nature, Opt Outside in Texas

Alluring Bald Cypress Trees at Two Texas Parks

Bald cypress trees are delightful, intricate works of art. Luckily, I live a short drive from many great locations to view these beauties.

The two locations I’m highlighting today are the Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne, TX and Cypress Bend Park in New Braunfels, TX.

The trail at the Cibolo Nature Center has quickly become one of my favorite destinations. It’s family-friendly (note that not all of the trail by the water is wheel accessible) and quite peaceful. I regularly observe people doing photography sessions.

Did you know? Cypress are in the Cupressaceae family.

Cupressaceae (Cypress family) description (

Cypress Bend Park in the City of New Braunfels has big open fields to run in as well as an accessible trail. On the day I went, there were people fishing, walking their dogs, and just all-in-all having a great time. It’s a short and sweet trail.

According to the Cypress Bend park webpage, it is the last public exit for tubers to get out of the Guadalupe River.

In addition to the alluring cypress trees, both locations offer a variety of flora and fauna to enjoy.

Thanks for joining me and remember to explore your local parks + learning centers!

nature, Wellness

10 Ideas for Including Nature in a Joyful Life

What’s the difference between being happy and living a joyful life? How can we incorporate nature into a joyful life?

Happiness is fleeting –whether we want to admit it or not. A joyful life is overall content with the way things are while recognizing the moments that bring peace into your heart.

Photo by Jill Wellington on

We all know someone like this. How are they so happy all the time? we ask ourselves.

The truth is…

They are not happy all the time!

They have learned to create a joyful life through acceptance and action.

Just like love, joy isn’t something that we go looking for and once we find it everything is hunky-dory. It takes a little practice.

How do we accept our situation as we go throughout life?

For what I hope are obvious reasons, 2020 could be called the Year of the Introvert. But even introverts need a little bit of sunlight and socialization.

We recently got rained on during a walk, but didn’t let that dampen our spirits! Instead, we found it to be a refreshing way to start the day. The smell of wet soil and pavement is nostalgic for me.

While avoiding large crowds is not a big deal for me, some people thrive on the energy. If they’ve made the decision to social distance, phone calls and video chats could be their new norm, and sometimes it’s just not enough.

But what about the rest of the time? What about all the people who were already unhappy before COVID-19 hit?

Learning to appreciate the small moments goes along way toward creating an abundance of joy.

Joy = big leaves on a morning walk

What actions can we take to be joyful?

There are lots of ways to take action to include joy in your lives: volunteer work, meditation, writing in a journal (not just buying every pretty one you see *guilty*).

A few weeks ago, my post Summer, Sunshine, and Sunflowers listed 10 ways to still have fun in the summer while social distancing. Today I am give you 10 new ways to incorporate nature in your life of joy!

Inside or outside, near or far, these activities are versatile enough to suit your lifestyle.

  1. Hike and walk – If you have time for an outdoor hike, awesome! If not, totally reasonable and understandable. Walking can be done literally everywhere, even if you need to walk in place in your yard or your living room; a quick 10 minutes is enough to be effective.
  2. Go on a picnic – Go to your favorite park or sit on a blanket in the yard and enjoy your favorite treats and age-appropriate beverages. Remember: leave no trace and don’t feed the wildlife.
  3. Collect and identify leaves – This collection can be turned into a beautiful family keepsake and is a project that’s extremely kid-friendly.
  4. Conduct a photoshoot – of plants and landscapes! Fancy phones are always coming out with updated camera technology, so it’s very easy to have good quality photos at your fingertips. I have ordered a few wall art pieces from Shutterfly to hang in my home that showcase my own photos.
  5. Get down with the dirt – Gardening is a soothing way to focus on something and feel, dare I say it, grounded. Get a little dirt under your nails and pot some flowers or vegetables; plus, working with soil is good for you, body and soul.
  6. Visit a botanical garden – Botanical gardens are the perfect places to see birds, bees, butterflies, and smiling faces!
  7. Listen to a music with scenery channel on the TV – Bring nature inside by enjoying the sights and sounds of nature from your own living room; Soothing Relaxation has a lot of great videos with nature scenes, and a quick YouTube search will reveal tons more; this is a great option if you want to listen to a stream or even thunder and lightning.
  8. Create art – While wine and paint night and at-home Bob Ross tutorials have grown in popularity, nature can be incorporated into every art medium: drawing, scrapbooking, crocheting, pottery, etc.
  9. Do an outdoor workout – Do some lunges and squats in your driveway; boost that Vitamin D intake and wear appropriate sunscreen! When not social distancing, join an outdoor workout group or meet up with a friend.
  10. Read nature books, poetry, and articles – Expand your knowledge by learning something new or kick back with a faithful favorite.

