June 4, 2012

Falling In Love

I’ve been trying to pinpoint it: the moment I knew I loved the natural world.

I’d like to say it happened while overlooking a lush Montana riverbank plump with wildflowers, an image I claim as my first memory, but I was two and a half years old then, and too young to make declarations. Years later, when I was sixteen, I glimpsed the Continental Divide stretching across the Colorado horizon and felt something come loose in me, an awe that lacked edges. But that was not the first time that feeling came, even if before I hadn’t had the language to describe it.

I could pick from memories on Lake Superior or in the Badlands or on the Mississippi, but the moment I keep coming back to is a simple one, cushioned in no impressive names, that took place in my Minnesota small town front yard. My family had just moved, and everything about our new life seemed strange and overwhelming. How does one make new friends at ten? How does one navigate the avenues of grief for a life that we’d left behind as easily as if it were a common tree?

And that’s when it hit me.

I was already awake with the birds, with the August humidity, so I left my bed for our shaded front stoop, and eventually the wide trunk of our lawn’s familiar maple. Without hesitation, I clutched onto the lowest branch and propelled myself up, and then over, and then up again, until I was nearly fifteen feet from the ground.

I found a sturdy spot to sit and let my legs dangle, and only then did I lean back against this quiet living thing and look without fear at the spot I’d landed. The leaves draped down in a green canopy, and the light filtered through them in delicate waves. The young bark under my palms was smooth, as I knew it would be, besides bits of sap. And after I was still for a while, the birds returned, and I smiled, recognized the black-capped chickadee, the red-winged blackbird, the robin, even a squirrel, all chirping despite the heat. I was in a new place, but I realized that if I could just find a tree, or a trickling stream, or a patch of blue sky, I would know where I was: with friends.

I am not an antisocial person, and as the weeks passed and school began, I exchanged smiles with other ten-year-olds, and we eventually traded bright bracelets and whispered secrets and the rest of our childhood memories. But I have since moved again. And lost track of them. And if I’m honest, only a few brought me the peace I felt on the bough of that tree.

Wherever I might go, I’ve found, the natural world goes with me, and it is this consistent relationship that I love most. I anticipate it now, look for it out the nearest window or door. And if I’m tense from the day’s stresses, from a new neighborhood to navigate or a new deadline to make or a new feeling I can’t quite name, I walk outside. I find a tree, if possible an entire grove. Then I let myself go loose and say hello.






This post was originally published at Nature-Talk

How about you? When did you know you loved the natural world?

27 comments:

  1. As with so much of your writing I could really identify with this search for the first moments of loving the natural world. For me it came a few years earlier. A place of refuge and a comfort zone where I could be free from dark secrets.

    Simply wonderful Emily. Grand!

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    1. Thanks, Bill. I, too, had earlier outdoor memories than this, but I don't know if I really made the connection that THIS could be something particularly special to me. There's a quote from To Kill a Mockingbird that I love. Scout says something like, "I did not love reading until I feared I could lose it. One does not love breathing." The moment of recognition is a powerful thing.

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    2. To Kill a Mockingbird: one of my favorite books of all time!

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    3. Mine, too. And still true for so many of my students. A classic is a classic for a reason.

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    4. such a true quote. also, one of my favorite books. really great post.

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  2. I can't remember the first moment when I fell in love with nature, but I can identify several significant times when nature propped me up, especially the trip I took to the Badlands to deal with unexpected depression the year before last. Jagged, harsh landscapes take my breath away and give me space to think. The garden that we've grown in our own back yard that houses a lot of birds, rabbits, squirrels, and assorted other critters, gives me sustenance on a daily basis.

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    1. I like how you phrased that: being propped up. So true. We not only walk every day on the earth, but it also metaphorically buoys our spirits. I know that's true for me. I had a hard time with one particular student a few weeks ago, and after school -- to the woods I went. That was actually the inspiration for my previous post "Remedy." Sustenance is a perfect word: it's nice to know where you can go for it.

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  3. What a wonderful piece, Emily! I grew up in the country, spending most of my days outdoors as a child. Maybe I took nature for granted back then. It wasn't until I married and moved East, that I came to realize what it meant to me. Since then, I have been lucky enough to spend time in some wonderful places. Right night, I live at the edge of a dark pine woods, and am able to go there whenever I want.

    Thanks so much for this post.

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    1. Thanks, Sandy. The edge of a dark woods sounds divine. Something about trees really does rejuvenate me...but I guess that's true for a lake and a prairie and a garden and... well, you get the idea. :) Here's to time in many more inspirational, wonderful places!

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  4. Emily:

    First, some recognition for your excellent writing in this piece. In particular, these excerpts were meaningful for me:

    -felt something that came loose in me, an awe that lacked edges.
    -sit and let my legs dangle
    -lean back against this quiet, living thing
    -the natural world goes with me...

    I was about 9 when I climbed 20 feet up our great Weeping Willow tree, to enter my sanctuary.

    I have never lost this love. Sometimes it was put on hold for years as education, work, raising a family took priority.
    My love for nature is more intense than ever now; fulfilling, satisfying,and
    soothing to my spirit. And every day, I am grateful for the glorious creation I am blessed to see.

    Richard

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    1. Richard, thank you. Willow trees have always fascinated me. I remember swinging from their branches when I was little, and hiding next to the trunk, looking up, feeling amazement at how large and quiet it was inside the dome of leaves. Gratitude is something I feel, too, in relation to the natural world, every day.

