I used to think cities were where it’s at. My European travels and my years in Philadelphia, London and New York found me gaping at skyscrapers, hitting hot clubs and trendy restaurants, and finding endless entertainment in the tapestry of skin tones, hairstyles, languages, and fashions around me. Having grown up on Cape Cod, I was hungry for the thrills of city life.
But I started to fall out of love with cities in my late-30s, when I went to live at a yoga center in the green, green Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. I went for three months and stayed for two years, soaking up the environment and spiritual teachings. When I finally left the Berkshires (too frozen in the winter, with too few eligible men for this single gal), I relocated to a peaceful suburb of Boston, with tree-lined streets and plenty of parks. I’m now just minutes away from Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau famously found tranquility in the wilderness, and it suits me to a tee. Because these days I’m paying more attention to Mother Nature, the great artist, architect, and companion.
When I stroll the bike path near my home, a majestic cathedral of trees shelters me, receives my prayers, and keeps my secrets. When I need to walk off some anger, the dirt under my feet absorbs my ire. My immigrant husband strides along this same path on his way to a low level job that’s unrelated to his chosen profession, reporting, “The trees and birds talk to me, telling me to hang in there, and giving me encouragement.” I think of the line from Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, promising that the world offers itself to our imagination and calls to us like wild geese, “harsh and exciting, over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”
I recently heard a news report that said we humans are spending more time with machines than people, which makes me guess that time in nature has probably dropped way down the list. How sad. As much as I love my lap top, it rarely gives me the same thrill as the red flash of a cardinal across my path, the sight of a hummingbird at a feeder, the eerie sound of an owl or a mourning dove outside my window, or the spectacle of shooting stars in the night sky. I’ve seen lightening storms over the Stockbridge Bowl, full yellow moons rising over the desert and the ocean, the playfulness of elephants and whales in the wild, technicolor Caribbean sunsets, and the awesome power of hurricane winds disturbing waves on a beach. To me, they all trump anything I can watch on a screen.
We had a particularly long, snowy, humorless winter in Massachusetts this year. A few months later as the land was finally turning green, I was arrested on my morning walk by the sight of a shining silver birch tree. An exuberant “Hi!” came out of my mouth before I was even aware of the impulse. I looked around, wondering if anyone had heard me talking to a tree. Later, I was met with nods of recognition when I told the story to friends who were equally starved for the rebirth that comes with spring.
Last year during springtime my husband and I were astonished to find a nest full of tiny blue eggs in a geranium plant that hung on the front porch. Like an expectant mom, I hovered by the nest for days to see what would happen. One afternoon, picking up on tiny chirping sounds coming from the geranium, we grabbed the camera and took a quick shot of the new babies. You would have thought they were mine, the way I showed off that picture, and the response from those who saw them was equally passionate. I see why animal videos go viral all the time.
My mentor and guru in my work as a creativity coach is Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, who says in the book that, “The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” When nature is putting on a show 24/7, how can we not pay attention? And how delightful, and thrilling, it can be.