To me it is fitting that my first non-book review would be on Earth Day. A celebration of Gaia.
From the time I was “yay big” (fingers very close together), I felt a connection to the natural world. My very fortunate first eleven summers were spent wandering through Wild, Wonderful West Virginia’s meadows, woods, hills; being toppled into rain swollen creeks; being stung by sweat bees; listening to the sudden rush of a rain storm sweeping through a pine grove, sounding like just wind, until that moment when you’re drenched; and observing so many different, to me, exciting creatures that images of them have been etched in my mind.
I could be cliché and say that I didn’t appreciate the experience while I had it, but I did. I loved exploring and when my West Virginia summers were taken away, I grieved.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein
My life has been spent in the DC suburbs and sometimes in DC itself. I have trained myself, not to ignore the cement landscape, but to look around it, beyond it. To try to find the natural world when to many it would seem like it didn’t exist. With this, I’d like to introduce you to a book I read several years ago: The Hopes of Snakes: And Other Tales from the Urban Landscape by Lisa Couturier. It’s a beautifully written book of essays about finding nature in unusual places or places that you walk by or around every day without considering, much less exploring, what exists in them.
In honor of the spirit of that book, I did just that today. I walked around my neighborhood and yard and took note.
On my first jaunt of Earth Day, which was slightly after midnight while walking my faithful Scout, the moon was almost full and framed by clouds, or perhaps smoke from the Shenandoah Park wildfire. In the darkened neighborhood, a mockingbird serenaded, a lullaby for the night, perhaps. I tuned in on that song that soared above the highway. It proved to be a lullaby for me as well.
In late morning, Scout and I again took to the pavement, but this time my thoughts were on Earth Day. In recent years, I must confess that I have grown a bit inward and my tether to the earth has not been as strong. Technology and materialism and superficiality were tempting, seducing. But those things offer little and I think it is far too easy to become lost in objects that ultimately offer little lasting value. I have found that the way to stay constant, balanced, is to reestablish my connection to the natural world. And, since I have been feeling lost, I have been taking every opportunity to notice my surroundings, to feel, to smell, to hear a world that is so frequently overlooked because we are intent on being somewhere else.
“Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” Hans Christian Anderson
So we walked and I listened to chattering robins, cardinals, and sparrows; watched a mockingbird chase a crow across the sky; and saw a squirrel scramble up the side of my fence to forage in the birdseed. All are welcome. It was muggy and as we returned, the clouds tossed down droplets that revived us.
It’s the season of flowers, rebirth, for fauna and flora. Even as I sit composing this, the sounds of birds surround me, reminding me that the connection is only severed if you allow it to be.
The feeling I come away with after this walk, after any walk that has taken me among trees and birds and breezes and earth-smells, is one of life. How can anyone walk along in Spring and not notice the rebirth? The scents alone, which granted can frequently make you sneeze if you are prone to allergies, are enough to awaken you, to stop you in your tracks and force you to pay attention, to be in the moment. Mindful. To celebrate this moment of your life that you share harmoniously with the world around you. To allow you to be you, without distractions. To allow you to just be.
Happy Earth Day! I hope that you can find a few moments to celebrate Earth Day and your life in nature and to stop and smell whatever flower is blooming as you walk by…and not sneeze.
“You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.” Thich Nhat Hanh