Those of us who feel pulled to the fields and forests in all manner of spirit take comfort in the predictability of the seasons and Nature's invariable countenance. Any mood carried into the forest is reflected and at once, acknowledged. Immediate acceptance.
Every minute of the day. Each day of the year. All seasons. Beneath trees, one feels present.
The forest listens. Nature heals. From outside inward; it assists without insistence. Mother Nature sends her emissaries - wildflowers, dragonflies, blossoming trees - and permits each of us autonomy to improve our spirits (or to not, if we so choose).
Last year I was obsessed with the notion I have not accomplished enough in my forty-five years. My travel has been limited to the states situated along the middle-Atlantic coast. And, my successes as an educator and nature photographer are focused largely within three counties. Additionally, my recent conservation efforts - to increase native plant populations - have been concentrated on one small area of south-Central Pennsylvania.
In the past five years I have exclusively explored nature parks and wildlife preserves within a 2-hour drive (or more often, a ten minute drive) of my home. It wasn't until I began to honestly think about my ability (or inability) to broaden my scope that I re-evaluated my relationship with those places.
Kuerner Farm, in Delaware County. It was there I formed a strong attachment to bluebirds. Closer to home, four miles to the east, lies a 36-acre creekside park where bloodroots grow on a sunny hillside each spring. It was there I showed my five-year-old son his first vernal pond. I credit the nature preserve ten miles to the south for teaching me about skunk cabbages, hepatica, diving beetles and millipedes. In October - eleven miles from my front door - I discovered a weeks old musk turtle. The size of a quarter, he swam alongside me as I rested next to a large man-made lake. I scooped his wee form from the water, marveling at his tiny round shell. After only a moment or so, I released him. Snug in a cozy little muddy section of the great lake, he hibernates now.
The park. The preserve. The lake. A few special places. Each locale feels as comfortable to me as my own backyard. By virtue of their distance from my home, they qualify. And in the same way one might watch a young cousin grow and mature through the years, from holiday-to-holiday, I observe these environs from season-to-season, year-after-year.
My finite accomplishments provide the impetus for my current work. Had I not been welcomed again and again into the fields and forests around my home I would not have begun to recognize and understand the myriad complex relationships between flowers and insects, plants and animals, fungi and fallen trees. From the high canopy to the forest floor, I claim designation as a perennial witness.
Each singular experience, every observation is enough. They nod to me, and I to them.