You’ll notice none of these ideas are particularly strenuous – that’s because I believe they shouldn’t be. Enjoying nature can be as simple or complex as you want it to be.

I love the botanical gardens but don’t always want to drive 30 minutes to end up in potential downtown traffic; sometimes watching the cardinals or the doves in my backyard is enough. I love doing a in-person 5ks and 10ks but wouldn’t necessarily want to do one every weekend (okay, maybe every other weekend!).

Can you spot the dove hanging out on my crape myrtle?

What do you do to include nature in your joyful life? Do you think it’s possible to have a joyful life without nature?

Have a joyful day, friends!

Nature in the Novel, Uncategorized

Nature in the Novel: Mexican Gothic

*ATTENTION* This is not a book review. It is a post about ecocritical topics within the novel. Do not read any further if you want to read Mexican Gothic with fresh eyes! Save this post to come back and delve a little deeper. 😊 To see a spoiler-free review, click here. Thanks!

Synopsis reminder:

Noemí Taboada travels to a mansion in the misty woods to keep tabs on her questionably ill and confused cousin who was recently married to the son of an old-wealth family. After some frightening encounters, she soon learns that family secrets flow deeper than the foundation of the house. Will Noemí uncover the truth in time save her cousin, or will she even be able to save herself? 

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the beliefs/opinions of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the publishers, or the Book of the Month Club.

This post is not a book review as much as it is a brief ecocritical discourse/opinion piece.

It’s for the nerds out there.

Intended to get us all thinking critically about what we are reading.

Today we’ll use a few questions from the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s list of ecocritical questions mentioned in a previous post. Let’s dive in! 

Where is the environment placed in the power hierarchy? 

Check out this quote: “The higher the train moved and the closer it got to El Triunfo, though, the more the bucolic landscape changed and Noemí reassessed her idea of it. Deep ravines cut the land, and rugged ridges loomed outside the window. What had been charming rivulets turned into strong, gushing rivers, which spelled doom should anyone be dragged by their currents. ( . . . ) The land kept its riches in the dark, sprouting no trees with fruit. The air grew thin as the train struggled up the mountain until it sputtered and stopped.” (pg 15-16) 

(First of all, I love alliteration in any piece of writing: rugged ridges, sputtered and stopped. My heart sings!) 

A few paragraphs prior to this quote, we learned that Noemí’s family used to vacation in a house by the sea and that the forest lived more on her periphery; it was something that existed but didn’t play a role in her life – or perhaps, it’s role was its absence. Due to her father’s successful business, her family had the luxury of living and vacationing where they chose.  

We then learned that Noemí finds the quaint and colorful views from the bottom of the mountain to be pretty. To Noemí, the quality of the first landscape was in its “bucolic” identity as well as the fact that it at one point held a wealth of silver. As she gets closer to her destination (her cousin’s husband’s family home, aptly named High Place), the description becomes harsh and the “doom” of the gushing rivers foreshadows what awaits Noemí.  

Bonus anthropomorphism: The last sentence in the quote conjures an image of a train literally struggling for breath as it treks up the mountainside. Even before Noemí arrived at High Place, she had a sense of breathlessness.  

We see hierarchy represented in the literal elevation of High Place. When I lived in California, I remember driving down the coast and seeing a lone house above a cliff that looked like it could only be reached by helicopter. In Mexican Gothic, the Doyle family wants to be left alone (unless they can get something out of you) and the mistress of the house definitely doesn’t want anyone upsetting the status quo.

The Doyles view the environment as a tool to be harnessed: It is second-most powerful only to man, and the man who can control it becomes a god.

How is nature empowered or oppressed in this work? 

On the one hand, nature is viewed as something that can be taken or avoided, as is the case with Noemí’s family avoiding the forest. Though she recognizes her cousin’s romantic notions of misty woods and quaint living, Noemí views the Doyle family’s choice of land as inhospitable – too dark, too bleak, too foggy, essentially too depressing. Beyond that, nature is something to be taken advantage of: The family’s deepest secret (which I won’t even spoil here, just in case!) is a gross misuse of a divine offering.    

Through Francis’s eyes, we see a curiosity of nature. His plant enthusiasm is reminiscent of the Victorian era (see this post on Dusty Old Thing for more info about the Victorian plant craze). As we see intelligence used for both good and evil, we also see nature used to heal and to hurt.

