I recall that my daily attempt to sit upright and diligently attentive by the piano was an arduous task. Often it was more difficult when the front door was cracked during the warmer months of spring and summer. During those periods, I only wanted to be outside it seemed. I do not remember how I became involved in playing piano. Perhaps it was the frequent, daily pauses in post-school play time, when my best friend and neighbor in Elementary school was reminded by her mother to play the piano. Retrospectively I think that my tendencies to let imagination wander kept me from creating a lasting affection for the piano. However, if there was one facet that could completely capture my imagination it was the natural world.
One of my earliest memories occurred during a state of consciousness when I was not able to establish age. I do remember the detailed imagery of the moment though, for I was being held in my dad’s arms. My visual perception was greatly altered by this perch, and it was a wonderful feeling. I remember distinctly he held a pine cone about a foot from my face. Humans of well established age can attest that there is an amazement in the focused gaze of these young children that our entire lives we attempt to regain. My dad would often carry me in his arms, instead of a baby carriage, and show me the details in the leaves of trees. There were seeds we often played with in the fall, which we called “helicopters,” for when you dropped them from a high enough distance they would spin cyclically downwards.
It is a scientific fact that our earliest exposures affect the way we conduct ourselves, and I strongly believe that these frequent encounters with nature impacted me. In my reflections of my personal happiness, it is astonishing just how many of my most fond memories were alongside nature. Twenty years of harboring natural love, moments of subliminal and cognizant appreciation, has created reserves deep in my heart. Reality was less substantial to me than what worlds I could create outside with my imagination. In the backyard of my neighbor’s house, was a pile of boulders ranging in size. There were paths just small enough to walk through that weaved between some of the rocks.
In these crevices my friend and I would create mystical worlds, where we lived in between these piles. I vividly recall having to “play the harp,” as we would call it, before entering the rock house. This meant sliding a finger through the dangling line of pink heart-shaped flowers. I would carefully observe these plants daily, and they amazed me. Yet, I had no idea what the factual name was for this plant; I now know they are actually called Bleeding Hearts. As a child these facts were arbitrary to me, for I simply was connecting with nature in an unforced, genuine, and raw sense.
Although most of my early relationships with nature were mostly in a creative manner, there were often natural lessons with my dad of factual weight. In our rambles outside we would often walk through the garden and observe the small life forms within it. I remember being captured by the majestic nature of the praying mantis, as it slowly ambled up stalks of plants. It had such camouflage amongst the reeds of tall garden grass. Dad would often turn over leaves and show me the congregations of aphids that had assembled near the meeting of stem and leaf. He told me that the ladybugs were essential to ridding the garden of aphids; the elimination of which was needed to keep the leaves healthy.
I often too would keep fuzzy caterpillars encapsulated in jars or plastic food containers. I would attempt to cover these synthetic homes with sheaths of hole-poked Saran Wrap. I would keep these creatures for my curiosity, until my parents insisted upon the prisoners’ release. Elementary friends and I would compete to find the most caterpillars in an afternoon. One would assume a garden would be best to find these creatures, yet they crawled on anything imaginable. Although I grew up in a highly populated city (Richmond, Virginia), I was drawn by my own curiosity to the woods behind our house and the creek down the street, where I would attempt to catch crawfish and minnows with friends.
There was a beaten pathway that lead from our house to my Elementary school, and I recall feeling so mature being allowed in the fifth grade to walk up the path alone to school. In springtime the path was lined with honeysuckle bushes, which were hidden under a shroud of bumble bees. I would stand just before the wall of bees, take a few deep breaths, and sprint past the symphony of humming. Heart pounding and shoes wet with morning dew, I would enter the school with a sense of accomplishment and adventure. At recess, my dad, who owned a small business from home, would stand at the mouth of the path waving his long arms at me. It was a real comfort to know how close home, and my beloved woods, were from school and its confinement.
Certain outdoor nooks were my sanctuaries, specifically a shaded area under a tree in one corner of the backyard. Here my sister, friends, and I would make ground-level tree forts, where we would spend hours until dark unfolded above us. I remember it was a real misfortune to be the one given the task of retrieving food and drinks from inside. Often we would accidentally leave books and belongings overnight, only to be found soggy and home to small insects in the morning. It is no surprise that I quickly became the school nurse’s primary annoyance, for I was constantly coming in for band aids to cover my itching, raw bug bitten legs. These were the scars received from boundless exploration; sleep came easy to me in these years of wonder.
From creating fairy houses out of bark and sticks, to taking mud baths with neighborhood kids, there was a multitude of creativity happening around and inside me. Enveloped by nature’s aura of mysticism, I never could imagine then spending time inside to be fed artificial entertainment as many children do today. As a youth I was able to create self-satisfaction, a skill I believe I utilize even today. Were we the last generation of children to create these natural bonds? I cannot shake from my memory seeing a young boy this past summer, perhaps around age 8 to 10, staring intently into his portable game device; he was sitting on a deck overlooking the Grand Teton mountain range. The fact that he didn’t realize what kind of experience he was missing is one of the most grave of travesties.
A thick sadness overcame me in that instance; I was tempted to pluck the digital game from his hands and throw it far over the edge. However, it is not anger that I feel towards these children, but sorrow. I am afraid that our species is losing sight of ethereal beauty, and an unlearned appreciation for the simplistic beauty of our environment. We were not made to take from this world what we wish. We were made to discover our unique heartbeat mirrored in the jagged range of mountains, undulations of valley hills, layers of clouds, and the glittering bodies of sunlit water. If sought after, nature will unravel eternal beauty.