The Joy of fellowship with Nature


One of the best hobbies I’ve ever come upon is that of being an amateur naturalist.  It needn’t be expensive and you can do it in your own yard or on a walk or, believe it or not, from a car window.  And, yes, you don’t even have to leave the house.

Here’s a little checklist to see how versed you are on the natural world around you:

1.     Identify the ten most common trees in your neighborhood.

2.     Name five wild flowers that grow in your area.

3.     Identify ten flowers or plants common to your neighborhood landscaping.

4.     Identify five migrating birds that visit your yard.

5.     Name five birds that are year long residents.

6.     Identify ten common weeds in your yard.

7.     Name the planets and identify three of them in the sky

8.     Locate the North Star.

9.     Identify five rocks in your yard or area.

10.   Identify five insects in your garden

Most of us are hard pressed to do half of these IDs.  But then, that’s the fun of it, that you can begin, anytime, anywhere, and discover kingdoms all around you—and even below your feet.

Be careful, though, for discovery can be addictive.  You may even choose to specialize, maybe on rocks, bees or flowers.

Being connected with nature can yield release from daily stress.

It can also give you awareness of the fragility of nature’s weave of flora and fauna, their delicate balance and our dependency on that balance.  One third of our crops are pollinated by bees, for example, but our sprays have caused a serious threat to their survival.

One other gift that comes from a love for nature is how it develops your powers of observation.   My favorite American poet, Emily Dickinson, had this acuteness, with nature’s minutia a dominant motif in her poetry.  Take, for example, this delighful poem.

A Bird came down the Walk –
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –

 He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought –
He stirred his Velvet Head

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home –

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam –
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.

Naturalism can grow friends for you.  There are groups of people out there like you who would gladly welcome you.  It’s fun to be among other gentle stewards of the earth, sharing their experiences and concerns, working together to promote awareness and preservation.  I like the Nature Conservancy.  It buys up threatened habitat and maintains it.

Your new hobby can afford you numerous excellent, often moving, reads, like Rachel Carson’s land mark Silent Spring or Thoreau’s classic Walden.  Good stuff on rainy days!

Think about how much you and your family can enjoy that country hike, park excursion, or neighborhood walk, connecting with what you now know, challenged by what remains to fathom in a hobby salient with retreating horizon.

Through its repetitive rhythms, nature confers assurance that tomorrow the dawn and dusk will come again, the seas will rise, and the moon ascend; that after winter, spring will surely come and our aerial friends return.

In sum, Nature amply rewards those who fellowship with her, conferring not merely release, but blessedness in an often troubled world.


Where are the songs of Spring?


Saw a sign yesterday that read, “Spring is coming soon.”  That’s something we’re all wondering about, even in Kentucky, where we’ve been having an unusually cold March, which makes it hard to believe the Kentucky Derby is merely six weeks away.  They say it may be related to melting glaciers changing our wind patterns.

But the real sign nature is about to turn generous was yesterday’s afternoon delight in seeing my goldfinch friends, busy at their feeder, newly returned from their long and distant migration.  I remember late October when suddenly they were gone, the absence of their aerial eagerness and bright collusion of yellow and black; the silence and loneliness of it, like saying good bye to a good friend who had brought abundant joy, “A quality of loss/Affecting our discontent” (Dickinson, “A Light Exists in Spring”).

I’m not a member of the Audubon Society, but I quite understand their love for birds with their bright plumage and merry song.  I think of St. Francis of Assisi whose kindness the birds reputedly reciprocated by sitting on his shoulders.  Sometimes I think they take their own measure of me in their aerial hideaways when I replenish their several feeders in our backyard.

Birds need our help these days more than ever.  I just read the other day that an estimated 100 million birds are killed worldwide each year by outdoor cats and other scavengers.

Diminishing canopy of forest and brush, draining of wetlands, and climate change add to the toll.  Squirrels and other rodents raid their nests, devouring eggs and young hatchlings.

Migration itself can be costly, with many killed and injured, caught in storms or flying into buildings, and sometimes planes.  Many are blown off course and show up in risky environs.  I feel bad that each year several of them smash themselves into our sunroom windows and I am left with their still warm bodies.

Some of them, hawks, are wantonly shot by farmers who see them as predators.  I had an unpleasant experience in New Zealand in hearing of a crusty elderly man who had nothing better to do than shoot hawks as everyday pastime in that gorgeous Taranaki countryside of lush greenery.  In Kentucky, especially in the mountains, hawk-killing takes on a compulsion.

Down the road and around the curve, I often see a sentry red tail hawk on a high telephone wire.  I like what I see when I drive past His Majesty.

I relish reading good poetry and there are poems, great ones by Keats and Shelley, Hopkins and Dickinson, that wonderfully excel in depicting the splendor of birds like “Ode to a Nightingale, “Ode to a Skylark,” “The Windhover,” “A Bird Came Down the Walk” and, sometimes their sadness as in Angelou’s moving “I know why the Caged Bird Sings.”

But I began with the subject of Spring and so Keats’ question of “Where are the songs of spring?” (“Autumn”) comes to mind and finds its answer, for me at least, in yesterday’s return of my yellow-jacketed friends.  Let Spring’s sweet song begin!

Be well,


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