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The Outside Institute

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Noah Kalina

How do you care for yourself?

I seek out balance - in my routines, in my relationships, in my meals. I follow my instincts and creative passions. I spend as much time in nature as possible. I move my body vigorously, quiet my mind, remember to laugh, and lead with love.

In what ways has your perception of beauty and wellness changed as you’ve aged? What throughlines remain?

I’ve been focused on wellness as the path to beauty for decades. After seeing my father succumb to cancer when I was 26, I stopped taking good health for granted. So, I’ve long believed in safeguarding my vital force. Eating well, sleeping enough, exercising regularly, modulating stress—all this is essential. I also love plant-based remedies and have long enjoyed using them for health and beauty. A combination of discipline and pleasure has served me well over the long term.

How has a naturalist lifestyle helped you think differently about what it means to be well?

To me, being a naturalist means being immersed in nature. When you are surrounded by the natural rhythms and cycles, you come to appreciate the way in which all things unfold as they should, in their own time. There is a remarkable lack of judgment in nature. The wind doesn’t care how much you weigh. The oak tree is indifferent to your wrinkles. To be at home in the wild, filled with a harmonious sense of belonging, imparts a kind of wellness that is unparalleled.

Even now, when the problems of the world can seem insurmountable, time spent in nature never fails to remind me, in ways both humbling and reassuring, that I am just one infinitely small creature among so many others. Last year, I began a practice of removing dead animals from the road. I pick them up and move them to safer resting places. This small act of service has deepened my relationship to our animal kin and reinforced my belief in the interconnectedness of all beings.

What has the natural world clarified or challenged for you recently?

The natural world is constantly offering up metaphors and life lessons. In this time of the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that humanity is not in control. And that it’s not the Earth whose future is uncertain, it’s ours. The more quickly we embrace these truths, the better chance we have of surviving as a species.

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Elena Uryadova

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Stephan Schacher

What wisdom do you return to?

The seasons are a wonderful, continual reminder that every stage of life is vital and beautiful. As I approach the winter of my own life, I hold that promise very close.

What’s something new you’ve learned recently? Perhaps in the botanical mixology realm, we’re fascinated!

After years of making naturally fermented elderflower and milkweed blossom elixirs, I have discovered that it’s possible to ferment virtually every wildflower, thanks to the wild yeasts they carry. I make these complex, lightly effervescent drinks with the flowers from black locust, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and knotweed, and with wild blueberries, cherries and silverberries. The only additional ingredients needed are sugar or honey, spring water, and time!


Considerations, references and prompts to reflect on and take forward, by way of the senses.

  • SEE

    We’re considering how we hierarchize plant life in relation to our human needs, leading to what American botanists James Wandersee and Elisabeth Schussler term Plant Blindness (1998): "The inability to see or notice the plants in one's own environment [resulting in] the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.”

    The phenomenon also refers to the "inability to appreciate the aesthetic and unique biological features of plants [and] the misguided, anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals, leading to the erroneous conclusion that they are unworthy of human consideration." (Source: William Allen. Plant Blindness. BioScience, 2003).

    Artist & Botanist Margaret Ursula Mee


    In contrast to Plant Blindness is a reverence for plant life. Plant medicines, used in the context of community and ritual for example, are treated as a powerful healing modality. Harnessing the healing properties of plants helps further a visceral and embodied connection to the natural world.

    Wynn Bullock, Woman’s Hands (1956)


    Our sense of smell has a direct pathway to our limbic system. The combination of certain smells can have mental, emotional, and physical healing qualities. For example, the sweet and fragrant jasmine is well known for its ability to calm and ease depressiveness. The smell of freshly-cut grass is actually a plant distress call.

    Frances Clayton, left, and Audre Lorde, right, holding and smelling a flower on Staten Island, 1981. From “Making a Way: Lesbians Out Front.”


    We're looking to track down a batch of "miracle berries" after learning that, when eaten, sour foods are consumed to taste sweet. Synsepalum dulcificum, the plant known for this berry, contains miraculin which rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors. Is a "flavor tripping" gathering in our future?

  • HEAR

    In 1976, Mort Garson self-released the album Mother Earth's Plantasia. One of the album's central claims was that the health and productivity of plants could be affected not only by playing music for them but by what kind of music you played for them.

    Fun fact: the Plantasia album was sold exclusively at the Mother Earth plant store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, or it came for free if you ordered a Simmons mattress from Sears.

    Others' work with similar plant-centric principles: Data Garden duo Joe Patitucci and Jon Shapiro developed (and sell) a device called the MIDI Sprout that translates plants' electrical impulses into musical notes. And artist and musician, Mileece Petre, is a plant whisperer of sorts. She makes music with plants, having performed at the Museum of Modern Art. Her work has also been exhibited at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in England.

    From the book “How to make electronic music,” by Russell Drake and Ronald Herder with Anne D. Modugno, 1975.

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Album cover for "Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants," Stevie Wonder, 1979.

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Still from an old Alice in Wonderland film, 1972 starring Fiona Fullerton. Via Brocolli Mag.

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Instructions for World Peace