Ernie Sanderson, the philosopher king of Jennings Rd., use to lovingly dispatch his children, myself included, with the familiar benediction, “Don’t let the door hit you on the backside in way out.”
We spent a lot of time outdoors as children. It was where we explored, caused mischief, and where we grew up. The fields, woods, ditches and ponds along Jennings Rd. served as our laboratory. We trapped muskrats, boiled maple sap, built forts, rode bikes, sledded and skated and explored the ditches and the dirt tracks. Sometimes we were guided by a parent or an older brother, but mostly we rambled and reconnoitered on our own. Daniel Boone and Davey Crocket were our role models. I even had a coonskin hat!
I wouldn’t suggest that we were environmentalists, far from it, at least at first. I’ve chopped a tree to see how an ax felt in my hands. I carried a bb gun and plunked away at birds and beasts. I collected copious insects and put them in jars with a handful of grass, only to forget them until weeks later. I did not walk gently on this earth. Few did. I watched modern progress happening right before my eyes, as huge diesel machines mawed at the earth, mauling forests, channeling streams and rivers, building hills, and digging lakes. Jennings Rd. is now-days divided by I-80, the Ohio Turnpike. I saw it being built, in an awesome display of industrial power, right outside my bedroom window. And if I could have looked further, I would have seen it happening throughout the country, and the world. Mankind hefted its own ax, and many liked how it felt. We fell in love with our power over the natural world and the wealth it yielded to us.
No doubt, there are lessons in social and ecopsychology here, and I hope they are being studied and taught. Nature has served as a forgiving and patient teacher for me, but it is not all-forgiving, nor infinitely patient. I now know this to be true, because a little birdie told me.
I believe that there are many lessons to be learned outdoors, in the natural world. Some of us have come to this realization early on in life, others come to it eventually. My first lesson, one that planted a seed of awareness, was taught to me by a Chickadee. On a cold Ohio Sunday, at a nature center in the Cleveland Metroparks, I coaxed a Chickadee to land on my hand and to take a sunflower seed. She spent a powerful moment or two with me, sharing her beauty, her vitality, and her vulnerability. It was a sentinel moment for me; I was lovingly nudged toward the truth in myself, in all of us. We humans are creatures of the natural world. We are part of it, one of many living beings, and so part of a vast system that is ancient and wise. And perhaps in a more singular way, we can and must know this truth, and out of reverence and necessity respond to it in a caring and loving manner. It might happen selfishly and self-serving at first, perhaps, but sooner or later it will happen joyfully and willingly. Mother Earth, our island refuge, is an apt metaphor. Love your mother. She loves you more than you will ever know.
So spend some time outdoors, and take a child with you occasionally. Feed the birds, walk a beach, hike the woods, look at the earth and sky. Stop, take a breath, and fill your senses. Marvel at your place in it. It will do you good.
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