State Highway 114, near where I live, is an ugly, utilitarian commercial strip, bordered by fast food, box stores and car dealerships. Any landscaping is uninspired and perfunctory. There is seemingly little to soften this concrete stretch. Highway 114 with miles of forgettable strip malls can be found in countless towns across the USA.
So, you can imagine my surprise, on an errand to a local business, that I heard the song of birds and caught the scent of a flowering dogwood. Just beyond a dumpster, I saw some trees in the distance. Following my eyes, ears and nose, I made my way past the dumpster, to the back of a row of businesses, and there, I found the unexpected: An oasis of beauty.
Wedged between a tire store, a tanning salon, and a Walmart, is a 3 acre ramble of wetlands and forest. Despite all odds, muted by the shifting gears of trucks and the honking of horns, is this patch of green. Just when I had stopped looking for beauty, my world view was expanded.
I felt my shoulder muscles relax, as I took a deep breath and allowed the soft texture of the springtime forest to quiet my spirit. Just when I thought, this is all that there is, noise and concrete, I found a doorway to beauty, a pathway to grace. Imagine.
Mary Oliver, the poet, reminds us that there is beauty most everywhere, for those who take the time to look and listen. Do you believe that to be true?
The poet reminds us too, that noticing and being open, is a spiritual practice. Listen to her poem.
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Beyond the dumpster and the parked cars and the seemingly endless concrete, is this oasis. Here can be heard birds seeking a mate, the hum of insects, the sweet smell of mud mixed with flowering dogwood.
Breathe deeply with me. Allow your muscles to relax.
In such unexpected places we find balm for our soul and renewal for our spirit.
It is true. Nature heals and restores.
It is true too, that we live in a world of our own making. It is we who allow forests to be paved and wetlands filled. We who have lost our reverence for the wisdom of Nature. We who for the most part, passively watch or actively participate in the heating up of our planet. It is as if we've lost our way, lost our common sense, lost our responsibility for generations not yet born.
Yet, just when it seems, that all is lost. Beyond the dumpster, we catch a glimpse of a doorway, a pathway to what can still be, what is possible.
Just beyond Walmart, this Eastern Skunk Cabbage, has made a home. Its neon green leaves offer a gift of beauty.
'Pay attention', the poet Mary Oliver reminds us. This humble Skunk Cabbage, is a 'doorway into thanks, and silence, into which another voice may speak'.
I believe that the Creator is continually inviting us to pay attention and to give thanks. And what better way to do so, than to protect and learn from, the pockets of Nature that remain.
I find hope in young leaders like Nicole Boutiette, who is paying close attention to the wisdom of the natural world. Nicole along with others, is providing workshops in how to compost and live in harmony with the earth (consciouscomposting.org.).
I find hope too, in the restorative capacity of Nature. How even in an inprobable patch of green along Highway 114, our neighbors in the natural world, birds, plants, mammals, amphibians, insects have the ability to persist and even flourish.
Just imagine, how beautiful it can be, when we stand with and advocate for the well being of our neighbors in Nature. For, as they flourish so too do we as humans.
So, pay attention, and be prepared to be blessed.
With you on the journey,