Nature at Home: Mindfulness

Mindfulness in Nature

by Kendahl Chergosky

Why do we enjoy being outdoors?
I asked friends and family members to consider the question “why do you enjoy being outdoors” this week, and received a multitude of answers. Some simply said “nature is neat”, “I like hearing the birds”. Some got a little more introspective and answered things like “everything is alive, even though it’s still”, “the sun feels rejuvenating”, and “it makes me feel closer to God”. Even more gave me paragraphs, marveling at what humans can’t make, enjoying the feeling of their small scale in the grand scheme, admiring the intricacies of the chemistry and mathematics that go on just under the surface, the complexity of life, etcetera etcetera.

Many experience a pull to the outdoors– some more than others. Still, researchers have been busy exploring the benefits of exposure to nature, especially for younger children. We know that those who report spending time in nature on average have lower stress, anxiety, and it’s been estimated that as little as two hours a week outdoors correlates with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Recently, people are flocking to parks, trails, and other green spaces to stave off cabin fever, with many locations noting a dramatic uptick in foot traffic. It may be that people are simply bored in their homes, or it could be that they’re seeking a peaceful experience, a break from the constant haranguing of news-fueled anxiety.


Being in nature is the perfect time to reflect and practice mindfulness. CNC Contract Naturalist and RYT-500 yoga instructor Tonya Schmitt has been hosting weekly mindfulness sessions via Zoom, focused on finding peace through connecting with nature. In her own words, Tonya describes mindfulness in nature as follows:

“Mindfulness involves paying attention to our sensory experiences without judgement. Nature offers countless ways to connect with our senses.  We can feel soil under our feet, listen to squirrel chatter, smell fallen leaves, see grasses dance, and so much more.  These simple connections profoundly impact our sense of well-being. The effects can include feeling more present, less anxious, more happiness and less depression.”

Wednesday mornings, Naturalist Abbey Holden has also been posting “Wake-Up Wisconsin” videos like the one above, recorded right at CNC’s WI campus. You can check them out if you’re looking for a slice of calm and can’t otherwise get outside.

Consider for yourself: Why do you enjoy being outdoors? Is there a way in which you can be more mindful in your enjoyment? Think introspectively about what makes you feel good, then seek it out! If you’re even going for a walk around the block, here are some tips on getting started with mindfulness:

  • Focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply and slowly.
  • Walk slowly, and pay attention to how your feet connect with the ground.
  • Take in small sights, things which are easy to miss if you’re not actively looking.
  • Do some simple stretches.
  • Listen closely. We can take in the world around us using all of our senses.

If you’re interested in utilizing CNC as a resource for your own mindfulness in nature, you can:

Take part in Tonya’s weekly Mindfulness Meditation Zoom session for free!
Tune in Wednesday evenings from 7:00-7:15PM by clicking this link.

Learn more about Tonya and Mindfulness SOULutions by clicking here

Check out our Wake-Up Wisconsin videos on our Facebook here

If you decide to spend your time in nature at CNC, we also remind you to practice proper social distancing for outdoor spaces. For a refresher on what that looks like, click here!

Nature at Home: Toad Abodes

Nature at Home: Pollinator Packs and Story Time

Nature at Home: Wild Wonderful Weather

Roadside Raptor Rescue

Nutty About Acorns


Carpenter Nature Center has six different varieties of Oak trees dispersed throughout the 425 acre Minnesota campus.  Did you know that the acorns oak trees produce are edible? One species, the White Oak, is a common tree you will see here. Its acorns are the most palatable of the six varieties at CNC and are often abundant in the fall. To identify a White Oak acorn from a different species, the biggest thing to remember is size and shape. The White Oak produces acorns that are egg shaped with cups that cover only a small fraction of the nut itself. The Red Oak, by contrast, produces a stubbier acorn and a cap that covers almost half of the nut. They look like the smooshed version of the White Oak.

Oak trees take a long time to reach reproductive maturity; up to 20 years! Once they are old enough, a single tree can produce up to 10,000 acorns in a mast year. A mast year is when the oak tree overproduces nuts so that it can grow bigger the next year without nuts. That means that an oak tree won’t always produce nuts every season. Sometimes it has to rest and conserve its energy for growth.

These somewhat annoying trees that drop acorns on your car and hurt your feet when you walk barefoot are actually an ancient hidden food source. Acorns have been eaten for thousands of years, much longer than people have been eating wheat. All over the world, people have been using the acorn to make bread, noodles, chips, and much more. During times of hardship such as war or famine, acorns were used as a supplement food source to keep families alive when there wasn’t enough wheat or grain to go around. Today, the acorn is making a comeback in American households. The acorn is packed with protein, good fats, and vitamins that keep our bodies strong. Do you have a lot of acorns around where you live? Here is a fast and easy recipe for you and your family to try that will leave you full and more knowledgeable about the hidden foods around you!

