Friday, October 3, 2014

I Stopped to Listen

Morning mist on a redwood stump.

When I was eight years old, my parents bought the Funny Farm. It was a "fixer-upper," which meant a cheap initial price tag leading to a nightmare of epic proportions. While my mom still has panic attacks from the trauma that house caused us, to an 8-year-old, everything was exciting. That spot by the living room window where they claimed the floor joist had fallen off its supports? Instant trampoline. It's actually termite damage, and they've shredded every joist in the house? Bugs are cool, I guess. Not having floors is even cooler, because you get to run across the room on the new joists and see who can make it without falling and cracking a shin. Digging our own field lines when we discovered the septic system hadn't been put in correctly and the backyard turned into a sewer every time it rained? ...Okay, even as an eight-year-old I didn't appreciate that one.

When I think of the Funny Farm, though, out of all the memories that flood back--eight years of them--the thing I miss most right now is nature. 

I feel like a sappy tree-hugger saying that, but you know what? I miss hugging trees. I miss wrapping my arms around the trunk of a silver maple, feeling for grooves in the thick bark and digging my bare toes in as I scoot up into the smaller branches; hiding in a world of green spending hours watching the way light filters through leaves the size of my hand; listening to the call of birds whose names I don't know but whose songs I can mimic; feeling the sway of the branches in the wind.

We had space, so much space, and so many burrows for me to squirrel away treasures and secrets. I had a fallen tree that would wrap its bleached limbs around me as I lay in the softest, newest green grass. I cleared space to let that grass spread, moving leaves that had smushed into clumps under winter snows. I picked certain spaces between branches and labeled them cupboards, filling them with walnuts and acorns in the fall, only to come the next day and find they'd been stolen by grateful chipmunks.

I caught salamanders in the cow pond, watched snapping turtles float with just their noses poking out of the lake-pond. I came nose-to-nose with a bat in a cave. I carved my initials onto a rock the size of our minivan that stuck up from the side of a pasture. 

I stomped up steep, forested hills drifted with snow, caught fireflies, watched the clouds, and watched the stars.

I spent eight years that way, and then life moved on, and we moved away, and I grew up. And I grew distracted. What little time I spend outdoors now is often hurried and frazzled, with me too busy chasing my kids and thinking about everything I need to get done to notice the patterns of the clouds, or the texture of new grass. 

Sometimes, though, early in the morning, I'll hear a bird through my window, and yesterday I stopped to listen. And I remembered. I stepped outside, cool concrete under my toes, and smelled dew on the grass as it trilled.  Life slowed. For just a moment, I felt time the way a child does, where every moment is an eternity and there will always be more eternities available to sit on branches and swing my feet in empty space. That's something I haven't felt in a long time, something I miss. Something I need to find again.

I'm setting a goal for the next couple of months. I'm going to take my girls, and we're going to find nature. Whether that's laying in the grass in the backyard, going to the swamp 45 minutes away, or just finding a park that has trees and walking trails, we're going to find it, and we're going to count birds, and crunch leaves, and feel, and smell, and maybe even taste.

And I'm going to stop, and stop again, until I find that place where moments live. Maybe, if I visit often enough, I'll be able to memorize the way there.