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Letter from Publisher

Headshot of publisher Peggy Malecki

Peggy Malecki

I’m not a huge fan of cold-weather winter days—give me a warm summer’s day in the garden or an afternoon on the water—but as a lifelong resident of the Chicago area, I’ve learned to make the best of whatever the seasons serve up! If you read my letter regularly, you’ve likely noticed that each month I encourage you to step outside your door and observe the daily and seasonal changes in our world.

As I was preparing to write my monthly note, I decided to heed my own advice and wander out into the yard for inspiration. I’m fortunate to live on a block with many trees, including native oaks, a shagbark hickory and other species that birds and insects favor. As I walked around my yard, I did what I often do, which is to look up and observe the patterns winter branches form against the tapestry of the sky. On this partly sunny day, I watched squirrels traveling to and from their home in what was once intended to be a screech owl nest box (no owls, lots of squirrels). A nuthatch walked upside down on white oak branches, seeking out lunch. Downy and hairy woodpeckers darted from trees to the suet feeder and back again. Sparrows, juncos and chickadees flitted around the branches and the ground. I heard cardinals in the upper branches, and a winter robin was hanging out in a neighbor’s tree. After 10 minutes in the yard, I came back inside, refreshed, calm, focused and invigorated.

As we work our way through a pandemic winter in Chicago, getting outside every single day, no matter the weather conditions, will help both to make it more bearable and perhaps, more importantly, keep us grounded and connected to our natural world. Each month, we include a “Natural Chicago” feature, written by the talented Sheryl DeVore, who inspires us with her educational and enlightening pieces about nature in the Midwest. This month, Sheryl introduces us to some of the ways native species have adapted to surviving and thriving through a Chicago winter, albeit unseen to most of us in our everyday lives.

The Norwegian term friluftsliv translates roughly to “open air living” and according to a recent National Geographic article, “means a commitment to celebrating time outdoors, no matter the weather forecast.” It’s a word created in 1859 by the writer Henrik Ibsen, and it expands on ways we can embrace the healing power of being in nature. Rather than a specific outdoor activity that we do in a busy moment and then move on, it denotes a lifestyle, a different perspective and a mindset on how we can consciously choose to interact daily with the natural environment around us.

Exercising outside is not just for summer months, and as February is national Heart Month, which we’re highlighting in this issue of Natural Awakenings Chicago, it’s an ideal time to find creative ways to boost aerobic fitness in the great outdoors. Don’t wait for spring—even a few minutes spent outside each day offers opportunities for fresh air, sunlight or clouds (or even the moon and stars) and a change in perspective. Expanding on friluftsliv, this could mean planning several brisk walks each week, running outdoors, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, safely visiting a natural area, interval training at the park, bird watching along the lakeshore, taking a socially distanced photo hike in a forest preserve, creating snow angels in the yard or finding another outdoor exercise to support your heart and change your perspective.

Healthy food and good nutrition are important to our hearts as well, and we’re pleased to bring you a variety of heart-healthy tips and ready-to-make recipes from local experts in our Conscious Eating department.

As always, I encourage you to be curious about our world and step outside daily to see what the lengthening days of February have to offer. Listen for the first calls of male cardinals later this month, try to hear a great horned owl one evening and check for squirrel tracks in the snow. Listen to the roar of wind in a storm, look up at the lacy patterns tree branches make across a brilliant blue winter sky and feel for the first hints of warmer breezes to come.

                                        Happy Valentine’s Day!