will have returned, and then your breath will be taken away by its song spiraling from the bushes. Just now, as I ate my lunch outside in the summer sunshine, a pair of Purple Finches came and were eating kale seeds from my overgrown garden. It is fun to become curious about the lives of the inhabitants of the more-than-human world and to gather their news. Instead of checking Facebook, maybe you could sometimes check up on the animals!
Sit Spot can be great for kids. Some of them love it immediately and it becomes a resource for them, like a friend they frequently visit. For others, though, the notion of sitting quietly, still, and alone is not exactly appealing. If you are interested in your child having this experience, some possibilities include:
- Setting up a spot for campfires, where you can roast food and hang out. This can become a vantage point for witnessing the natural world. Forts can also work well.
- Playing a game in which you take turns hiding along a trail, and seeing if the other person can find you. The longer you wait to find your child, the more “Sit Spot” time they have. As a bonus, they also get to develop empathy for animals that need to hide, awareness of camouflage and landscape, and the ability to be more still.
- Finding some sort of lookout spot to pause at, in a place you visit regularly, to eat a packed meal, watch a sunset, or share a thermos of tea or cocoa.
- Sprinkling birdseed on their bodies and seeing if a bird will come.
There are many other possibilities — these are just a few. I once had a surprisingly successful joint Sit Spot with a 5-year old, being on “mermaid watch” by the ocean. It so happened that a seal came by, but at a distance where it was tricky to tell exactly what it was…maybe it was a mermaid.
Of course, role modeling also has an incredible impact. If an adult would like their child to develop a Sit Spot routine, the best thing they can do is to simply go themselves, develop excitement about it, and tell their stories. One Wilderness Awareness School instructor once practiced this until the children in his class were begging to have Sit Spots of their own!
Along these lines, I will close by telling you about the time that I went to my Sit Spot, and sat on my special rock in an oak forest in California. After a while, it felt like it was time to get up and cruise around. As I walked along, I heard a jingle in the distance and knew that a hiker with a dog must be coming. I did not feel like being seen, so I ducked into the brush along a small clearing and imagined that I was a rock. As I sat, my attention was suddenly magnetically drawn to my left; I slowly turned my head, looking at the forest in my peripheral vision. I saw that a Bobcat was trotting quickly across the meadow!