Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Sense of Wonder – A reflection on nature writing

This semester of nature writing has expanded my perceptions of nature writing just as last semester’s course on travel writing greatly expanded my views on writing about place. More than ever I think that both are connected. When I travel, I am drawn to natural locations so it is difficult to disentangle writing about place and writing about nature. My personal library has grown too. I have writers on my shelf now that weren’t there before. I have been especially intrigued by Native American writers such as Silko but other writers such as Terry Tempest Williams have touched my life. It was vindicating to read works by writers I knew personally, whose works were already part of my vernacular. Re-reading these authors and discovering new works by them was sort of a validation of what I already believed. This is the last formal Chatham Nature Writing entry on this nature blog. Will the blog continue? Most definitely. It has become a forum for me to express my personal point of view and to share with others.

One thing that has been on my mind is the reason I chose Chatham. I had researched several schools but when I found Chatham and learned of the connection with Rachel Carson and their focus on the environment and nature, it had to be Chatham for me. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had a huge impact on me while I was in high school. Last week at my favorite used book store I came across her book A Sense of Wonder which was written for her nephew but time ran out for her before she finished it. She wrote it in 1956 and it was published by Charles Pratt in 1965. In it she says, “No child should grow up unaware of the dawn chorus of the birds in spring.”

Carson also says, “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.“

I am thankful to the good fairies that I was born with that sense of wonder. I have tried to impart the same wonder to my son. I hope that my sense of wonder lasts me all the rest of my days.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

In a Moment

In a Moment. Serendipity. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Crash. Seven Pounds. How fast can our lives change in just a moment?

Today I reflect on what we are given and what can be taken away in an instant. Albert and I were involved in a four car accident this afternoon much less than a mile from our house. The statistics are true. Yes, we are going to be alright, mostly banged up and bruised. The hospitals have C-T scans of our heads and multiple x-rays of my spine and leg, then they sent us home with scrip for vast quantities of expensive drugs. No, it was not our fault. We, along with three other cars, were sitting patiently waiting our turn at the four-way stop when a teenager with his dad in the car rammed into the brand new Mustang behind us, forcing our tiny two-seater aluminum Honda hybrid Insight into and under the Kia SUV in front of us. What could have happened in that moment? We all walked and drove away.

I was thrilled to have a half day off from school and was looking forward to a peaceful lunch with Albert. It’s six o’clock and what with stress, nausea and several hours at the hospital, I still haven’t had that lunch. What if we had decided to eat downtown instead of turning West? What if I hadn’t changed lanes? Then someone else would have been the car between the Kia and the Mustang. What if I had stayed to clean my classroom? I didn’t. I thought about my poem that some of you have read. Every choice we make; every action has a reaction. We indeed are all connected.

You might ask what does this have to do with a nature blog? I’ll tell you. We have no idea how long our time will be. When my son first started driving, I worried every time he walked out of the door. What if the next phone call was that dreaded phone call that so many parents receive. But we get complacent. We forget that it could happen to us. Christians believe in a life after death. Muslims believe that what will happen is already written. Native Americans see spirits live on in the trees, the animals and the earth. Buddhists meditate and work toward enlightenment. I don’t know. You don’t either. Maybe they are all correct. Nature is and we are all part of the natural world. Sometimes we have a choice. Sometimes things happen in an instant. In a moment.

It’s been said before, but if you knew that today or tomorrow would be your last day on earth, what would you do? What would you say? Some of my classmates and I have dealt with death or disease in both our lives and our writing. My mother had what she saw as the gift of time. With terminal cancer, she took it as a blessing that she could say everything she had always wanted to say to the people she loved most. But what about those whose life ends in a single heartbeat? What is their message? What is the legacy that each of us leaves behind?

I thought about all my words that are on paper and in this computer. I thought about my son. I thought about my life. When we are struck with catastrophe, everything is stripped away. You figure out very quickly what is most important. My son and his girlfriend saw us on the street and saw my car. They stopped. They drove us to the hospital. I sat on the curb watching the policemen, looking at Albert, at Thomas and Ciara, and I knew what is most important. My car was a great car. I say, to hell with the car. The people I love most in life were there beside me. You want a definition of nature? Of the natural world? It is who we are fundamentally when all the stuff is erased. We are nature and so is everyone else. Everything that is alive matters right now, in this moment. And when we’re gone? Well, who knows? None of us do. But today, I am alive. My family is with me. And I am thankful for that.

6:17 p.m. Mountain Time, 9 April 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Garden – Part 8

Unbelievable! We have actually had our first harvest from our garden. The spinach seedlings are growing quite well. We did not want to hinder their growth in any way, but with scissors in hand, we snipped the most substantial leaves off and enjoyed them in a lovely omelet. The tomato plants are flowering. The beets are more than two inches tall and the beans!! Well, the beans are stretching up and out. Almost all of them germinated and it looks like we’ll be harvesting beans some weeks later this summer. I cannot believe that we didn’t try this before. It is fascinating every day to see what has grown. What is bizarre is that there are changes from the morning to the afternoon. A plant with unfurled leaves at sunrise, by the time I come home from work has popped open and its double leaves are stiff and sturdy. Soon we’ll have to start thinning the beets. We sowed the seeds down the rows and they are so thick that we must choose which ones to pick for the salad to let the other have a larger measure of soil, water and sun. Perhaps it is a bit like fertility treatments where some are chosen and some are sacrificed. The zucchini has sprouted and is crowding out of its tiny flat of six compartments. It’s another one that we didn’t really believe in and now we have to decide where in the yard to plant what will become sprawling vines. Maybe Fanny the Wonder Dog will have some of the garden intruding on her space. There is no more room within our little fenced confined space. Everything we planted is there growing strong and tall. Years ago in Iowa I used to plant what I called my gazpacho garden. It had tomatoes, sweet peppers, cucumbers and fresh parsley. It didn’t seem to matter if I had to shop at the local grocer as long as I knew those were available to me outside my door. There is something comforting and strengthening in successfully growing your own food. Mmmm. Next year we’re thinking, maybe the front yard too?

April 7, 2009