In her latest book, written in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Melanie Choukas-Bradley advises readers to find their very own "wild home."
"I think the best way to connect to nature is to get to really know one place intimately," she said in an interview Sunday. "That message just resonates so much more now, where all of our other options have been limited or curtailed."
The author grew up in Saxtons River — her father was headmaster at Vermont Academy and her brother is chairman of the school's board — and now lives outside of Washington, D.C. Her latest offering, "Resilience — Connecting with Nature in a Time of Crisis," can be purchased in paperback or e-book on Amazon.com.
Finding moments in nature in urban environments can be challenging, Choukas-Bradley said. She suggests engaging with "whatever you have to work with" — whether that's a house plant or acres of forestland.
"It's very comforting to connect with the continuity of life going on and the unfolding of spring," she said.
She grew up wandering the rural campus at Vermont Academy, riding her bicycle all over town. That's when her love of nature started.
Now, Choukas-Bradley encourages readers and those who go on her nature walks to immerse themselves in the surrounding beauty. Her new book is part of the Resilience series under John Hunt Publishing: 10 titles deal with different topics in the pandemic, offering inspiration and advice for coping.
Choukas-Bradley shared her own insights but also those of friends and close colleagues. She found many people she knew were "really connecting with nature" as the pace of life slowed down and travel restrictions were put in place.
That also describes her own experience. Having to cancel or reschedule a lot of her nature walks and talks, she said she "just developed this new love affair with my backyard."
Just outside of her home, Choukas-Bradley watched roses blooming and animals roaming. She said she noticed "all these little miracles all around that I wouldn't see when I was really busy."
Her advice for becoming a "backyard naturalist" is to: "simply go outside and sit, stand, walk slowly, or do all three."
"Observe," she writes in the book. "What do you see, hear, smell and feel? ... [A] naturalist wants to understand the science behind what he is witnessing; to begin to understand the nature of the habitat and the life forms interacting within it; to get in touch with the season and its cyclical dramas. Bring a journal with you and begin recording your observations in words and pictures."
For those missing their religious practices, Choukas-Bradley suggests "creating an outdoor place of worship in the backyard and improvising services there. Or set up a special area to experience online services offered by your church, mosque or synagogue."
Her book also offers insight into climate change, mindfulness and children's activities.
Choukas-Bradley said she hopes lasting positive change comes from the pandemic. She described the writing process, a 10-day turnaround, as "really good therapy to have something positive to focus on."
"I couldn't have done it without my friends and colleagues," she said. "In a lot of ways, they really wrote the book for me because I was just so inspired by all the things they shared that I kind of wrote the book around that."
Information about virtual discussions on her book and other topics can be found at melaniechoukas-bradley.com. She will have an online talk about the book for the United States Botanic Garden at 11:30 a.m. June 6.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.