How are animals represented in this text and what is their relationship to humans?  

Animals have a few roles in this novel. At one point, Noemi scratches the ears of a dog in town, demonstrating her character’s kindness.

There are moments when Noemi understands that she and her cousin are like the beautiful butterflies immortalized in a collection – beautiful, untouchable, too late to be saved. 

A key animal throughout the text is the snake. An image of it wrapped a circle with its own head in its mouth is the Doyle family symbol and when you find out why, is especially disturbing.

Moreno-Garcia uses the common fear of snakes to her advantage. As the Gothic Library Blog writes in the post Snakes in Gothic Literature, “Associated with deception, temptation, and sin, snakes make powerful symbols of abstract evil, in addition to the connotations they already hold as genuine objects of fear in the real world.” (She also has posts about cats and dogs in horror/gothic lit – check it out!)

Although we never see a real snake, the repeated image of one is enough to get the message across.

I feel that the absence of animals also plays a role in this text. You’ll typically see birds and woodland creatures scurrying about in places full of food and water. Clearly, High Place and it’s grounds are no inviting piece of real estate.

What is the influence on metaphors and representations of the land and the environment on how we treat it?  

One of the things that sticks out to me is the Doyle family’s silver mine. Since it was abandoned and there was no one to take care of it, is prone to flooding. If we don’t take care of nature and/or don’t take care to ensure its protections, it cannot take care of us.

What parallels can be drawn between the sufferings and oppression of groups of people (women, minorities, immigrants, etc.) and treatment of the land? 

Howard Doyle’s references to eugenics, superior and inferior races, and the blatant disregard for the Mexican miners who died under his employ show that he views the “inferior races” as disposable. They were good enough to work in his mine and make him a handsome profit, but they weren’t worth sharing it with. His attitude was much the same about women in general. Noemí and Catalina were his exceptions to the rule – he found them to be ornamental and unconventional therefore wanted them as part of his “collection.” 

Photo by Irina Iriser on

Noemí rightfully takes offense at Howard’s eugenic commentary and at his treatment of the miners. She recognizes that he only views them as tools: Mexican men for mining silver and pretty women for bearing children. One could infer that the author agrees with Noemí and that the ultimate demise of Howard corroborates this message.

Photo by Mitja Juraja on

I do not believe Moreno-Garcia intended this to be an environmental novel in that sense that we should start recycling and become more ecologically conscious, but to me it shows a great deal about how land and people affect and interact with each other.

The beauty of ecocritical questions is that you can apply them to anything. Unless the text is quite technical, it’s hard for it not to be shaped by the landscape in some way.

Thanks for joining me on Oak + River Books’ first Nature in the Novel post! I’m looking forward to doing this again – lots of great novels coming up soon on the TBR.

Happy reading, friends!

About the Writer

The Orchid Graveyard

Me: Hey, do you remember when you asked me to watch your aloe plant while you were on vacation?

Friend: Yeah… he never really recovered after that.


My bad.

I soooo wanted to be one of those people with a green thumb. I wanted vines hanging by the windows and giant fig leaf trees chilling in the corner. Instead, I got an orchid graveyard (cool new band name? I digress…)

I was doing okay for a little bit

If it makes you feel better, Friend, I have since successfully murdered my own aloe plant – and many others.

Rest in peace, sweet Abelia

There’s a snake plant in my office that I regularly forget to water for at least a couple weeks at a time and It’s. Doing. Great.

You know what the issue is? It’s a common problem. I water them too much. I try too hard.

This is a good moment to provide a life metaphor. Do you ever try so hard and it doesn’t go right so you try even harder and then everything explodes? Because same. It took me so many years to understand that “trying harder” is not the same as “trying better“. Work smarter not harder, my friends.

We can take these sentimental lessons from nature: go with the flow, don’t overthink it, let it be.

The practical lesson is to keep a handy calendar marked with watering days but to be honest, I have accepted that my plant-raising love language is “set it and forget it”.

Mexican Silverspot doesn’t care how many plants I’ve killed

I have what is basically a garden home, although our HOA doesn’t cover private lawn care. Thanks to the plants in my front and back yards, we regularly see hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, cardinals, and even the occasional squirrel. It’s hours of entertainment for me, my son, and the cats (since I’m mentioning the cats, you should know they are not innocent in these plant deaths, either).

The Pride of Barbados, or Caesalpinia pulcherrima,1 is a hummingbird favorite. I don’t prune mine and it gets quite tall. I fondly refer to them as nature’s fireworks.

