Twelve years ago, when I began teaching the healing practice of impermanent nature art, known as Morning Altars, I didn’t expect that some of my most inspired students would be children. But after teaching all over the world, I’ve discovered how much kids enjoy combining their love for nature, their joy in celebrating family traditions, and their pride in creating something beautiful and meaningful.
My own practice of creating nature altars began as I grieved my father’s death. One day, on a long dog walk, I noticed beautiful stones, leaves, feathers, and berries on the ground. I began collecting them and sat under a tree in a nearby park and arranged them into a colorful, kaleidoscope and impermanent pattern. I worked on the design for an hour, but it sped by in what felt like a minute. I realized that I was bringing a sense of order to a time that felt very disordered. It soothed me. I wasn’t just making something pretty; I was making something meaningful.
I began a daily practice of foraging and arranging whatever natural elements I could find and quickly saw how helpful this ritual could be — not just for myself but for everyone. Families especially appreciate how accessible it is to create these nature altars from materials right outside their front doors. Every design celebrates and acknowledges a life transition, whether it’s to mark a happy occasion, celebrate an accomplishment, or process a loss. This simple practice can be done everywhere: in your backyard, at a park, or on a beach. All you need is to find things that have fallen to the earth.
Over the years, I’ve found that one of my favorite spots to teach is Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis because, like my art, Lakewood is all about remembering.
Two years ago at Lakewood, I met a young boy at one of my hands-on Morning Altars workshops. After I introduced the activity, I sent the groups off to create their own impermanent nature altars. When they’d finished, all the creators had a chance to share the meaning behind their pieces. This five-year-old boy took my hand, led me to the altar he’d made and pointed out several patterns of leaves, flowers, and stones, all in groups of seven. He then told the group, “My brother died last year and I’m dedicating this altar to him because he left us when he was seven.”
Everyone assembled was moved by the power and meaning this young boy found in these numbers and shapes, all while creating something beautiful to honor his brother.
When I return to Lakewood this summer on Saturday, July 16 and Sunday, July 17, everyone will have the chance to create their own impermanent nature altars and learn how to use this simple and profound ritual to mark life transitions and empower our children to create art with real meaning.
You can meet Day and attend his public art installation on Saturday, July 16. The afternoon event is free and open to the public, or buy tickets for his hands-on, small group mandala-making workshops on Sunday, July 17. Full details at https://www.lakewoodcemetery.org/event/midsummer-memory-mandalas-2022. During the events, you can also pick up a signed copy of Day’s new book, “Hello, Goodbye: 75 Rituals for Times of Loss, Celebration, and Change.”