Story by

Stephanie Harper

January 17th, 2017

The day after this past Thanksgiving, we "opted outside" and out of what is considered the norm, to visit one of our favorite places: the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens. It was cold, crisp, and grey outdoors, and we were all bundled up with excitement to see the rows and hillsides filled with plants and trees. Little white signs labeled with scientific names met our gaze as we came upon familiar patches of regional favorites. This time of year it is important for my husband James and I to remind our kids that spending time outside is important to cope with holiday stress and anxiety. It's a time we can completely let go and allow ourselves to explore freely and feel gratitude for nature.

As we came upon the beautiful Japanese pond area, nostalgia of past trips washed over me and we talked about the newts beneath the water's surface. We hadn't seen those before, but the season was just right. My big kids remembered the carnivorous plant house with the cacao pods and bee colony. Seeing it again was a treat for our littlest, Poppy, who is all about observing. We listened to the bees buzz about behind the glass and talked about how they make honey. My 11-year-old brought up the time she shared a photo of herself standing next to the cacao tree when her class was learning about it in school.

After climbing in and out of the different regions, we stopped at a nearby picnic table and my youngest said, "Let's make a nature mandala." We all joined in, gathering various natural materials. The great thing about creating nature mandalas is that the materials change with the environment. We had tons of rocks, beautiful fall leaves, and seeds to play with.

We've done these so many times with my big kids that I was surprised they weren't getting bored yet. I noticed everyone had their own for creating a mandala. I also noticed how quiet we all were. We ate our snacks as we built our mandalas before heading to the Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden. Here we recognized some familiar herbs we drink in our teas and use in cooking. Their dad pulled some honeysuckle off the vines for them to taste, and everyone enjoyed trying to find flowers with more syrup in them.

After a couple hours wandering around we talked about how much we would miss this place once we make our cross-country move. I realized it wasn't the whimsical pockets of greenery we all longed to get lost in, but the times we shared together doing things as a family. Sitting near the stream in between the redwoods seeking out newts. The weird-shaped cacti. The ginormous leaves that hid our faces. Making nature mandalas during snack time. The banana tree behind the carnivorous plant house. The bees.

At a time when it's expected to be with family to eat leftovers and watch football, here we were at a botanical garden that held such a special place in our hearts over the years. To be here doing exactly what we wanted during a time when we could share our gratitude with nature was such a treat. It solidified our adventure mentality of sticking to what we know and love as a family.

More Posts by This Guide

Harper Family: New Take on your Favorite Trail

Read More