Enchantment, Fungi, Nature & Healing

An Enchanted Autumn

It was a crisp morning when I declared to my husband and son, “I really want to reconnect with nature today.” Underneath this longing was a desire to reconnect with myself.

Lately I had fallen into a familiar pattern of overanalyzing—too much research and Googling, too much social media scrolling, and reading too many books on all the things. The more information I consumed, the less clarity and inspiration I found.

That morning I followed my intuition and footsteps, which led me on a path to an antidote. Enchantment. As I ventured into the woods, I unexpectedly found a living field guide of fungi on the forest floor at a local park. At every turn there was novelty and delight. All sorts of mushrooms burst forth from earth’s soulful soil. An autumn rainbow of oranges, browns, reds, and whites peeped out from a bed of pine straw.

I took photos as I often do as a contemplative practice, receiving these images as a gift. Stooping down to get close, I changed perspective. And at ground level I inhaled the earthy scents created by the decay and regeneration process. I was amazed at nature’s art work in these tiny wonders. The colors. The textures. The designs. And I was reminded of the mystery and enchantment that lies beneath as fungal networks stretch out in vast webs. The mycelia of these mushrooms intertwine with tree roots to send nutrients and water to trees in a spirit of reciprocity.

What about this experience enchanted me? There was an element of surprise as I discovered secrets of the autumn forest. It felt pure. Just me and nature. It was a sensory feast that activated my sense of wonder and creativity. And I felt rooted as I connected to beauty and seasonal rhythms.

Words often associated with enchantment include delight, wonder, and magic. It has etymological roots in the Old French encantement meaning “magical spell; song, chorus.” And it is fitting that so many fairy tales take place in the woods—a landscape teeming with life and possibility. A setting to get lost and be found. By opening to nature’s song, it cast its spell on me. And I discovered my own notes.

Enchantment is unique to everyone. For me it is cozy and intimate, yet expansive. It glimmers and sparkles. It is both meaningful and playful. Novel and familiar. Enchantment is a dewy spiderweb. A bunny lounging in a patch of clover. A snail nibbling on a mushroom. A simmering pot of soup. A wren’s morning song. A child’s kiss.

I believe enchantment is an alchemy of curiosity, connection, and imagination. These gifts are available to us on a daily basis if we slow down enough to attune to ourselves and the world around us. And it is a practice that can be nurtured and cultivated. A dose of enchantment may just be what’s needed to soothe what ails us.

For Reflection

Do you remember the last time you felt a sense of enchantment? Was it unexpected or did you seek it out?

Is there a person in your life (now or from your past) who embraces an enchanted way of being that inspires you? One who seeks out wonder in simplicity, the every day, or the small things?

You may want to take a moment to explore your own recipe for enchantment.

Write “Enchantment is…” at the top of a blank page and then write freely without overthinking. It could be in the form of a list, notes, a poem, or prose. Ponder what delights the senses. Tickles the imagination. Warms the heart. And creates a sense of belonging. You may want to incorporate visuals such as colors that evoke enchantment in you or a sketch that symbolizes enchantment.

Consider venturing outside to discover a few special ingredients as I did that October morning.

Ecotherapy, Sanctuary, Seasonal Wisdom, Summer

A Summer Sanctuary

Summer is a season of fullness. It invites both play and rest. Creation and incubation. Exploration and retreat. Wildness and cultivation. Journeys and homecomings. It’s a season expansive enough to hold all of these ebbing and flowing rhythms. I’ve noticed that it gets very quiet in our yard in the afternoon. Birds, bunnies, and squirrels honor the need to forage and play in the cooler hours, while seeking shade and stillness in the heat of mid-day. They tune into their innate wisdom, following their summer rhythms and retreating as a form of self care.

In the spirit of rhythms and self care, I have been contemplating a seasonal sanctuary—a place inspired by wisdom from the natural world and our wisdom within. A space that honors the rhythms of this season as well as our needs and desires. A haven that restores the body. And a harbor of inner hospitality that sustains the heart. This may be an actual location or an imaginary, metaphorical space. Or perhaps a combination of both.

When I envision my summer sanctuary, there is flowing water, shade trees, and the softness of the evening as the sun rests on the horizon. There is respite from suburban noise. There are life giving books, a blank journal, and my favorite pen. A bowl of freshly picked blueberries is close at hand. In this dwelling, I savor the quiet and listen to the voice within. Wildflowers grow freely here, bordering this half-real, half-imagined sanctum of wild peace.

