The things we forget: nature

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As time grinds slowly towards the first day of classes like the inside of one of those huge clocks, it’s a good time to think about the things that restore. The things we forget sometimes.

I live a life packed around with people. I live in a house attached to my neighbors and I sleep in a bedroom that sits about 6 feet off a sidewalk that’s surprisingly busy for a small town. This is how I chose to live and there are many things to recommend it. I like people. People can be restorative.

What I forget sometimes is that I grew up out in the country, with neighbors who were hardly ever visible, and rarely audible. At night, the loudest noises were barking dogs out hunting somewhere and airplanes going by overhead. I had an intimate knowledge of the woods on either side of our house; there were named places. The witches tree (a honey locust with thorns on its trunk). The lovers knot (a pair of huge grapevines knotted into the shape of a heart). The preaching stump (a large stump sitting on one side of a creek bed facing several smaller stumps on the opposite side).

One of the best places to find me at my parents’ house in the summer, especially as I got older, was in a patch of grass on the other side of a wall of zinnia’s in the garden. The garden ended there and what had once been pasture but was now just mowed grass began. It was a spot close enough to the edge of the woods to be able to see blue sky overhead, but also the wall formed by the trees, and on most summer days, the tops of the trees swaying gently in a breeze. The zinnia’s hid you from immediate view of the house or anyone close to it, so you had to go looking to find me. And I would just lay there. And do nothing. It just felt right. I would walk around the corner of the garden and look at that spot and want nothing more than to just lay there in the grass, looking up at the sky and the trees. And that was before life got complicated.

Now I live in the booming urban metropolis of Madison, Indiana. I have a backyard. There’s grass and trees and flowers. Some evenings you can sit out and watch chimney swifts dive into the chimney of the church next door. One morning, we saw a mother raccoon moving her two babies out of the big maple tree in the neighbors yard and across our garage roof. There’s certainly nature down here. But it’s not quite the same.

And still, just last year I scoffed at my friend who takes regular walks in Clifty Falls State Park. The idea of having to get in your car and drive to nature…that’s crazy. Nature is what you walk out your back door into. Nature is the intimate landscape of home, not a state park. Well. The things we forget.

I don’t know what I was thinking when I would lay in that patch of grass at home when I was younger. Was it restorative? Did I go there when I was upset? I don’t remember anymore. Just the sure sensation of how right it felt.

This past week had its moments, and one afternoon I found myself on a picnic table under a big maple tree in Clifty Park. I didn’t go there because it was nature. I wasn’t that smart. I went there because it was some place I could be relatively alone, away from family and friends and students and co-workers. It was a place no one would find me. I just laid on top of the picnic table and looked up into the tree. Occasionally, a car drove by, but mostly they didn’t. Once, I head a roaring noise that I thought was the sound of a car, but turned out to be only the rising wind moving through all those trees. I’d forgotten that noise.

After I had left, I could close my eyes, and put myself back in that spot, under that tree, staring up, and it was like a little drug. A little mental Prozac, if that’s what Prozac makes you feel like. It was peace. It was pause. It was in the end everything will be okay. How did I forget that?

It takes maybe 5 minutes to drive from my house to Clifty. Maybe a few more minutes from my office. How do I forget over and over again that it’s there? How do I forget to go? How do I not take 10 or 15 minutes out of my day to sit under a tree and feel that? How do I not remember how good it is to carry that with you all day? The peace, the quiet, the sound the wind makes in the trees?

This fall, as the pace of my life speeds up, I want to remember. I want to remember how easy it can be. As if there’s a little outlet we have built inside us just waiting to be plugged into a quiet, shady spot to get re-charged. You don’t need to know how to breath or meditate. You don’t have to work at it. You just have to go there and be. This fall I will not forget.

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