When I was a kid, I remember lifting large stepping stones in our backyard to forage for roly polys and marvel at how they folded into themselves, cocooning their inner bodies from the outside world. Other times, I would pluck a blade of grass and search for tiny holes in the yard where grub worms were hiding. Sticking the grass blade into the hole of earth, I’d wait until the worm latched on before abruptly yanking him from his home to examine him. Afterwards, I would roll over on my back against the soft clover and stare up at my looming oak tree, attempting to count the number of leaves on the tallest branch I could see.
My grandfather instilled in me a passion for the outdoors. In fourth grade, my science class was assigned a take-home project involving putting together a leaf classification notebook. As sexy as this sounds now, it was a daunting task at the time. Unbeknownst to me, what came to follow was an adventure with my grandfather that’s still lodged in my memory like sticky sap from a sugar maple.
My grandfather was a natural explorer. He scoured every inch of Lauderdale County, through briars and bushes, creeks, and streams, to pluck from loblolly pines, hearty pecans, sweet gums, black walnuts, red cedars, and towering white oaks. I’d watch him crawl from the brambles to deliver a huge sassafras leaf. I used that particular one to create a leafy character for the first page of my notebook. “Sassy” was a hit with my teacher. In the end, I had over 100 different leaves in my notebook and one tired, old grandpa in Zip City.
Today, I find myself nestled within the wilderness that surrounds me. There I can breathe, inhaling what my grandfather taught me years ago.
Slow is okay.
The best finds are sometimes off the beaten path.
When I am in the world, I am bombarded with crises that I have no control over, but yet feel compelled to solve. Ever pay attention to how many emergencies come across your screen during one social media newsfeed scroll? Nestled between pics of toothy grins from my little cousin twice removed, videos of cats falling from televisions, and occasional dachshunds running in hot dog suits, there are short blasts of urgency imploring me to take action.
Did you know Greenland is melting into the ocean? The Emperor Penguins are going extinct due to disappearing sea ice. North Korea is testing nuclear weapons. Trump is golfing again. Here’s more about the mass shooting. Here’s another mass shooting. Burger King is serving plant-based whoppers. The New York Giants may have to relocate if they finally find Jimmy Hoffa at the west end of the stadium. Bacon causes cancer.
Compound the world’s problems with the daily work grind and social event schedule, and I’m begging for some fresh air.
When I am not in the world, but of the earth, my senses are keener. I can smell the red clay dirt muddled with fresh pine. I can hear the nearby creek, cold as ice, washing away the weeklong schedule block. The taste of wild honeysuckle brings me back to the days when my world was wrapped up in studying grubs beneath cinderblocks and deciphering the animals that appeared as clouds in the sky.
To offset my obsession to fix, manage, and control the world around me, I travel to areas that don’t demand my attention. The dirt trails that beckon me know where they’re headed without my advice, thank you very much. The millipede crawling across a world of bark and branch isn’t frozen in place, concerned with which foot it should move next. The limestone boulders are in no hurry to get anywhere, and I’m willing to bet that sapling up ahead is more grounded than I’ll ever be.
Sometimes this world is too much. Too much demand to react to issues that are out of my control. Too much of “can you believe it?” “This is unprecedented.” “Why the end times are near.”
Not enough “just because.”
“I love you.”
“Be still and know.”
“It’s going to be okay.”
“You are enough.”
How bizarre it is to become overwhelmed with the vast world surrounding me when an entire colony of ants built their lives around a small heap of dirt, unconcerned with what that other pile of earth a few feet away may be doing at any given time. When I am surrounded by nature, all of those worries fade away into the orange rust and starburst pink sunset.
Readers, you may not be a fan of the great outdoors, and that’s totally cool. Flying bugs and poison ivy aren’t everyone’s favorite past time. But heed my advice. Find your own outlet to shrug off those negative messages. Don’t be like the roly polys that live under a rock and ball up in fear when light is shed on them. Embrace the warm light like the grub worm. Clench onto that blade of grass, pull yourselves out of that hole, and bathe in the sunlight.
Famous mountaineer John Muir said that between every two pines is a doorway to a new world. How refreshing it is to leave the old one behind.
Blogger’s note: If you’re a woman who is truly interested in some stress relieving explorations in nature but don’t know the first thing about navigating the path, the Shoals’ League of Outdoor Women is a great option. The League gets together throughout the year to hike and incorporate some useful workshops like first aid survival training, plant identification, camp packing 101, and even an upcoming photography in nature class. You can check them out on their Facebook page here to get involved.