When Chelsey Bahe goes for a walk in the woods, she sees things that many of us don't. Where we might see the pine needles covering the ground, Bahe sees a child's hair, or a mother's dress. Those acorns on the ground aren't just acorns to Bahe; they're owl feathers. And that snow is so much more than snow. It's a dog's nose, or a lion's face, or simply a canvas on which to create.
Bahe's visions of the forest began last winter when she was walking in the woods at Westwood Hills Nature Center in Minnesota and she happened upon an unusual-looking stick. She used that stick to create a bear, with the snow as her backdrop.
A few days later, Bahe, a local nanny to 4-year-old twins, brought the children to Westwood and helped them spot the bear on their hike. Bahe wasn't sure who enjoyed that moment more, but one thing was for sure: it sparked a desire to create even more art, using nature as her palette. Since then, Bahe has created art in the woods at least four to five times a week.
As a nanny, Bahe strives to get the kids in her charge outside every day, even when the weather is less than ideal, just to enjoy the fresh air and change of scenery. Sometimes they go to a local playground, but more often than not, they wind up at Westwood, where the children play in the woods while Bahe makes magic come to life from the materials at her feet.
Sometimes, her designs are simple:
And other times they are much more detailed:
But either way, her art always put smiles on the kids' faces. And hers as well.
"Playing outside really does make us happy," Bahe wrote in a recent post on her blog, natureplaynanny. "Nature welcomes the crazy and the calm, the happy and the sad, the curious and the content. Nature teaches appreciation of the little things, like a blue sky, the shining sun, and icicles. These are things I hope the children always remember. Life will become more challenging as they grow, but if they’re able to maintain a connection with nature, they’ll always have a place where they belong."
And how do the staff at the nature center feel about Bahe's art? "We enjoy this happening here," nature center manager Mark Oestreich said in an interview with St. Louis Park Magazine. Oestreich went on to say that he hears from visitors all of the time who make detours in their walking, jogging or skiing paths to seek out Bahe's art.
If you're lucky enough to live near Westwood Hills Nature Center, keep an eye out for Bahe's art on your next walk in the woods. If not, you can keep track of her latest work on the center's Facebook page. Or just head outdoors and make your own. You'll never know when a leaf may become something more until you let your mind roam.