“It is forbidden to live in a town that has no garden or greenery.” —Talmud Yerushalmi, Kiddushin 4:12
Preparing our final culture unit in Spanish 3 led me to a book on the bottom shelf, one I hadn’t used in a while: Torah and Trails: A Photographic Trail Guide Connecting Judaism with Nature by Margery Diamond. This beautiful book of photographs and inspirational Jewish wisdom was just what I needed to plan a Spiritual Hike around Weber’s campus.
While it’s true that the school buildings are brick and mortar, surrounded by cement sidewalks, long driveways and three ample parking lots of asphalt, it’s also possible to appreciate the wonders of nature if you’re willing to take a slow walk, stopping to look, listen, and smell the flowers.
In these final weeks of school, filled with AP exams, tests and projects, all of us—students and teachers—needed a 40-minute wellness break. Using four passages from Margery’s book, corresponding to four stops along our walk, I encouraged the group to engage different senses in seeking spiritual and physical well-being.
First we stood alongside the construction fence and meditated on the importance of boundaries:
Sometimes our path leads us to a sign that indicates “NO trespassing.” Here, as in life, we have many choices. Learning how to show respect for the laws of both nature and Torah helps to make us more responsible human beings.
We crossed the driveway to the fence surrounding the baseball field and discussed the purpose of the backstop. These fences ensure our safety; we agree they are useful and important boundaries.
I ask the students to gaze into the distance, to notice the trees beyond the outfield fence and the student parking lot.
How many of you walk from the parking lot to this spot every morning and back to your cars every afternoon? Do you ever stop to notice anything on this path?
Everyone knows they cross a sidewalk bridge over a creek that runs through campus. In their rush to get to class in the morning or home after school, not one gives a second thought to the creek.
That’s our next stop.
We line up along the metal railing facing the northern edge of campus and I invite the students to close their eyes and listen, in silence, for a full minute.
What did you hear?
The traffic on the main road. The birds. The water.
Now, inhale deeply, through your nose.
What do you smell?
It seems early in the year for honeysuckle. We can’t consult our phones, which I’ve insisted we leave inside, so we can be fully present without distractions. Later, I walk to the bridge and photograph the foliage below. I want to compare it to a tree in my neighborhood that emits a similarly sweet smell.
For our third stop we gather under the conifer trees, standing among the dried, fallen needles and cones, looking at the bark for bugs that may be residing in the shade. Finally, it’s time to head back to class. We stop near the main entrance, in front of the rose bushes, and reflect on the importance of cultivating flowers and plants.
I also reflect on the importance of cultivating an awareness of our environment. Being outdoors is good for our bodies and souls.