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Branching Out

A prompt to encourage your practice of creativity this week from Riversider and local author Larry Burns.

Do you need a low stress way to include seven minutes of creative contemplation into your week? Consider this your helpful nudge towards a slightly more creative life. If it helps, come back every week for a quick hit of creative contemplation. Each week I’ll share a new nudge. It will include a Thing (T), a Place (P), and a Sense(S) for your focus, a TPS creative nudge.

Last week, we turned the simple faucet into a fountain of creativity, exploring the parallels between water and our imaginations. Did the sound of flowing water unlock a cascade of thoughts to write about? Perhaps the reflective qualities of water illuminated a new angle in your photography or painting. As we explored these fluid dynamics, we were reminded of the benefits we get from directing our creative streams within structured exercises.

This week, we shift our focus from the flowing to the growing, from water to its vital partner in the dance of life: trees. I love trees I just dedicated my new book to them. While walking and driving this city for “100 Things to do in Riverside CA Before You Die, 2nd edition” (Summer 2024), I noticed trees everywhere I went! These majestic beings not only beautify our surroundings but also perform essential ecological functions. They cool our cities, filter out pollutants, and breathe out the oxygen we depend upon. 

As we engage with trees in this week’s creative nudge, we’ll explore not just their beauty and the shade they provide but also their profound impact on our planet and well-being. Here are several activities you can use to fill at least seven minutes of your day in a creative way:

  1. Sensory Immersion: Choose a tree. Touch its bark, observe its shape and colors, and if it’s safe, taste one of its leaves or fruits. Sit under its canopy and listen to the sound of the wind. Write a sensory poem of this experience. Watch this 2013 video of my friends, the artist Sue Mitchell alongside Inlandia Institute poets, on how to make the most of your canopy conversation.
  2. Tree of Life Mapping: Draw or paint your chosen tree, incorporating elements that represent its ecosystem—birds, insects, and other plants. Reflect on how this tree supports life around it, much like our own ancient Jurupa Oak just north of town, which has been a resilient re-creator for tens of thousands of years.
  3. Health and Harmony: Research and write about the health benefits of spending time among trees, known as "forest bathing." Consider the calming, restorative effects that trees have and how they contribute to creative well-being.
  4. Dig that Dirt: Root around at the roots. Take close up photos of buckling sidewalks or track the roots of a large tree in a lawn. Gather what collects around the roots and create a memory box or found assemblage.

As you engage with trees this week, let their quiet strength and slow, steady growth inspire you. Remember that creativity, much like a tree, doesn't rush; it unfolds in its time, rooted in the richness of experience and nourished by the world around it. Here’s to the leafy canopies that shelter the things we care about, and to the shared roots that connect us all in the forest of human experience.

Feel free to add to the ecosystem by sharing your experiences, thoughts, and creations in the comments below. I’d also love to hear your suggestions for future creative explorations or any particular tree that holds special meaning for you.

This column written with the help of a customized GPT from OpenAI. If I can make one, so can you!