On our Rural Route the mailbox is a long way from the house. One of my daily pleasures has been to walk the quarter-mile at least once a day to pick up the mail and the newspaper. Long ago I wrote about the meager fare in my mail box—just catalogs, solicitations for donations, amazing credit card offers and advertisements. Christmas season is a little better or when someone here is sick and gets well wishes. But one constant, even on postal holidays, has been the daily newspaper tucked in the holder beneath the box. I’ve been a paper-reader all my adult life. When we moved to Michigan I missed the morning paper but adjusted to getting the GR Press mid-day out of the distant box. Now days before I take that walk for the local paper, I have browsed the New York Times and national highlights on Google where I can even get local headlines.
But times are changing. The Press announced an end to daily home delivery, now reduced to three days a week so I’ll have to go on-line for local daily news. Will this end the mostly pleasurable, and certainly good for me, jaunt down the drive every day? The reward of “stuff” waiting for me—was that just an excuse? Without that reason will I leave my desk? The daily ritual has its rewards: seeing, hearing, smelling the natural world throughout the seasons. A casual glance doesn’t do it, you have to become one with the landscape.
Two days ago I finally got a glimpse of the palliated woodpecker that I have listened to for over a decade. Today the swan family returned to the lake, foraging on the icy surface. The tall grasses take on a different hue depending on the time and temperature of day. Even in winter variation abounds.
So I vow again—neither rain, nor snow nor sleet nor empty mailboxes will keep me from my appointed rounds. It was never about the stuff.
Milkweed Pods and tall grasses
Simplify, the gurus tell us—return to nature. Well, here we are in the middle of more nature than one could ever take in, but that doesn’t make life simple. I can, for example, simplify my lifestyle but not what I take into my mind. The two simplicity robbers that won’t leave me alone are true marks of modernism—the TV and the Internet. Both bring wonders never before imagined but also carry the problems of the world right into my quiet study: the deadly war in Iraq; the upcoming election and its hoopla, and troubling situations on the streets and in the villages of Kenya. For the first time in my life, my sleep is disturbed some nights because the problems of the world or the distress among my own circle of caring press upon me. In the middle of the night I find myself wide awake—not with wonder but with a vague, undefined fear.
As an antidote Fritz and I latch onto things of beauty wherever we find them. Yesterday we watched a pair of beavers or muskrats playing by the edge of the ice, which is again forming from the tail side of the lake. Usually the beaver’s activity is barely visible; a large, v-shaped troubling of the water is a clear sign of his presence, but we rarely see more than the tip of his nose creating the wake. Our binoculars are always handy, but getting a good view has proven elusive. The beavers today were definitely up to something. Fritz dragged out his tripod and most powerful lens but still couldn’t capture their activities. The next day these guys were back on the ice edge that by now had filled more of the open water.
Today my husband’s camera captured the red ball of the sun coming up over the horizon. That light show unfolds quickly, but because of the beaver’s antics, the camera was poised and ready to capture it. And so we have a few moments of peace and grand simplicity before hearing the insistent call of our devices to look beyond nature into the wider world. We have returned to nature but are still not free from life’s complexity. (written in 2008, from February, All Nature Sings: A Spiritual Journey of Place)