Growing up in Brooklyn, I had few opportunities to experience nature. Yes, we had some lovely roses and a favorite snowball bush in our modest front yard, and we took occasional visits to the Botanical Gardens. But I was more familiar and comfortable with concrete and subways than forests and streams.
So when Irv and I decided to move to Conifer in 1979, I couldn’t believe that I was actually living in the “country.” Stepping out the front door for a walk with our dog Daisy that first summer, I was exhilarated by the perfume of the pine trees and the sight of the quaking green aspen. Every evening after work, I headed down our street and up an uninhabited road where the dog could roam freely, and I could be alone with nature. My climb was rewarded by a panoramic mountain view. Sometimes I took a journal with me. Sitting on a rock, I wrote as the dog wandered.
The years passed. Several people constructed houses on the land where I had previously hiked. I continued my walks, now in a more populated neighborhood, with our successive dogs – Ginger, Waffles, Midnight, Jack, Dillon, Chester, Togo and now Lix and Lila.
Unfortunately, over time the novelty, along with my appreciation of my surroundings, wore off. I took my environment for granted. All too often I spent my walk thinking about what I needed to do when I got back home rather than appreciating the trees, the bunnies, the occasional deer munching on a neighbor’s grass.
This fall, something changed. Maybe it’s because we had an early snow, and I didn’t expect the aspens to stay brilliantly gold for so long. Maybe it’s my new sunglasses that enhance the color. Maybe it’s COVID that has given me the privilege of more time to take leisurely walks. Maybe it’s my study of Mussar, my practice of being more mindful and present.
Maybe it’s all that and most importantly, my grandchildren, who are my dearest and best teachers. Last week, I was walking the pups with Selam. We were coming down a steep hill when a sudden rush of wind loosened dozens of yellow aspen leaves. They swooped across the road like a swarm of golden butterflies as we watched in awe. Would I have noticed without Selam at my side?
Every other Friday, Selam, Dian and I take a hike in the national forest near their home. I’ve been teaching them Spanish, so this week, I challenged them to find dos cosas rojas, tres marrones, cuatro verdes, cinco amarillas. Another opportunity to experience the colors of nature – the red underbrush, the brown pine cones, the green pine needles, the yellow aspen leaves. Looking on the ground for something gris (gray), Selam found a fully intact, tiny bird’s nest. She pocketed the treasure for further study.
After a short walk, we got to a spot in the path where the kids wanted to stop for a picnic lunch of fried chicken and Clementines. When we finished, Selam and Dian went to work
in the nearby stream. For over an hour, they moved logs, rocks and debris, creating new pathways for the water and mini-waterfalls. I watched, thinking about how much they were enjoying their learning in the natural world. And I felt gratitude for the ability to be with them in the awesome Colorado Rockies, present in the moment, making memories together.
Now, as I write, I peer out my office window, admiring glimmering aspens framing the fir trees. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a lone aspen leaf falling from a tree. Several more follow. Before long, the trees will be bare. Seize the moment; time for a walk!