Nature Therapy: Enjoying the Little Things

Adrianna Nelson is a Certified Nature Therapy Guide (Advanced). She is from East Tennessee and is graduating from Appalachian State University in Spring 2022 with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Appalachian Studies. She loves spending her time bird watching and looking for other critters outdoors. She plans to go to graduate school to continue studying wildlife while also using her new tools as a Nature Therapy Guide to promote healthy interactions between nature and the public. She was mentored by Janice Ford. The following is an excerpt from her final project.

When out in nature, it is easy to focus on the larger objects in the landscape. A lofty spine of mountain ridges decorate the horizon. Ancient trees draw attention to their immense size and age. A large buck bounds out from the forest’s edge. Though these things are magnificent in their own rights, it is often the little things in nature that can bring us as much joy and wonder. I like to think of how ants have a different perspective than us. As the ant walks across the ground, over leaves, in the crevices of bark, and on stones, they experience nature up close. They understand the intricate patterns in a patch of moss. They get to see the miniscule fibers and filaments that frame the edges of a lichen. Mushroom pores come into clear view and the sharp ridges of a hickory shell seem to take on mammoth form. We are going to draw awareness to the little-noticed intricacies of items found in nature…

For my final project, I led a walk at a local park in Boone, with a participant I recruited from my university’s Audubon Club. My design included an introduction, brief guided breathing activity, a “zooming in” activity with hand lens, watercolor art with nature, and then final breaths and closing, which we mostly followed, plus a wonderful surprise excursion. I was very pleased with the experience and felt we both enjoyed it.

At first, I was afraid that I would finish much earlier than the scheduled hour, but fortunately, that was not an issue. In fact, our experience lasted a little longer than planned! I was also worried that first activity, “zooming in,” wouldn’t grab other people’s attention, so I was excited when my participant said something along the lines of, “It is so cool to see everyday objects up close. I’ve never noticed the details on a pine cone before.” This is exactly what I was hoping participants would get out of the activity. Phew…success!

The leaf watercolor idea worked wonderfully. It was soothing, attention-grabbing, we both had lots of fun, and it filled up the rest of the planned time. I believe that I excelled as a guide during this activity, able to convey the purpose while still making it enjoyable. We were relaxed and had fun conversations about nature, particularly birds and plants. This is exactly what I wanted: the participant to be in a safe environment where we could enjoy the outdoors. I did learn, however, that art is sometimes very difficult to do outside! It was a little breezy, so our watercolor paper and collected leaves kept trying to blow away in the wind. Lesson learned: I will adjust for next time by having some paperweights ready!

I noticed that, even though I was the one guiding the activities, I felt just as relaxed by the end of our session. I was very pleased to observe that both the participant and I were content and enjoying the activities. I also observed that the general feelings changed throughout the session. For example, at the beginning, I felt like I had to ease into it. By the end of the walk, however, it flowed nicely and felt very natural.

We also had a special moment when three hawks flew overhead. It was really great, because we stopped our activities and took some time to appreciate the birds. I feel like this is another area where I excelled as a guide. I was able to take advantage of an unplanned event for the benefit of the participant. The participant was excited to see them, so we talked about hawks and other birds that we were hearing and seeing while we kept working on our paintings. It’s often the unplanned and spontaneous things that are most special!

Participant Feedback

  • Today I saw: A pine cone up close, dried pin oak leaves, oak acorns (big ones and small ones), three hawks, cardinal, cedar waxwing, fluffy clouds, lots of people and pets.
  • I learned: I learned that nature is neat when you stop to enjoy more of it. The part with the magnifying glass was cool. I never knew what pine cones looked like close up.
  • I felt/experienced: I noticed a lot more about my feelings and about nature during the walk. I liked being guided because it helped me focus in ways that I haven’t done before outside.
  • The most important thing I will take away from today’s walk is: Nature is really amazing if you take a minute to take a good look at it. I feel like I have a greater appreciation for the little things in nature.


© Adrianna Nelson

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