As you ponder your summer sanctuary consider what nourishes body and spirit as well as your natural rhythms. You may want to use the prompts below to explore these ideas through writing or imagery such as a collage, sketch, or watercolor.

A Summer Sanctuary

I imagine . . . (a place in nature, a landscape, or an imaginary space)

With scents of . . .

Sounds of . . .

Textures of . . .

Surrounded by . . .

I am nourished in this space by . . .

A place where I . . .

This season invites . . .

My sanctuary welcomes . . .

My hope is that you will seek out restorative places, find pockets of sanctuary throughout your day, and honor the ebbs and flows as you embrace all the hues of summer.

May This Be a Place
by Stacey M. Hayes

May this be a place of respite when you are weary,
Inspiration when you are stuck,
Calm when there is chaos.
A place of quenching coolness and inner warmth.
A space to reflect, dream, and create.
May you find peace and delight here.
May this be a place of embrace that lovingly holds all that you are.

Butterflies, Dragonflies, Ecospirituality, Haiku, Hummingbirds, Nature’s Symbolism

Spring’s Wings

One of my favorite things about spring is the emergence of fanciful winged creatures—the enchanting dragonfly who metamorphosed after spending two years underwater as a nymph, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail who cocooned on the Magnolia and flutters about the treetops searching for nectar-filled flora, the Ruby Throated Hummingbird whose delicate wings traversed the non-stop flight over the Gulf of Mexico, the myriad of moths that feast on wildflowers, the solitary bee who emerged out of its winter burrow, and the Hummingbird Moth who pupated during winter underneath the leaf litter.

These wonders of nature inspire delight and awe in me. They are also rich with paradoxes: strength in smallness as the hummingbird’s tiny wings fly long distances and hover over a flower beating at 53 times per second. The delicate yet nimble dragonfly—its paper-like wings enabling it to fly upside down and backwards.

I am grateful for the gifts these creatures offer to our ecology. All except the dragonfly are vital pollinators. And dragonflies are equally important as they can eat hundreds of mosquitoes each day.

As we observe the beauty and marvels of these aviators, we can embrace the soulful gifts of inspiration and wisdom for our own journeys. For me they symbolize transformation, hope, spirit, and strength. Most importantly, they remind me to flutter, dance, and hum.

Do you identify with a winged creature? What does it symbolize for you?

You may want to explore its gifts and symbolism through a sketch, collage, or poetic form such as the Haiku (see below). Or simply savor the magical moment when you encounter one.

We can explore the season’s winged creatures through poetry such as the Haiku. This Japanese poem is only three lines with a specific number of syllables for each line (5-7-5, respectively). It also doesn’t rhyme or have a title. I am particularly drawn to the Haiku as its themes are traditionally rooted in nature and the seasons. In fact, the poem usually includes a word (a kigo) that reflects the season. I find that the boundaries of the Haiku offer spaciousness in my expression. And there is poignancy in the brevity.

A Haiku captures a moment much like a snapshot photo. In phrases and fragments we describe what we see. We offer our attention to the natural world and notice what calls out to us. Taking in that moment with our senses, we invite it to inspire our words. In the art of Haiku we express and honor what unfolds before us. 

still for a moment
lacey wings iridescent
dart, dragonfly, grace

There many ways to support and nurture our winged friends:

Hummingbirds: Consider planting native flora that attract hummingbirds or offering hummingbird food in a feeder. Learn more.

Moths: Most moths are nocturnal, so considering reducing the use of exterior lights at night. Learn more.

Butterflies: Plant pollinator-friendly plants and offer water sources in shallow dishes. Learn how to help the endangered Monarch Butterfly.

Dragonflies: Avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides on lawns, which flow into watersheds that dragonfly nymphs inhabit for 1-2 years. Learn more about a dragonfly’s lifecycle.

Ecospirituality, Ecotherapy, Migrations

Practicing Reverence: The Wonder of Winter Birds

As winter and Christmas draw near, the natural world becomes quieter. It is a wonderful time to to seek the sacred in its stillness and to practice reverence.

I’ve always had a heart for birds, and my heart swells with awe for winter birds. They inspire the practice of reverence in me. All season long, I never tire of watching birds that have migrated here for winter such as juncos, sparrows, and the beloved hermit thrush. Our home becomes theirs as they’ve joined the family of our year-round feathered friends. 

My heart leapt with joy the morning I saw a hermit thrush as I had been anticipating its arrival for several weeks. I was keenly aware that his journey was many miles during one autumn night, and he arrived at our home— his home.

