There has been a lot of grumbling about the weather this month, though I cannot say if it is really any more or less than usual. The temperatures go up, it gets sunny and we get lulled into a false sense that spring is here. Next morning, we’re scraping frost or brushing a few inches of snow off the windshield. We don’t know how to dress. A winter jacket isn’t warm enough for the morning; a spring jacket is too much for the afternoon. Inevitably, the conversation turns toward speculations and hypotheses related to global climate change and I begin to wonder just how much April has changed over the years.
I have not been a faithful phenologist, but I have taken thousands of pictures. I decided to review my photographs from the first two weeks in April through the years, with an eye to see a trend. I have hiked through snow, over frozen ground, and through slippery mud in April. I have photographed ice, animal footprints in the snow, spring flowers, and even butterflies. I have worn full winter gear. I have hiked in a t-shirt. I guess all I learned from my photo review is that April is indeed a variable month.
One of my colleagues related to me an anecdote from a recent Trail Guide Training session. The icebreaker activity was to group themselves by favorite season. There were plenty of springs and falls, a couple of summers, and no winters. Then there was Jeff whose favorite season is “this one.” He enjoys being outside and finds nature fascinating no matter the season. How very Zen.
I became interested in Zen philosophy the year I lived in Japan as a Rotary Exchange Student. While I cannot say I am a faithful practitioner, the pragmatic, down-to-earth approach to daily living has flavored my life to some extent ever since.
There are many aspects of Zen philosophy. Most relevant to this topic is acceptance without judgement. One Zen teacher advised his students in this way: stop resisting the way things are. This is easy to do when “the way things are” match my preferences. I can go through my day with a happy, easy heart. April rarely disappoints. I am as happy with a few more snowfalls as I am with early spring blooms.
When I do not like “the way things are,” the grumbling sets in. I rarely grumble in fall, winter, or spring. The heat of summer, however, presents a challenge for me, and an opportunity to practice acceptance without judgement.
One of my favorite souvenirs from Japan is a simple wind chime given to me by one of my host families. I must have been struggling with the heat even back then. My “mom” explained to me that in the summer, we hang this little bell, which will ring with the slightest breeze. The delicate sound gives us an auditory clue that the air is moving and tricks our minds into feeling cooler. It has never actually made me feel cooler, but it has reminded me to practice acceptance.
Let me close with a Zen story.
Traveler: “What kind of weather are we going to have today?”
Shepherd: “The kind of weather I like.”
Traveler: “How do you know it will be the kind of weather you like?”
Shepherd: “Having found out, sir, that I cannot always get what I like, I have learned to always like what I get. So I am quite sure we will have the kind of weather I like.”
I would like to be more like the Shepherd. I will keep practicing.
Jennifer Schlick is program director at ACNC.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.