Candied Acorns

Credit: Wayne Askew


  • Acorns
  • Butter
  • Brown sugar


  1. Harvest acorns in the fall and put in water to remove any floaters.
  2. Remove shell and quarter acorn meat.
  3. Boil acorns for 5 min. to remove tannins (bitter taste).
  4. Sauté in skillet with butter.
  5. Add brown sugar to taste and coat acorn slivers.
  6. Cook until brown sugar and butter start to thicken around acorn pieces.
  7. Cool and eat as dessert or snack.

Want to know how to make acorn flour as a gluten free alternative when cooking? Follow this link for the best information on how to process your acorns into flour for any paleo/ gluten free recipe you may want to try.  Acorn Flour Recipe

-Hannah Haselden, Environmental Education Intern


March Maple Madness

For many, the transition from winter to spring marks the beginning of mapleIMG_2069 syrup season.  Maple syrup can be made by collecting and boiling down the sap from maple trees.  The Native Americans discovered this process hundreds of years ago, likely by accident. Legend tells of a chief, who after removing his tomahawk from a maple tree, set out for a day of deer hunting. When his wife needed to collect water for the evening’s venison stew, she found a birch-bark bucket full of “water” under the maple tree.  She cooked the venison from the day’s hunt with the “water”, and produced the sweetest stew the chief had ever tasted. His wife had unknowingly used maple sap, which is as clear as water, and boiled it down into sweet syrup. This was the beginning of maple syrup.

When Europeans arrived in North America, they learned from the natives about maple sap and syruping. The settlers set up sugar camps in the woods where the maple trees were most plentiful, and the trees were slashed with an ax to allow the sap to drip out and be collected. They eventually experimented with collection methods, drilling holes and using wooden spiles (spouts) and buckets. In the late 1800’s children were given a holiday from school to celebrate the sap run and to allow kids to help with the laborious process.

Maplesyrup08The tradition of March maple syrup season is still alive. Collection and processing methods have evolved, although the fundamentals prevail.  Sap starts flowing in maple trees when nights are below freezing and days are above freezing temperatures (ideally around 40° F).  All Maples, including Boxelders, will make fine syrup. The difference lies in the sugar content of the sap. Sugar Maples have a much higher concentration of   sugar in the sap, while box elders have the lowest sugar content. It takes roughly 86 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup from Boxelder sap!

Maple syruping is a fun process that is not difficult and can be very rewarding.  With a little research, patience, and planning you could have jars of syrup on your shelves for a fraction of the price you would pay at the store.  This month, CNC has a wide variety of maple syrup programs open to the public.  We invite you to join us in this fun, educational experience as we celebrate our heritage and the bounty of the natural world.  Be sure to also check out the links below if you are interested in starting Maple syruping on your own.

Additional Resources:

Backyard Maple Syruping Handout

Minnesota Maple Series: Identifying Maples Trees for Syrup Production

A Lesson that Comes Naturally

On certain Saturdays, my wife works an overnight shift. That means the girls and I strike out on our own to give Mom a quiet house during the day. These Saturdays turn into mini adventures for me and my two inquisitive, precocious little girls; Evelyn (7) and Audrey (4).

Our adventures require full on parenting — navigating the emotional rollercoaster of playground dynamics, negotiating how much ice cream they can earn by helping Dad, and debating the exact minutes of screen time allotted. But they are also precious days spent in father-daughter bonding.

So, when Jennifer Vieth, Executive Director of the Carpenter Nature Center, invited me to their raptor release, I was all in. After all, I thought causally, it sounded like a great way to kill some time. Girls standing outdoors

As we ascended St. Croix Trail, I knew immediately that this was a special place. We drove only a little over 30 minutes from our familiar sidewalks and storefronts in South Minneapolis. Once atop the river valley we found an elegant vista, where lush green fields roll down to the St. Croix River’s shoreline and soaring oaks and maples stretch over the tidy, stone buildings.

The aesthetics of Carpenter Nature Center welcome visitors immediately and, along with incredibly friendly staff and volunteers, invite them to learn and explore. The interpretive center heldmyriad natural treasures; animals, birds and reptiles that we could meet and even adopt in our bid to be closer to nature. Then, of course,there was the main event.

The raptor release (in partnership with the University of Minnesota Raptor Center) was truly inspiring. A couple hundred people descended on a gentle slope to encourage these majestic birds as they spread their wings and leapt into the sky for the first time since suffering injuries. My girls saw them up close, watched them fly, heard their wings beat the air and saw them perch in a treetop for one last grateful look at their rescuers.

Woman Releasing BirdEvelyn, long obsessed with owls, bubbled over with questions and scarcely took her eyes off the numerous birds-turned-teachers. It was an emotional encounter; not only because these beautiful birds returned home but also because so many people showed up to say they cared. About the birds, the environment and our natural community.Carpenter Nature Center lefts its mark with me, as I’m sure it does all of its visitors.

My daughters experienced nature that day. Not just saw it but felt it, smelled it and heard it. No screens, no squabbling over which shoes to wear, no “what can I do now?” The transformational energy that only a natural space can bring to bear surrounded them.

Weeks later, they still talk about their adventure. Their world is small but their minds are great and, with open hearts, they discovered something special simply by being there. It opened a window to a new world — not a bad way to “kill some time” on a Saturday.