If I had a blog, today I would write about my return to Nature.
“And so we saunter towards the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever it has done, and shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.” – Henry David Thoreau
Growing up, I was truly a child of nature. My mother taught me to cherish The Wild; to find solace in shady glens and peace beside the river’s edge. We took long walks, identified birds and collected flowers to paste in our memory book and it seemed that nothing could be richer than a life lived close to the earth. But somewhere between youth and womanhood, I lost my way. The heady years of high school and college drew me into the world of clothes and cars, friends and finals, then threw me headlong into the search for a career, a life-mate, and an existence that would bring me security and the approval of the world. I was on a path, of that there was no doubt, but it took me almost a decade to realize it wasn’t the right path for me.
The change came on a rainy autumn afternoon. I’d been studying for hours, preparing for a test in abnormal psychology, and when the rain let up, I decided to walk to town. I picked up my camera and headed towards the paved walking trail that led to Main Street and the shops and cafes I frequented on Sunday afternoons. I’d only gone a short distance when I heard the wind rustling the leaves of the sycamore trees behind my apartment. The dry leaves rattled in the chilly breeze and it beckoned me to come and walk among them. Despite the chill in the air, the creek that ran among the sycamores sang merrily as it skipped over rocks and spun crisp, curled leaves upon its waves. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d gone down the bank and was wading in the icy flow. There was a field on the other side of the creek and I could see flocks of birds gleaning fallen grain among the stubble. What were they? Sparrows? Juncos? I had to know!
The embankment on the far side of the creek was steep and twice I slid down the muddy slope before I made the summit. My hands, legs, and feet were caked with mud, but I didn’t care. I pressed my hands to my face, breathing in the sweet fragrance of damp earth bringing with it memories of making mud pies with Gran on summer afternoons. As I walked around the edge of the field, I filled my pockets with fallen acorns and hickory nuts and waved to the skeins of wild geese flying overhead. I hiked until twilight, then tramped merrily down the muddy bankside and back across the creek. My body tingled as if it was coming alive after years of slumber. I laughed and cried and sang to the chickadees that followed me through the sycamore grove, back to my apartment. In the gathering dusk, I sat beneath my deck and watched a red-bellied woodpecker stash acorns in the wood of a long-dead tree. How long had it been since I shared my life with birds? Longer than I could remember, longer than it should have been.
That night I dug around in my closet until I found a cardboard box labeled, “Books.” I brought it into the light and sifted through the volumes until I found a copy of Walden. It was a book I’d had for years, but, despite my good intentions, had never read. I opened the text and in Thoreau’s journey, I found the call to my own. In the months that followed, I immersed myself in the work of Emerson, Thoreau, and Edward Abbey, reclaiming my birthright as a Lover of the Wild. I set aside some of my worldly ambitions and replaced them with long walks, good books, and, in time, my own journeys into the wilderness.
Another year, another rainy afternoon, and once again I start my journey home. The world has taken its toll, a yearly tribute of sorts, and it is time to remember who I am. My path into The Wild is well-worn now, for I don’t stray far, even when the duties of life pull me away and I have Henry David, Ralph Waldo, and Sig Olson to help me find my way back to the trail. I am ready to shoulder my pack and saunter through the golden days to come, drinking deep from the wellspring of The Divine and basking in the serenity of that golden bankside until it and I are one.