As I kid, I waded through tall grass hunting garter snakes in an empty lot. My stomach fluttered when I’d find one curled under a board. Its eyes as surprised as mine. I’d lift it by the tail into a cardboard box to be released later for neighborhood snake races.

I am grateful for that lot’s smell of ripe blackberries in the summer. The sturdy limbs of the cherry tree that held rickety old tree fort. I lost hundreds of hours caught in the land’s mystery and bounty. It held me. Where my parents saw only an empty lot, I entered a frothy wild kingdom of grasshoppers, cornflowers, and scolding blue jays.

To rediscover and connect with the wonder we first experienced as kids is everything. Even the tiniest dandelion, when observed, becomes a gift, a way in, a way into something larger than ourselves.

We all know how it feels to be flooded with gratitude. Studies have shown that expressing gratitude is good for the body as well as our communities. It reduces stress and inflammation, improves sleep, and strengthens our immune system. The quickest way to reap theses benefits is to adopt a practice of thanksgiving. Whether it’s thanking the person you see cleaning a bathroom or the driver who opens up the lane for your car. 

I exercise my gratitude muscle with a journal. Writing two to three times a week keeps it fresh. Noting what I’ve received from others is easy; feeling gratitude for life’s hurdles and pain is sometimes more difficult. My newest entries have been observations from trails, dog park, and kitchen window. What I return to in each entry is that at the very center of our lives is the earth—humus, rock, and briny ocean—connecting us to life itself.

Without earth at the center we have no life. And so give thanks for the hibernating snake, the dandelion, and the earth that sustains us all.

Meg B Holden lives and writes in Portland, Oregon