From my perspective today is nearly a perfect summer day; mid 70′s, clear and crisp air, blue skies with a few white billowy clouds, and I am surrounded by miles of vividly green forest that has been refreshed by large amounts of August rain. There is something to be said about one’s surroundings. I purposely chose to live where the water is pure, the air is clean, native ecosystems are alive and well, and wildlife abounds. I chose this place before I found a life partner. And I was darned lucky I found someone who was equally enthusiastic about clean rural living.
Maureen appreciates almost all of the parts about life in the country that I do but sometimes from a different perspective. She doesn’t have my level of interest with regards to ecosystems, plants, geology, or wildlife but she came to this relationship with the true ability to love and appreciate the natural world. And she has taught me to slow down, smell the wildflowers, and take time to appreciate what I have versus what I wish I had. And for that I am thankful and lucky.
Take today. I was doing some field work and it wasn’t going to well. It was a technical issue that really had me baffled. So as to not get to frustrated I sat down to try to make some sense out of the situation. I immediately recognized that I was not appreciating the day around me. Here I was on the edge of a beautiful river. The river was wide, had riffles and pools, and created large swirling pools wherever their was a boulder piercing the surface of the water in the stream. The water was very clear and shadows cast by overhanging trees created a dappled pattern that highlighted reflections from the overhanging riverine forest. Birds sang. The water moving within the incised channel made a steady hush sound. As the wind switched from the west to northwest I could smell the scent of pine from a large white pine stand only a hundred yards away. Earth was doing her normal glorious thing and I had been lost in a shallow world of problem solving. As I became aware of all this my mood lightened. My mind cleared. I no longer thought about my insignificant issues but rather how fortunate I was to have a job where I worked outdoors. And then I looked around and the solution to the problem was right in front of me; a key indicator of the hydrology that I had been trying to find.
That old expression “taking the time to smell the roses” is perhaps overused and a bit trite. Still it is one of those life lessons that should never be taken for granted. Understanding and absorbing beauty is as important as breathing. Without air our lungs and brain starves. Without the appreciation and acceptance of beauty our soul starves. Both are essential for a happy and healthy life.
And its important to realize that nothing is perfect. In fact it is imperfection that allows change in the natural world. Evolution feasts on imperfection; without it the Earth would be a static environment. It is the dynamic changes that make Earth desirable. We live on a planet that strives to be perfect. Change is necessary and evolution is beautiful. And all of this is almost perfect. The real beauty is the never ending process to make all things in nature balance. Because the universe is forever in a state of modulation natural equilibrium is never quite achieved. That’s part of the grand equation that creates mystery without security. A hard concept for us humans to find any comfort in.
Recently I have been working on sites that were completely destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene at the end of last August. Human structures along once lazy rivers were forever destroyed. Floodplain ecosystems that were intact and supportive of a variety of plant and wild live were changed into barren parcels of sand and gravel that held only minimal habitat for local animals. Whole river courses moved altering the landscape in unpredictable ways. During my field work I have been seeing plant life take hold on soils with almost no organic matter. Plants that normally like organic influenced soils, like jewelweed and evening primrose, have been anchoring themselves between rocks and standing alone waiting for other pioneer plants to join them. As a few plants take hold, providing shade and cooler soil temperatures and as they die and add organic material to the infertile soil, new plant communities will emerge. Slowly at first, but with time, some gentle flooding and the addition of some more fertile soil, these areas will recover to viable plant communities, valuable habitats, and quiet places where some of us humans may even take refuge.
Just before I left the site where I was working I looked down. A four leaf clover was growing amongst a stand of red clover. I laughed. The perfect example was between my two size fourteen feet. While three leaf clovers abound it is the four leaf clover that might continue the species if available light ever declines because it displays more surface area. Available light has been lessened in the past by meteorite impacts and major volcanic eruptions. A four leaf clover would have the advantage over a three leaf clover if this were to ever occur. But for now the vast majority of clovers that have three leaves are sufficient. The four leaf clover will wait. If the need should ever arise they will have what it takes to continue the species. Now how lucky is that?
These rays of hope. These imperfect plants that know not what they provide display the beauty of an imperfect world. A planet that strives to survive. An earth that will always rise to meet the challenge. The beauty of imperfection. And the lessons that we can learn from this never ending natural process.
Nothing is perfect, but that doesn’t mean we ever should stop trying.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in August of 2012.
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