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  5. This is a special piece of writing, evoking childhood, edgeless time, fixed by the taste of summer sweat, smooth bark and the itch of grass. Bare legs. Sunshine. Rain. Instant connections between the buzz of flies, the scent of pine, fingers tinging from white touched snow, and the body, inhabited. My memories of nature when I was a child are of a place that held me while I imagined stories, a nest to return to in moments of fear; hope sprung from daffodils.

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    1. Lasuza, this is a beautiful, lyrical mini-post all on its own, so thank you for the gift of it.

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  6. Thanks to you Emilie for writing so beautifully about your experiences of meeting with the natural world and sowing the thought seed in my mind.

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  7. It was my Vacation Bible School teachers who did it. One summer, we had for our theme the hymn, "This Is My Father's World". Every day we learned a new stanza - and then we would go out into the world and look for what we had sung.

    If the verse was, "In the rustling grass, I hear Him pass", we'd spend our outdoor time looking for as many kinds of grass as we could find - and then we'd sit, small little children not used to quiet, listening to hear what we could hear in the silent lawn or field.

    By the time the summer was over, at least one clutch of children was looking at the world in a new way - and loving it.

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    1. Oh my. Linda. What a beautiful story. I can absolutely picture a small child listening to the world like that, amazed anew.

      A few spring ago, I was writing something about ants. In the middle of the first draft, I went outside to plan and compose on a blanket. Suddenly ants were crawling on my arms, tickling my feet, and those moments and movements were heightened and glorious because of my intentional experiencing. If I had a wish, it would be to live in that kind of amazed attention daily.

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  8. I've been thinking about this post for a few days now, because I don't know that I can pinpoint a time. Really, it's just been grown in to...like an old friend.

    Beautiful piece, Emily. Very thought provoking, and many similar memories..."a few brought me the peace I felt on the bough of that tree."

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    1. Well, as they say, old friends are the best kind. :)

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  9. Your gift of writing has once again touched my soul. Thank you. I loved fireflies when I was a child and marigolds...I loved trees and grass and the sounds of summer crickets. I remember listening to summer thunderstorms and the smell of rain...I sat in the grass and made clover chains and looked for four leaf clovers....I have always loved being outdoors....
    I love being one with the birds and bugs...
    Namaste,
    Sherry, who dances with butterfies

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    1. Sounds like my childhood, too! I'm glad this post helped you recall some beautiful bits of yours. Thanks for stopping by, Q!

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  10. I'm loving reading your blog, Emily... such beautiful writing! I've just opened the door to the garden to let the sunshine and bird calls into the room where I'm sitting - and the life of my own special green space has blended so perfectly with the experience of reading this wonderful post. You capture so beautifully that essence of close, focused 'going loose' - that opening out to the rest of nature...

    It's wonderful how memories such as these are so individual and personal, belonging to one person alone - and yet there is also a familiar, recognisable thread that holds together so much that is shared and universal. A bit like that thread of connection you explore here, where the relationship with nature can be found wherever you go. That thread also trails across different people's experiences and can be picked up in turn and remarked upon, with empathy and understanding. Like you, I have in my mind a whole swirl of very early memories of my first fallings in love with nature (too many to mention here!) For most of them, I can't remember their exact time or sequence... but I would say that the most influential and important took place in the most familiar of places - the front and back gardens of my childhood home. I spent many hours just daydreaming in those small spaces, hunkered down watching sparrows, the 'cheesy bugs' (Kentish name for woodlice!) the snails, butterflies - and most astonishing of all, the life in our tiny pond - the tadpoles, froglets, newts and dragonflies, with their shapeshifting ways. Watching them transform was pure, inspiring magic - taking place not in fairy stories, but right on my doorstep! And, most of all - running through all of this - is a general long line of remembered connection to the peace and contentment of just being alongside trees, flowers and the deep, green berry-bushes where the hedgehog lived, snuffling her way through our gate at bedtime...

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  11. Melanie, thank you so much for sharing these bits of memories here. Your descriptions of your fallings in love, these fabulous places of your childhood, called to mind The Secret Garden. It's been years since I've read that story, but your thoughts here made me eager to share it with my future children and experience that kind of wonder all over again.

    I think I'll head out now and find a garden, maybe even a few cheesy bugs. :)

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  12. Found you through Lasuza and so happy about it! Your writing is beautiful, so evocative. Took me right back to when I was small. For me it's plane-trees, their bark like oversize puzzle-pieces, on the promenade above the River Rhine. We were either playing marbles under the trees, or hopscotch, or ... declares war on ... If I wasn't allowed out I'd often sit on the window-sill, watching the slow river flow by, the freighters deep in the water carrying coal, their sombre horns sounding. Yesterday a friend took me to the Thames, were we sat on a bench under plane-trees and I was here and I was back there too.

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    1. Oh what a lovely memory. So glad you found your way here, too! I've recently spent time on the Rhine and the Thames, so I have a vivid image of what you describe. I think if nature gets us when we're small, it's rare that we leave it unloved.

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  13. Hi Emily, nice to find your blog. I also came from Lasuza but of course know you from VCFA! And I enjoyed reading this post despite the fact that I'm not a general nature lover. For me, it's very specific--the ocean, the ocean, the ocean...

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    1. Cynthia! Hello. I've poked around your blog several times and have always appreciated your content, so it's nice to find you here, as well. And as far as being a general nature lover, I seem to remember your workshop piece being grounded very specifically in PLACE, and I don't think that happens without someone who's paid attention to the world around her. Just saying. :) And yes, the ocean, that endless thing that holds whatever we want it to...

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