My calendar for the next two weeks has written all across it in big block letters, “KEEP FREE FOR OUTSIDE.” I was expecting peak color this week, but the trees are stubbornly clinging to green. I think I might have to add a week to my blocked-off schedule. Hike, bike, kayak: this is a priority for this time of year.
I was out yesterday morning on Perche Creek (you do pronounce the “e,” and it turns out its name came from Lewis & Clark naming an arch rock along the banks of said creek: Roche Percée, or pierced rock). I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I have only ever taken my kayak to the water trail and to the lake down the road from the farm. But I wanted to try getting on the big creek, a mile or so upstream from where it empties into the Missouri, and see what that was like. So that’s what I did.
Too often, lately, I’ve brought my computer with me when I go out to nature. And then I spend my sitting time either working or feeling like I should be working. The kayak is great, because you don’t take electronics in a kayak. I felt free to stop paddling and let the wind turn me whichever way it liked.
Magical things happen when you take time to sit still and pay attention. In the past few years I’ve had a close brush-by with a beaver that was in a Lewis Carroll-worthy rush; been mesmerized by hawks circling lazily on the breezes; encountered a blue heron; learned to identify trees I never knew as a child; discovered springs—tiny little springs, chattering out of rocks or holes in the ground; had a bicycle race with an indigo bunting; watched a raccoon take a mid-morning swim in a creek and a deer scramble and slip on the ice, uncharacteristically clumsy as it tried to get up the embankment. And a few other, less presentable animal encounters. 🙂
By visiting these places over the course of years, I learn things about my home territory I never knew. I watch the plants grow, get washed away by flash floods, and grow back. I am fascinated by the trees holding firm on the edge of streams whose waters can rage and can be as still as glass—and by the trunks and branches, stripped bare and sticking up from the yellow-brown waters, that prove that the trees don’t hold forever.
Yesterday, a heron perched on a log, paying no apparent attention to me. But when I got too close for comfort, it stretched its wings and found another log farther downstream. It occurred to me that this heron is much like me. I wasn’t in its personal space. I was too far away to get a decent picture with the not-phone, in fact. But that heron wanted to be alone.
Unlike me, however, it had no self-consciousness about simply picking itself up and putting more space between us. Me? When people are too close to me, I feel obligated to stay, out of politeness. They might think I’m rude, or that I think there’s something wrong with them, when in reality the only thing it has to do with them is that I want to be alone.
This is the reason nature is so good for me. When I am sitting by a river, or drifting down a creek, I am constantly encountering things God made, doing precisely what God created them to do. Leaves rustling—maples with that soft-edged quality, cottonwoods with a sound much more angular and crispy. Hawks perched on dead trees, scanning the vicinity for food. A string of bubbles in the yellow-brown water alerting me that something is down there that I can’t see—turtle? fish? snake? —minding its own business, doing what it was meant to do. Twigs and walnuts and acorn tops (and bottoms), bobbing along the surface. Beads of light running up the curve of a fallen tree as the sunlight hits the water and bounces off.
Encountering the things of God acting in accord with their nature recalibrates me to better reflect my own purpose. It’s like a chiropractic adjustment for the soul.