Its arrival inspired me to write this poem:

Hermit Thrush
Elegant with tones of brown.
Shy, kind, and gentle. You came last winter and stayed for awhile. Where do you go as the days grow longer? I’ve seen your kind in the deep woods.
You remind me to pause. May you find solace here.
~ Stacey Hayes

During the peak migratory months from September through November, my heart was filled with both wonder and deep humility for migrating birds. Writing this blessing for them was a balm for my worry as I imagined them dodging skyscrapers and navigating artificial light.

Reverence is practiced by acknowledging the gravity of their migration journeys. By beholding deep admiration for their beauty, habits, and understated songs. By offering hospitality, knowing their time in this particular place will come to an end.

Reverence reaches deep in the spirit—beyond observation and mindfulness, which can be paths to reverence. It is not only a feeling but a posture of the soul. In practicing reverence, our spirit connects deeply with another living being’s. We see its fullness—its gifts, strength and humility. There is a felt sense that my spirit connects with its spirit as if an invisible yarn knits us together, even if for a moment.

Reverence is defined as “deep respect for someone or something.” (Oxford Languages) and is derived from the Latin reverentia, or awe.

Reverence is a tapestry of attention, empathy, and expression.

We offer our attention as we carefully observe the being’s habits and personality. We offer empathy as we imagine what may bring it joy or suffering. We acknowledge its story, journey, hardships and delights.

Reverence may be so poignant that we may feel led to offer it expression in some way—through gratitude, a hope, blessing, painting or poem. It may stir us to compassion and invite tending such as offering protection or shelter.

Or perhaps we simply hold this experience within our heart as we go about our day—allowing it to engender wonder and care.

Much is written in psychological literature about the benefits of finding novelty in a change of scenery or traveling. Of seeking awe in new experiences. However, I find reverence in the ordinary — in the familiar song of the Carolina Wren whose tune resounds from our deck each morning. In the comforting predictability of cottontail rabbits munching in our side yard at dusk. And while my life is enhanced and my best self revealed in these moments, reverence in its purest form is ultimately not about me and my wellness. It’s about another, the vastness, and honoring the sacred in front of me.

Practicing reverence, I assure you, will make an ordinary day extraordinary. And thankfully reverence isn’t reserved for mountaintop experiences. It dwells in the familiar. It rests in the ordinary. It is enlivened by the intimacy of knowing the creatures around you.

Welcome the wonder of birds into your life by listening for their winter carols, hanging a bird feeder, and providing a bird bath.

Or, simply step outside your front door or peek outside your window. See what calls out to you and invites your attention.

Practice reverence to warm your soul on a cold winter’s day.

Autumn Leaves, Ecospirituality, Ecotherapy, Nature & Me

The Wisdom of Leaf Skeletons

Most of our attention goes to the brilliant leaf color this time of year. However, I’d like to recognize and honor an often unnoticed gift of the season. As we move deeper into autumn, leaf skeletons become scattered amongst crunchy and colorful leaves on the forest floor.

When I first became aware of a leaf skeleton, I was struck by its beauty – its starkness, delicate nature, and intricacy. The skeleton reveals the structure of the leaf and the veins that supported it with nutrients and water in previous seasons.

Though now delicate, those veins nurtured and nourished the leaf until energy was sent into the tree roots to prepare for cold weather ahead. Some fallen leaves become leaf skeletons. But not all do. The process requires a harmony of exposure and shelter. (Ultimately, all leaves join together as leaf litter that nourish the soil, trees, and creatures below it.)

The leaf skeleton is a gentle, yet poignant, visual reminder of what is life giving and spirit sustaining. Of what supports us when everything else is removed—the superficial comforts and distractions. When all else falls away, the essence remains. The life lines and supports that sustain us are revealed.

Sometimes it takes a shedding, a decomposing, a falling away to reveal what is vital. Just as food, water, shelter and sleep are essential for the body, there are essential elements for the spirit.

My Soulful Leaf Skeleton

Just as each human is imprinted with a unique and precious spirit, what sustains each spirit will be unique.

I researched leaf skeletons online to learn more about the biological processes. And I was surprised that the majority of results were how to create your own leaf skeletons artificially (as they have been treasured for their beauty for many years). However, I’d prefer to find, observe, and treasure them in their natural environment.

If you happen upon one, delight in the botanical wonder you have found. Invite it to remind you of the essence of what’s needed for your soul.

When everything else falls away—whether by choice or circumstance—what is there to uphold and sustain you? Embrace what nurtures your spirit this autumnal season.

