I believe in keeping pace with the earth: spending time outdoors, sitting in the sun, walking through the woods, picnicking on the shore of a lake or by the side of the road, taking my cues from the flowers, trees, water, and sky.
I grew up in a house that was sandwiched between the county jail and a silk mill. Whistles and bells–in sync with the rising, arc, and setting of the sun–punctuated our day as they measured the convicts’ and piece-workers’ coming and going. I noticed, too, their activities change with the season. The jailbirds quietly planted their garden in spring, according to the moon. The summer months were full of cheering and jeers, and the clanging of horseshoes from behind the mill, in the cool shade of Dutch Elms. In the early dark of autumn we crawled under the bobbed-wire fence to steal jail-house pumpkins. The winter was cold and silent, except when it snowed. The snowball fights on both properties were wicked. If not friendly and fun.
When I was seven we moved to the country, and I had to learn to keep pace with the earth on my own. I discovered a small pine forest behind our new house. There I spent my days fishing the cold stream, identifying scat, and crawling through caves. I enjoyed the warm patches of sun and the lusty scent of Christmas all year round.
I don’t know how I ended up there once with flowers. Perhaps I was decorating the grave of pollywogs or salamanders. I remember the pungent smell of picking apart a marigold to discern the intricate pattern of petals and seeds. That’s why I understood, as I did, a poem I would learn next year in fourth grade: “God’s in His Heaven/All’s right with the world.”
The world’s changed, and I have, too. I find it harder year by year to take delight in a snow storm or mud season. I’ve adapted to air conditioning a little too much. Still, I know I’m happiest when I take time to study the slow turning of the stars at night before I go to bed, or spend a summer afternoon dazzled by the ocean until sunset, or watch clouds roam a low autumn sky until I feel as if I’m afloat too. For me, it’s the right way to live, keeping pace with the earth as best I can, until I soon become part of it.
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