A few weeks back in the last rays of sun Joe and I took a stroll on the there-and-back-again version of our neighborhood loop. The light was so good I wanted to drink it. We passed only one person in the perfect evening – one of our neighbors, enjoying his own stroll. He alerted us to an eagle perched on a nearby piling as he passed us by. Sometimes sharing the splendor makes it just that much sweeter, and this was one of those times.
As we walked the familiar path that we have been taking together for almost 19 years, I thought about how much it has changed. Where once we walked bare railroad tracks and transversed rotting trestles, now there is a paved path and spruced up bridges. I had flashes of walking with babies strapped on, with curious or cranky toddlers, and of the many walks with friends or visiting family over the years. In recent times it feels as though the loop walk has become more familiar than my own yard. It is the piazza where we cross paths with our neighbors who know the pleasures of walking. It is where we forge relationships in little bite sized pieces.
This can be witnessed in the fact that the Alderbrook natural area is experiencing a noticeable increase in visitors, both avian and human, as well as an upsurge in care from various neighbors and naturalists. These stewards have planted out some native plants, and have been battling various invasive plants and collecting garbage. It will be interesting to see how things change as the wide scotch broom and blackberry free openness settles into itself, and the clusters of plantings mature. I am so grateful to have a bit of wildness on each end of our neighborhood, and even more grateful for those who are tending it.
A few days prior to the golden walk I stopped to talk with another neighbor, who when I asked how she was doing, spread her arm out to indicate the vista of the river and said. “Really, how could it be any better?” As we walked in the golden evening I thought back on her words, and as the light shifted into rosy hues it struck me that indeed, how could it be any better?
On yet another recent walk we happened upon an elder gentleman who was standing in a forested part of the loop, listening and looking for song birds. He was here in town, all the way from Tennessee, visiting his son who lives in the Northwest. An avid birder, the gentleman was excited to chat with us, checking in about what species he had seen, and what other birds were common around here. He was so happy, just glowing, as he talked to us about the work of his son, a marine biologist specializing in marine mammals. The experience made me realize that perhaps the pleasure of sharing this beautiful place is less about the specific relationships we may have with our fellow walkers, as much as it is the pleasure of being with those who are embracing the the natural world. Loving nature endows a certain kinship even amongst strangers.
I noticed this on our road trip in October 2010. We traveled a really big loop from Michigan through Ontario, onto New York State, up to Toronto, and back to Michigan again to fly home to Oregon. We spent a day at the exquisite Watkin’s Glen, and a day at Niagara Falls. Both experiences were so saturated in beauty. There were many other people about – and all seemed to be relishing their connection to the land. When I open my heart to drink in the beauty of such powerful landscapes as Niagara Falls, or here in the Columbia River estuary, it feels as though it is charging up my soul batteries.
Lately, on all my walks to and from work I have noticed that there seem to be two tribes of people coexisting with the river walk. Those who are walking within a bubble of humanness – often with some gadget supplying a soundtrack or conversation, and those who are soaking in everything they can from the splendor of the natural world, charging up their soul batteries as it were. Sharing a smile with another, who has just noticed a swooping tree swallow or has stopped to inhale the scent of honeysuckle twining its way through a hazel tree, is the opposite of lonely. For me it is as though nature is a conduit for connection. Those shared experiences make it very easy to believe that we are truly all one.
That oneness extend to the birds and plants as well. I swear that some of the crows recognize me, they certainly talk at me. And after the dormancy of winter, it feels like greeting old friends seeing familiar plants grow into their lush spring selves. Leaves unfurling, the dangling maple flowers transforming into bunches of tiny samara or the exuberance of the blooming rhododendrons. Observing it all feels like a conversation.
Our 2010 trip included a few days in Manhattan to visit with two of my brothers. The boys were both a bit overwhelmed by the city, and our days were spent finding all the parks we could, identifying trees, plants and wildlife. I found it very satisfying that our travels through Manhattan were so plant based. Thinking of it now I realize that if connecting to nature is possible in New York City, than surely it is always possible.
I believe that by actively connecting ourselves to the Earth we are aligning to a better version of ourselves. Happiness is drawn from the well within up towards the surface, and this shinier version of ourselves connects more easily to nature, and in turn with other humans. At least this has been my experience.
It sometimes takes effort to be of the tribe of nature appreciators, vs the contrived human oriented world. For instance, I sometimes spend my walks home entirely in my head, thinking over my day, or some thought exercise or another that makes me retreat from the outside world. Even though I am not wearing headphones I am still not interfacing with the soul battery. Perhaps being within nature opens up more space within to consider things, or perhaps if I am slipping towards the tipping point and find it harder to slow down to nature speed? In such moments it is the discipline of being present to the presence of nature that I need to remember to cultivate before I go completely over the edge into depletion.
When I do catch myself, I am definitely better for it, and the folks I cross paths with seem just a bit more sparkly from that space of inner light. Even just spending my break at work caring for the plants on the window sill can act as a tiny reset. Opportunities abound to reconnect to our nature through our connection to nature. Whether we are in the city, in an office or in one of the Earth’s power places, the natural world is always reaching towards us, it is up to us to reach back.