Friday, June 6, 2014

Childhood Wonder

We all have our share of worry and care, but nature is there to console us. From a fluttering wing to the greening of spring, she never neglects to restore us. ~Anonymous


It's just after 10 a.m., and the sun in its altering path is, at the moment, flooding the trees across the dirt road with light that glints upon each leaf. Through them the dark trunks rise and stretch their many arms, providing a sort of basting that binds this whole incredible tapestry of vegetation. Layer upon layer of rich color move the eye away from the most prominent surfaces toward infinity, that place deep in the woods where sunlight is a rare visitor and the wind has little effect.

I am reminded of the hemlock grove not far from here that I discovered one day on a walk when I noticed that the path to my neighbor's pond veered off into a much shadier area. Not being sure at the time of just what land belonged to which neighbor, I passed it by at first. Then one day, I veered off my usual course and suddenly found myself in a deep dark wood that allowed precious little sunlight in, and that only in the sparest beams that managed to force their way through tiny breaks in the canopy. It was so quiet in there, for not only are trees useful as windbreaks and air purifiers, but they muffle sound as well. It was like stepping briefly into another world, into a dark tranquil place where even my footsteps were muffled by the thick carpet composed of many years-worth of fallen hemlock needles. Despite the fact that others have surely been there, I still insist on thinking that it's my discovery and that no one knows about it, or at least no one looks upon it in quite the same way that I do.

It is such a short leap in this busy world from the wonders of childhood to the sensory wasteland that is often the adult experience, from feeling a genuinely innocent awe at a new-found flower to not even knowing or caring that it's there. What happens to dull this wondrous ability, or is it just that it seems silly when an adult feels that ancient thrill at coming upon something new and beautiful? It's hard not to when you live surrounded by trees and when the day's first sign of life isn't generated by another human but by a bird at the feeder or a chipmunk scurrying into its den. It's refreshing to see that wild energy devoted entirely to mindful pursuits and to the very task of living. Nothing in nature is wasted, for every move each animal makes is geared toward its survival, just as is every process going on unseen in those trees across the way. They're all still green for now, with just an odd reddish or prematurely yellowed leaf poking through here, the first to succumb to the shortening days and lessening light.

Early each day around 6 a.m., as sounds of traffic begin to reach me from the distant main road, a new sound greets me, that of a rooster crowing somewhere. And if I close my eyes, it's the 1950's again, and I am back on my grandfather's small farm watching my mother pull eggs out from under the brooding hens. Certain sounds have the ability to do that, to take you back to another time that awakens, if only briefly, old sensations that prove that you are not so different after all from the child you once were.

I don't venture out often enough, but I will as autumn moves in to cool and dry the air and discourage the insects that rule this place in summer. Everything is reaching its peak, from the tall tomato plants sporting their reddening orbs to the phlox that wave in the breeze. The hydrangea blossoms have greened, and the wild grape vine beyond the back slope has reached the road. It rarely bears fruit now, as it hasn't been pruned in ages, and its runners now cover the low vegetation below the sumac. I will also check on the witch hazel, as this may be its flowering and fruiting year, and I am always fascinated by its unusual blossoms that are not unlike tiny sunbursts.

Is it possible that, as we age, the things that once provided us with such a thrill evolve into things that bring us comfort? I know I find tremendous solace in these woods at all times of year, from winter's deep silence to summer's sunrises and autumn's riot of color. Maybe nature knows this and continues to inspire the more artistic among us to paint, dance or sing of those things that, as children, we considered treasures.

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