LAUREL - Natural escape - person walking through the woods

Natural escape from the urban scene

How to slow down and connect with nature, without traveling too far from the city.

There is not a day that passes without the thought of what it would be like to live closer to nature. I yearn for a place where I can wake up and hear the birds singing and the rustling of the trees. Where I can look at the stars for minutes on end before going to sleep. Where I can take my lunch break on a workday and breathe the clean air of a garden. Where I could live the daily simple life experiencing something as extraordinary as walking barefoot on the green grass of a summer afternoon.

Deafening concrete

I currently live in the city, where I’m surrounded by concrete landscapes of apartment buildings, cars that seem to multiply with each week. Truly not much to see from my window, in terms of greenery, other than, well, my own indoor plants.

Actually, one of my neighbors started doing, years ago, some gardening work on the tiny patch of land by the side of our block, transforming it into a very small green space, with a young lilac and magnolia tree currently in bloom. When summer comes, a lavender shrub will wrap our senses with its flowers’ scent. A little space that makes me smile every time I pass it by and see some other flower in bloom or just a touch of grass. I guess it’s still not nothing, right?

However, I kind of need to diversify my daily scenery, so I sometimes go out and explore the local botanical garden or the hills and forest just outside of the city, or take a walk by the river that cuts the urban noise in two and creates a space for introspection and peacefulness – also for walking your dog, if you have one.

Places that keep the senses open

We are drawn to nature in so many ways, either by being awed with spectacular landscapes, or by our simple presence in nature, especially during this pandemic, with all this time that we have spent indoors in the past year. People have discovered a sense of curiosity or have even deepened their connection with nature, because it probably felt like an escape, a worry-free space, a live depiction of what freedom might look like.

One of the things that I realized during this challenging time is that we should take any form of nature that a day can give us. Take any opportunity to pause the hype, the worries, and pay attention.

Down by the river

Before I found my way out of the city, I used to spend a lot of quiet time by the Someș river. This has been my go-to place here in the city, whenever I needed to clear my head, cry my own river, practice mindful breathing and walking, or just observe the stillness of the water. The river has been a witness of my thoughts, my highs and lows over the years, maybe because it always felt so serene and managed to balance my inner storms in a way that nothing else did.

Cluj-Napoca, Someș River (Feb. 2021) | All copyrights reserved to LAUREL.
Cluj-Napoca, Someș River (Feb. 2021)

Cluj-Napoca, Someș River (Feb. 2020)

Imagine the world

A traditional Romanian oak tree gate guards one of the most important sites in Cluj-Napoca – “Alexandru Borza” Botanical Garden, which was founded back in 1920 (actually dating from even way back) and served both as a scientific space for botanists and as a park open to the public. The garden is said to host over 10000 species of plants from every continent, making the visitor’s journey through the whole 14 hectares (34.5 acres) of land feel like a trip around the world.

Without a doubt, springtime is the best season to explore the garden, from the first blooms of the Japanese cherry trees, to the colors of the Netherlands’ famous tulips that welcome you just as you step onto the main lane of the garden, through the wooden gates. Not to mention all the local flora that’s characteristic to the assorted landform in Romania, from plains, to the Carpathian Mountains, or the Mediterranean species, the Japanese-inspired garden (one of the top landmarks on-site).

Cluj-Napoca Botanical Garden | All copyrights reserved to LAUREL.

This May, I’ve had the chance to visit the garden twice and, as I distanced myself from the urban traffic, it felt like a whole different universe was expanding in front of my eyes, seducing my every sense with the everchanging decorum.

The green of the trees is at its most alive during this time, displaying a million shades of color and peacefulness, that you’re unequivocally swept away from the urban noise and pollution, from everything that has been holding you back, inviting you to be curious, to explore, to feel, to listen. 

Forget-me-nots in the Botanical Garden, Cluj-Napoca

Most importantly, still, is that when you’re there, surrounded by all that living environment, you get an unadulterated sense of freedom and possibility to eventually be able to travel the world like you’ve been dreaming about, roam like those little chirping birds that fly around the garden’s skies.

And you know what’s also great? To visit the same place throughout a whole year, witnessing the passing of seasons, the changing of colors, the changing of you.

Enchanted forests

Făget Forest, Cluj-Napoca | All copyrights reserved to LAUREL.

Stepping foot into a forest is like entering a magical land of myths and fairytales, of creatures mysterious and yet so present. There’s a peaceful energy that surrounds you as you navigate through every bit of that scenery, and at the same time, you could feel that pinch of adrenaline in the face of the unknown and unpredictable. Something of that wildness swoops right under your skin, leaving you with goosebumps and a vivid sense of wonder.

Făget Forest, Cluj-Napoca | All copyrights reserved to LAUREL.

It’s a different kind of meditation and staying present in the woods. It asks for your complete attention, from the flickery lights that kiss the leaves, to the tiny noisy bugs that (annoyingly) tickle your face, to the most extraordinary symphony of birds and tree branches sweeping through the fresh air of the woodlands.

Făget Forest, Cluj-Napoca | All copyrights reserved to LAUREL.

Honestly, there is nothing like it. Even when going up a trail on a mountain, that part where you go through the woods on your way to the top gives a whole poetic sense to the entire experience.

To keep our minds curious and alive, to step out of the urban noise and into the greatest music of nature, that is an extraordinary medicine for both the spirit and the body.

As I look back in the past year of this journey on LAUREL, I feel like writing has brought me closer to nature than ever before, just as much as nature has inspired my writing, my thought processes, my coping and healing mechanisms, my relationship with everything that surrounds me. There is so much beauty in contemplating nature that it’s quite impossible to stay the same.

And so, whenever I feel stuck or unmotivated, looking at the concrete landscape, I make my way to a place where life is truly living, no matter if it’s a botanical garden, a forest, a hill, a river, or the wild.

I listen to the calling.

Henry David Thoreau said in his greatly inspiring book, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods:

We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed, and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.

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