And when you venture into the woods this fall, take comfort in the leaf skeletons and leaf litter that nourish the earth you walk upon.

To delve deeper into the gifts that autumn offers, explore the wisdom of autumn trees.

Fireflies, Illuminate, Nature & Me, Summer

Illuminate: Moonbeams, Moths & Fireflies

Revelations in the Night

I looked out the window after my son had fallen asleep. It looked as if someone left a light on outside — the entire backyard seemed to glow. I went on our deck and looked up. Looking down on me was a nearly full moon with several glowing halos…projecting a moonbeam onto our yard. I had not been aware of the moon lately. It was reminding me that it was still there with its reliable rhythms.

Then, I looked up at the tree canopy at the edge of the woods. The tops of the trees flickered with staccato flashes of light. The fireflies were making their silent song…rhythmic, beautiful, captivating. I savor these lights as I taste their loss, knowing they are here for a short time.

Awakening me from my trance of the fireflies were moths fluttering about my head and then landing on a blossom that is purple by day and a mystery by night.

Mostly hidden in waking hours, moths are revealed in the illumination of a summer night. I am accustomed to bees and butterflies frequenting this bush in the daytime; a new world is revealed in the darkness. These flowers belong to moths too — the winged angels of the night, oft unseen and forgotten.

How could I have imagined that all this wonder and mystery unfolds each night out my back door? With just a window separating me from this magical natural world.

Step outside in the magic of summer nights and what you will find is:


Anticipation & Lamentation

It is always this time of year — in June — when I start looking for them. At dusk, I gaze into the backyard with child-like wonder and anticipation that they will be there. Hoping for just one flash, one spark.

Yes, there it is! The fireflies are here.

I have since learned that they have been living here all along. For one to two years, in fact, as larvae. They watched the leaves fall to the ground in autumn. They felt the chilly weather, the frost, and even the snow in winter. And they witnessed, just as I did, bulbs shoot forth through the ground and bloom in the spring.

I treasure them. I cherish them. Oh, how I am thankful for them.

And now, the weather is warm and humid. It is their time. They are no longer larvae living under the earth and leaf litter — eating worms and slugs and snails and such. They are here to light up the meadows, the understory of the forest, and the canopy of trees.

It is their time to shine. To illuminate. To light the way.

And if you don’t look out at dark, you will miss their invitation.

They call out to each other and to those who trust in their mystery.

“Don’t miss us,” these luminaries beckon with their silent song. “Cherish us, care for us, and let us remind you of the spark that illuminates within yourself.”

They are here for a brief time. When their flickering light-up beings go dark, I always lament their absence.

But I remind myself that their eggs….then a few weeks later their larvae are with me — waiting with me for another summer.

You, the Luminary

Fireflies are a keystone of summer nights. They remind us there is magic. They illuminate our hope in ourselves. They harken back to a memory sealed from our younger years.

What has been illuminated for you lately?

What needs to be illuminated or revealed? Sometimes you are the light for someone. Sometimes you shine the light on something – a creature, a habitat, a place – that needs your voice.

Fireflies live in community. Their many lights come together to illuminate, sometimes in synchronicity. Many times, illuminating a truth or shining light on a mystery requires a village, a community. What community or support may you rely upon?

What glows within yourself? Embrace the truth that you, also, have a spark that illuminates.

You, too, are a luminary.

Luminary: 1. a person who inspires or influences others. 2. A natural light giving body. (Definition from OxfordLanguages)

Illuminate: Moonbeams, Moths & Fireflies

I went out at night.
The moonbeam was bright.
The crickets chirped a sound that has not been heard for many moons.
There was an absence of cicadas’ hum.
The fireflies lit up the trees’ silhouettes against the dark sky.
Their silent song underscored the beauty of their dancing lights.
The moths, winged angels of the night, fluttered about my head.
So much mystery was illuminated
when I stepped outside my backdoor on that weekday night.

~ Stacey Hayes~

How to Nurture Fireflies

Minimize artificial light at night. (This also helps many other nocturnal mammals and insects such as bats and moths…as well as migrating birds).

Keep some tall grassy areas and plants, as female fireflies rest in these.

Leave leaf litter and natural areas since firefly larvae live there for 1-2 years in their larval stage.

Avoid pesticides in your yard. Spraying for mosquitoes negatively impacts fireflies.

Did you know that fireflies are actually beetles and that their glow is created through bioluminescence?

Explore fireflies and conservation efforts further: https://xerces.org/endangered-species/fireflies/how-you-can-help