doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Tag: Nature

The theme of my summer break: exploring the integration of art and nature

Today marks the beginning of a new clerkship, surgery. I’m sure I will have plenty to say about that in the coming 8 weeks. But right now, I want to write about the marvelous summer break that just came to a close. Without intending this, my vacation decidedly had a theme: art, nature, and their integration. I explored this three-part theme both in New York City with a dear friend who came to visit, as well as during a brief trip to Chicago to see my family.

Taking a break to hug a tree at the Morton Arboretum.

It all started while I was in Chicago, with a visit to the Morton Arboretum. The weather was perfect for seeing this outdoor plant sanctuary, a favorite of my mom’s, and I had never been there. When my mom and I arrived, we discovered there was an origami exhibit underway. The beautiful arboretum grounds were sprinkled with immense metal sculptures, precise replications of miniature folded paper creations. We oohed and aahed as we walked around, both at the plants and the intricate folds of the sculptures, and took lots of fun photos. At the end of our visit, we stopped by the gift shop. I came across a craft kit on how to make origami flowers. It had everything you needed: instruction booklet, paper, and a DVD showing how to make the folds.

“This would be fun,” I told my mom.

Ever the supportive homeschooler, she replied, “I’ll buy it!”

An orchid bouquet that my mom and I crafted together.

So she did. We learned how to make orchids, plumerias, and leaves. I bought floral tape and wire, and we made bouquets. We found YouTube videos detailing how to make cards. We did all this not from the paper included in the kit, though — that paper was plain and boring, so we used it for practice only. But I’d left dozens of sheets of fancy paper at my mom’s apartment, the remnants of my decoupage days. They were still in her basement. I lugged them up the stairs, thankful that most art supplies find use in multiple projects.

I had so much fun that I mailed all my paper (in poster tubes) back to me in New York, and on my plane ride home checked an extra suitcase full of other art paraphernalia. Now I’ve got another way to express my creativity — one that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen.

I told my dad one morning a day or two later about the Morton Arboretum and our origami adventures. Along the lines of Japanese culture … he asked whether I’d ever visited the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford. I hadn’t. The afternoon forecast called for rain, so we hurriedly got ready and hopped into his Corvette for the drive to Rockford. Our walk among the Japanese maples and other carefully cultivated plants was sublime.

Enjoying the falling water and beautiful foliage at Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Ill.

Posing with one of the Chihuly sculptures at the New York Botanical Garden.

Back home in New York,  a good friend of mine came for a brief visit. We headed to The Met, of course, at her request. At my suggestion, we also visited the New York Botanical Garden to see the Chihuly exhibition. I’d seen a similar show at Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory several years prior, and had been blown away. His immense blown glass sculptures, which have an unmistakable signature, dotted the garden’s landscape. Some stood alone; others were mixed into the actual plant beds or flowing fountains. For those of you in New York City, I highly recommend going to the botanical garden before this show ends on Oct. 29. Pay the extra few bucks to see not only the outdoor sculptures, but the indoor ones too. It’s totally worth it.

Below are additional photos of my art and nature adventures. Click on any of the photo galleries to see a slide show version with larger images.

Morton Arboretum:

My origami:

Anderson Japanese Gardens:

Beautiful blooming dogwood tree on the grounds of the Japanese garden

New York Botanical Garden / Chihuly:

A sound strategy for stress relief

Medical school is stressful. I don’t think anyone — whether looking from the inside or the outside — would deny that. So part of surviving the experience is about finding strategies to mitigate that stress. A healthy diet and regular exercise go a long way. Spending time with other people, doing non-medical-school things, is key too. Something else I’ve recently discovered is listening to the calming sounds of nature while studying. It helps put me in a peaceful frame of mind even if the material at hand is complex, and potentially frustrating. You can buy this sort of thing of course, but it’s also available for free — a plus for broke medical students — on YouTube. My favorite YouTube channel in this vein is Relaxing White Noise, which has 10-hour tracks ranging from “Bird Happy Hour at the Mountain Creek” to “Rain on Tent” to “Forest Night Nature Sounds.” There are also non-nature sounds, like a fan, but living in the concrete jungle of New York City I want to be reminded of green places and things. (I also want to drown out the perennial construction.) Here’s a sample of one track I like, “Forest Rain Sounds”:

Exploring NYC: New York Botanical Garden


Posing in the rose garden.

New York City is a massive concrete jungle. But you don’t have to go far to get a taste of nature. Aside from Central Park (a short walk from my apartment), New York has not one but TWO botanical gardens. I visited the Bronx version yesterday, the New York Botanical Garden. I’d visited here last fall with a couple of classmates, but one of the collections I really wanted to see, the rose garden, was past its prime then. I promised myself I’d return in the summer, and so that’s exactly what I did.


This rose bush, which sports both peach and pink blossoms on the same plant, was one of my favorites.

The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, according to the garden’s website, has more than 650 varieties of blooming roses at its peak. It was funded by the philanthropist David Rockefeller and named after his wife, Peggy. On the day I went, Mr. Rockefeller himself happened to be touring the rose garden—not a place I expected for a celebrity sighting, but there you have it. Just walking through the entrance gate of the rose garden is an experience, both olfactory and visual. So many varieties, all different colors, sizes, and shapes. I’d forgotten how different roses can look from each other.

The top of the conifer

The top of an odd conifer.

The bottom of the conifer

The bottom of an odd conifer.

Another highlight of my trip to the botanical garden was the ornamental conifers collection. I grew up frequently visiting my grandparents’ cabin in the mountains of Colorado, so the smell of pine and the rustle of wind through the branches are among my favorite memories. The conifers here, though, were unlike any I’d ever seen. Strange shapes (like the photos here) and unusual colors abounded. I also learned something new—that some conifers lose their needles. Who knew?

It was a wonderful adventure, and all just an hour’s train + bus ride away. That’s one of the great things about New York—it has a little bit of everything.


One of the garden’s lovely waterfalls.


A Good-Natured Resolution

I’m not much for making New Year’s resolutions. They seem to stick for about a month, and then … not so much. But this year, I decided to try what so many millions of people do and make my own resolution, one that hopefully I can (and will want to) keep. There is some additional incentive, other than just meeting a goal — I invested money in this resolution up front, so I’m betting on that keeping me motivated.

So what do I want to do? It’s not your typical resolution. My goal is to read Nature every week. (Well, not ALL of it, but a good bit of it.) For those of you unfamiliar with this magazine, it’s a weekly publication, and is one of the premier scientific journals in the world. Because of its prestige, its articles are only available to its paid subscribers. Countless times I have stumbled across a Nature article on PubMed and salivated over the abstract … but I had to move on, because there was no way for me to read it.

Thanks to some Christmas money from my grandma, problem solved! I subscribed the day after Christmas, and will be getting both the print edition, as well as online access going back more than a dozen years. (And of course, there is a Nature app for the iPad!) A subscription — even a student subscription, which is half the regular subscription price — cost a pretty penny ($99 students / $199 everyone else). But I think it will be worth it. After all, how can any self-respecting MD/PhD-wannabe NOT be subscribed to Nature? My point exactly.

Assuming that I do follow through with this “resolution,” I hope to post here about some of the things I read. There are very technical articles, of course, but also editorials, features, and other types of material in the magazine. I look forward to my year of Nature, and to writing about what I learn.

And as you may have noticed, I have made a new “discovery” related to blogging, as well. With the iPad blogging app I have (BE Write HD), you can set backgrounds for your blog posts. It took a bit of researching as far as how to reduce an image’s opacity so that it would work as a background (I downloaded a photo editor app, PhotoForge2, for that). But I’ve got it figured out now.