These past few weeks have not held blank expanses of time. There have not been moments of sitting without going over lists in my head, checking email on my phone, reminding myself to add someone to Abby’s graduation party guest list or some food item to her party menu, or cleaning something because we have pending house guests to consider. There is the regular flow of editing work, writing, parenting. There is a garden erupting in our yard and dogs who regularly lose their minds now that the windows are sometimes open. There is planning our summer schedules to cram in appointments, reunions, conferences, and one trip to New York City.
Amidst all the swirl of activity, my daughter spent half an hour sitting in a tree, perhaps eight or ten feet off the ground, yesterday afternoon. We have three large old white pines in our back yard. She used to regularly climb them and swing from one limb or another, hair flying. So, when one of her teachers assigned his students to spend half an hour outside, free from human contact, doing nothing but being with nature, Abby chose to return to one of her childhood spots.
What a brilliant teacher. The class is reading a book that talks about our disconnect from nature, our dependence on technology, and the need to remind ourselves about what is important. Abby later told us that she watched a chipmunk, cheeks so full that his stash seemed to reach halfway down his back. She watched a woodpecker in the neighbor’s tree. She remembered some of her childhood, felt it beneath her legs as she sat on a large tree limb, smelled it in the sap of the pines. Even though she didn’t say it, I imagined her renewing a connection to a self that existed before she began playing World of Warcraft and Portal, a self that used to hike with her parents near Lake Superior and got her knees dirty as she looked for the best route up a steep slope. I remember that kid’s excitement over being in the woods, seeing the big lake, coming across a deer on the path.
And so when Mick and I worked in our garden yesterday, moving plants around and getting things into something both manageable and a little wild, I keyed in on how that felt like the only place I wanted to be: in our garden where, like Abby in the tree, we connected to one of the things that has become rooted in our marriage. This act of digging in the dirt, making a space for plants to live, working to find the ones that are native to this area and will provide food for birds, butterflies, bees, and other creatures, has been a regular source of time together and a break from all the other stuff that we juggle every day.
Just being with nature once in a while is the salve that heals whatever mark being too busy has left on us. And we don’t have to go very far to find it.
All photos by KCMickelson.