Natural Wonder

Reposted in honor of Blog Action Day

Into the WildWonder:
- One that arouses awe, astonishment, surprise, or admiration.
- The emotion aroused by something awe-inspiring, astounding, or marvelous

Looking at sunsets taught me about the many ways to mix purple and orange. Clouds taught me about diversity in the midst of sameness. Flowers taught me to live for each moment of beauty. And trees taught me about honoring the ancient. As a child I was a student of nature. I would spend hours in the woods surrounding my neighborhood. Digging up secret treasures, climbing over and through American history, laying at the lap of ancient mysteries, and losing myself gazing into the skies. I was a child of wonder.

My perfect vacation is a trip to the mountains. Climbing through old growth, sitting on exposed roots, watching the night sky and meditating on the morning mist. The first time I saw the wound of a clear cut I cried, I fainted my first visit to Mt Hood, I became dizzy at the sight of a star filled sky in southern Maryland, and breathless to a full moon on a clear night in the Atlantic ocean. I am also an adult of wonder.

But as I drive past strip mall after strip mall on my way to the mountains, as I see farms replaced by suburban sprawl, as historic sites are laid waste to over development, I am also quite angry. I often say how I hate northern Virginia but I seldom say why. I think central and southern Virginia are quite beautiful, but the overdevelopment of the northern areas is an abomination in my humble opinion. Now even Maryland is falling prey to the same infirmity. I swear that I cannot tell by train anymore where Baltimore ends and DC begins. The open spaces are disappearing.

Where will our children discover the wonder of nature, the lessens of the ancients, the feeling of smallness in the midst of natural beauty. Are we sacrificing our children’s inheritance to the convenience of the moment?

My friend Eric Quinn spoke to me once of the lesson of Portland Oregon. Where they took a look around and decided that the sprawl had to stop. I visited Portland a while back, and remember my trips outside the city. How the city abruptly ended and you were in the country. How the city was vital and healthy and the total lack of suburban sprawl. I remember with wonder the bustle of the city, the ancientness of the land around it and I weep.

Do we have the foresight, the means, the discipline to save our countryside, our old growth, our heritage? With the multiple jurisdictions and the competition for economic growth can we look past immediate gain for the promise of the long term?

I peer through my door at my postage stamp of a back yard. The previous owners of my house had planted three bushes close together and poured small rocks over the ground to create a patio of sorts. Weeds grow through the wide spaces between the rocks and encircle the bushes with vines that choke the flowers next door. The rocks make it impossible to use the lawn mower, and the bushes are encircled at the bottom by old tires. My neighbors look at it in disgust, the yard is much to small to be in such disrepair. My brothers have counseled me to dig the whole yard up and pave it. I am torn.

If I pave it over, am I not doing to this space exactly what I mourn others doing to the space around this fair city? Am I missing an opportunity to preserve green space? Is this the same view, that gave way to the strip malls, it is not pretty therefore lets pave it over?

I am sitting at work and I hear conversations about nightmarish commutes, and I speak up smugly about how I live less than four miles from my job. How my traffic consists of dogs being walked and elders on their morning constitutional. I read about the rise in houses bought in the city, but how families with children continue their flight.

How do we preserve the natural spaces, when we flee our problems instead of solving them. Why do we build anew, instead of fixing what has fallen into disrepair? We flee to the artificial beauty of manicured lawns and landscaped gardens, when the natural beauty we rip from the ground has so much to teach. Where will our children of wonder learn the deep lessons? In a book, in a zoo, in a movie, in a lab?

I sit on my back steps contemplating the history of humans. How we scar the world in the blinking of an eye. The previous home owner wanted order in this yard, but in the end it is nature that rebounds. Maybe it doesn’t matter what we do, nature will claim her own in the end. My neighbors are out every Saturday, fighting nature with due diligence. While my yard gives way to the needs of its living things. I ponder my own little lab experiment of universal lessons over coffee.

How do we learn our place in the universe? How do we comprehend our smallness in relation to the natural world? As a child I learned it sitting at the foot of ancient trees. When the trees are gone, how will we know who or what we are?

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