I had barely noticed the fields across the street from our house. Up until then, my world had been school, home, bus stops, streets, and my part time cafeteria job. If you had asked me what was in those fields, and not seeing any structures, I would have told you “nothing.”
But I had one last biology project in the spring of my high school sophomore year; collect and identify wildflowers.
Dusty looking yellow flowers in the ditch across the street from our house proved to be yarrow, my first wildflower. I realized I needed to go beyond the ditch and into the acreage and fields. Carrying the Guide to Washington Wildflowers, I walked a little farther every day. Every day I found more wildflowers. I found blue lupine, wild strawberry, and chickweed. I began to feel tenderly toward tiny blossoms I would once have crushed beneath my feet.
In a few weeks I finished the project. School ended but I kept walking. I had been bewitched by fresh air and sunshine, by birdsong, the peaceful drone of insects, and a meadow full of wildflowers. I caught myself welcoming the occasional early morning scent of skunk.
Those fields were mine that summer. I never saw another human being.
Every day I discovered something wonderful. One morning a sudden and terrifying explosion burst out of the grass only a few feet in front of me. A large bird, bigger than any I had ever seen, was furiously objecting to my presence. She fluttered and protested loudly when I moved closer and leaned over to see a dozen warm brown eggs nestled tightly together in a small earthen depression. I learned to watch for pheasant nests.
Each time I walked I pushed a little bit farther. Every step aroused my curiosity. What would I see over that next small hillock? What would I find if I climb down the steep bank and explored the brush? Where is that bird, the one serenading me from a hiding place in the bushes?
By mid-summer I had reached the forest. It was probably only five wooded acres, but it was forest to me. I’d been working my way closer for a while, hungry to know what secrets hid in those piney Spokane woods. Stepping out of the sun, through the dry underbrush, into the gentle shade, was pleasant relief on a hot day. Not twenty feet in, I stopped abruptly.
Standing silently, I watched and listened to the soft twittering of tiny birds as they flitted from branch to branch, from tree to tree. I wasn’t an offense to their world as long as I stood still and watched. Their very indifference was enchanting.
A busy hum hung over the entire kingdom. I heard a loud jay, and the steady loud buzz of an unknown insect. I wanted to be quiet, to know this place through all of my senses.
Bright flashes of insight are not every day events for me; but that day I suddenly understood why I had walked all summer.
The fields, the woods, these creatures, had always been there. They weren’t waiting for me to discover them. They didn’t care. When I wasn’t there to observe, they were still going on about their lives.
That simple, obvious, observation comforted me. Through the spring and summer I had found peace, mystery, and a kind of order as I walked the fields and forest.
I’ve never stopped watching and walking. Eventually I saw that nature’s peace was visited by occasional tragedy. Accidents happen and predators take what they need; but there is no ill intent, and no time to dwell on misfortune.
There is only the beauty of abundant life, the will to survive, and grace.