Friday, November 09, 2012

It's in My Nature

If you don't care for nature -- if, like one thoroughly urbanized child of ours, unidentifiable insects and strange birdcalls and midnight shufflings in the shrubbery make you all verklempt -- living in the middle of outstate Michigan is probably not for you. We are not, technically, "out in the country" -- our property borders a subdivision at one end of our small town -- yet we are surrounded by trees, giving us the illusion three seasons out of the year that we're all by ourselves in a large forest; our large back yard is home to everything from Michigan's ubiquitous chickadees and downy woodpeckers to occasional turkeys, a fox, an opossum and about a dozen deer who wander through the neighborhood every day.

We enjoy nature. We enjoy it around our house (even our tribe of skinks who spend the summers sunning themselves on our patio and landscaping rocks, when they're not fleeing from the cat); we enjoy living two minutes away from a huge patchwork of farm fields and woodlands, from quiet country roads lined by trees whose branches meet overhead, from lakes and rivers. And because one of our daily rituals is taking Chica the dog on a long, energy-expending run, every day is like a field trip for us. The other day, for instance, we saw not one but two bald eagles -- no longer rare in these parts, but certainly not common birds -- circling in the air above us as we drove down an unfamiliar lane. A couple of miles away, passing the rows of brown stubble in a harvested cornfield, I noticed, out in the middle of the property, easily the largest elm tree I have ever seen in my life -- a stunning, vase-shaped beauty silhouetted against the sky. 

Being a farm kid, and an only child, I've always spent lots of time exploring the out-of-doors; I used to practically live in our pasture and hayfields during the summer. I was tacitly encouraged by my father; someone who, ironically, couldn't say the word "environmentalist" without preceding it with "goddamned," but who nonetheless possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of wildlife borne of a lifetime farmng, fishing and hunting, who for all his gruffness could be startlingly sentimental about some wild things (taking the time, for instance, to save a trembling young fawn from harm while cutting hay, waiting patiently for a reunion between baby and mama away from the hayfield before he commenced his work again) and who held to his family's Old World principles about engaging with flora and fauna -- for instance, considering it good luck to feed birds in wintertime, and to plant trees where there weren't any. My maternal aunt and uncle were also great amateur naturalists who knew the name of every plant and animal on their farm, whose reference books regularly shed pressed leaves and flowers, whose windowsills always held found objects from their fields like fossils and arrowheads.

Fellow Traveler is a city girl, but her 15 years in Maine, as well as our rural life now, has given her an ever-increasing appreciation of nature. And she has that "beginner's eye" that can make me appreciate what I tend to take for granted. 

So the other day I started a nature journal, with a nice, softbound leather notebook that Fellow Traveler had given me one year but that I'd been reluctant, given my sad record of diarist follow-through, to "spoil" with my handwriting. I've given myself generous parameters in this project -- I can journal, or not, anytime I want; I am not keeping to a given format; I am using a mechanical pencil, not a pen, for writing and sketching. So it's not exactly The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. But I feel that at least some of what we see is too interesting or beautiful or odd to simply try and preserve in memory alone. My goal is to keep my journal lively, and to actively pursue a bit of mess -- pressed specimens, photos from my smartphone, notes in the margins. I'd initially considered keeping sort of a multimedia journal online...but I think it's good to actually write with a pencil once in awhile, to attempt hand-drawn pictures instead of always falling back on cameras and clip art, to create a written work exclusively for our household. 

So far I've accomplished one page -- a short summary of our eagle and elm sighting the other day. I'm sure I'll have material aplenty for days to come.