Pride of Barbados

Purple hearts abound in this area. Did you know purple is the color of royalty? Some were pre-planted by my garage door and along a back wall of the house, and I even planted a few more to continue the border. According to the University of Wisconsin Master Gardener Program, Tradescantia pallida plants “are drought tolerant and thrive on neglect, but also tolerate frequent watering.”2

A plant after my own heart!

Purple heart and cow parsley

Also in place were two pink-flowering crape myrtles, a young mountain laurel, some form of fan palm, and a Texas sage. Occasionally cow parsley and false day flowers will spring up, as well.

Texas sage

I planted this Nandina and it’s been going very well. That foliage! I’m excited for her to grow.

Obsession Nandina is part of the Southern Living Plants collection

I love having plants at home for many reasons, and one of the big ones is that my son likes to help water them with his little yellow elephant watering can. It’s the cutest!

Thanks for joining me for a brief look at my journey with plants. Have a happy & healthy Tuesday!


  1. Rodriguez, David. 11 June 2006.
  2. University of Wisconsin – Madison Master Gardener Program. “Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida.” Accessed on 20 July 2020.

About the Writer

The Ecocritic

Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I was blessed to be surrounded by trees, the sweet smell of hay, and some avid skiers. Thanks to my body’s sometimes-painful aversion to the cold, I didn’t quite take advantage of everything the outdoors had to offer, but the good news is there is much to be offered! Despite the extensive timber industry in its past, Wisconsin still has 17.1 million acres of forestlands1 and over 80 state park and recreation areas.2 Lots of wilderness to explore!

Crisp fall days call for crackling fires

Other than my blatant refusal to go ice fishing or sit in a deer stand for longer than 30 minutes, I find the Wisconsin outdoors to be very serene. So many pines, so many lakes, so many cows.

Fun fact: “At the federal level, the U.S. Geological Survey does not have an official definition of lakes, but it does lump together ponds and lakes as water body features. The USGS counts 124,522 water body features in Minnesota and 82,099 in Wisconsin.”3 You win this time, Minnesota.

One of the primary purposes of this blog is to explore the relationship between literature and nature, and there is a term for this: ecocriticism. So, am I an ecocritic? I am willing to say yes, because we can all be ecocritics when we explore with an ecocritical mindset. I am a novice just beginning to orient myself on this new path – and there are tools we can use to view our surroundings through the lens of ecocriticism.

What is ecocriticism? The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) notes the following definition: “ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment.”4 This includes more than the pastoral-themed essays I had once thought encompassed all environmental literature. In fact, rural settings are not just a getaway for the stressed urbanite. The Purdue OWL presents the following specific tropes: pastoral, wilderness (something to be conquered), and ecofeminism (“interconnection of the oppression of women and nature”).4

Click on the Purdue OWL link in the references section to see a list of questions we can use when practicing ecocriticism – I’ll utilize some of those questions as I read the above books

My next TBR theme is environment-related. Are you, like me, a more consistent reader when you read books thematically? (More posts about that to come!)

Hope Jahren, geobiologist and author of Lab Girl, released a new book this year called The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here and I’m excited to add it to my repertoire.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, has published multiple books out about the importance of nature. His bio states “His books have been translated and published in 24 countries, and helped launch an international movement to connect children, families and communities to nature.”5 Community access to recreation programs is one of the topics I want to explore in my upcoming Master’s program, so Louv’s books will be making their own TBR pile on my bookshelf very soon.

No books were harmed in the making of this photo

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading snippets of The Singing Wilderness to my son before bed. It’s very soothing and enjoyable. Tthe last one we read was “The Red Squirrel”. They’re so mischievous and playful! Who doesn’t enjoy squirrels? I don’t have a squirrel tattoo for no good reason.

This little buddy goes with me everywhere

When I lived in California for a year, I was surprised when we went to a restaurant, asked for a round of waters at our table, and the response was, “We actually aren’t allowed to do that, everyone has to ask for their own water.” Years later, I’m a little more conscious about my choices (I have some reusable straws that I need to use more), but I want it to be more than that. When we view through the ecocritical lens, we learn new ways to interact with the environment and those around us.

Now that I’m older and no longer live in the frozen tundra, I appreciate the Northwoods in a new light, and I recognize that the landscape has shaped the people who call it home. Yet to be surrounded by such natural beauty and mainly taught the importance of recycling when Earth Day rolled around, is a shame but not surprising. It was a regular part of the lifestyle in California, sowhy didn’t it seem to be in Wisconsin? To learn the answers to this and my many other questions, I’ll have to dig a little deeper and develop my practice as an ecocritic.