“Just take it in” — I sometimes have to tell myself. Though mostly this comes natural to me, the biologist in me often wants to identify and categorize anything and everything. “What species of cicada… frog… beetle… or plant is this?” To justify this I tell myself how important it is to do so [identify] and share it with the world so that if they know what is out there, they’ll care and protect it. Plus, I often really want to know! In this way, my thinking human mind gets away from me and I forget to just simply take it in.
Last week I spent five days in my favorite wilderness along the river with my partner. As I enjoy the objective realities of our experience in the wilderness I listened to riparian wildlife, observing how the sounds change throughout different parts of the day. In the early morning there is a chorus of competing frogs and crickets. After a while, a couple of Yellow-breasted Chat’s chime in here and there then, a Curved-billed thrasher‘s “whip-WHIP!” calls in the distance from within the canyons. Almost immediately as the morning’s sunlight begins to flood the canyon where I am camped, the chorus of frogs cease until nightfall and other birds begin to take center stage. Experiences in conducting bird surveys have trained my ears to be alert and aware of the various calls. I can’t help but identify the sounds that reach my ears. As I listened to the birds I could pick out Common Yellow-throats, Goldfinches, Summer Tanagers, Bell’s Vireo’s, the ever-persistence Yellow-breasted Chat and more. Consciously I remind myself not to get too caught up in this yet, I cannot stop. It’s a rather satisfying obsession to know ‘what’s out there’.
While camping, a daily routine of natural activities quickly developed. Before the sunrise and before making a breakfast and having some coffee, I’d soak in a spring then take a dip in the river. One morning while soaking, I noticed a beaver at work swimming near the opposite bank from me. I watched as he swam and disappeared into a darkened den. I’ve seen him before. It was so nice to see he was still there. After a cool dip in the river, I return to where we made camp. Throughout breakfast I listened to changing sounds. Just a little ways away, the river steadily gurgles by reminding us of its presence. While sipping some coffee, my gaze is drawn across a flood plain to a thick stand of cottonwood and sycamore along the river’s bend. The trees so tall, verdin and majestic in appearance, I imagined seeing flashes of rust-colored orangutans swinging high from branch to branch. Perhaps even lounging upon nests they are so know for building. An image I dream of seeing someday in the jungles in Borneo.
After breakfast and coffee comes the benign chore of rinsing dishes near the river. By this time the sun has peeked over the top of the eastern ridge just in time for some mid-morning wanderings! Firstly, I’d squat beneath a large Gooding’s Willow, to peer deep into the waters in a bend of the river. I watch as schools of tiny, minnow-sized fish dance around from here to there, then back again. I noticed at least two different types of these small fish. One kind had bright salmon-colored fins while those in other school did not. I wonder what species they are? …I did it again. Occasionally I’d gasp in excitement at the sight of a beautiful large fish around fifteen inches in length, that slowly entered my view. Which I’d try to follow for as long as possible until they’d retreat where my eyes could no longer see. Sometimes I’d see four at a time come into view. And in a small nook of natural debris at the water’s edge I could see strings of frog eggs. Cool! I’d think to myself.
After receiving my fill of waterside wonders I’d set out to the woods. Sometimes picking wild mint or tart sumac berries.. Sometimes I’d venture to see whats around the next bend of bank or canyon that I had not yet seen before. Sometimes I’d relax comfortably under some shade and read or write. And sometimes I’d wander about to just, well, wander. Perhaps, I’d come across of snake or a beetle or whatever! It didn’t matter. I allowed the mountains to decide my fate. And as the sun reached higher above, towards what appeared to be close to noontime, (we did not take watches/phones so we didn’t know the time) I’d make my way back towards the river. By this time it is already really hot and I am just about ready for a pre-lunch swim. Our launching point, that very spot where I’d watch fish swim in and out of view in the morning. It was perfect.
With a shallow dive my body is instantly cooled and revived from the tiring heat. I felt a sense of renewal each and every time my body was washed by that river’s water.
Perfect. Just perfect.
After lunch we hang low reading, writing, observing or talking before the river calls us back for another swim. In the afternoon, the canyon is filled with a chorus of cicada, an anthem of hot days, while turkey vultures and other hawks circle above in and out of view. Occasionally I’d hear the shrilly, almost sweet call of a Common Black-hawk nearby.
Mostly, thoughts in the mind are light and gentle, though at times heavier thoughts entered our conscience. These thoughts usually revolved around that world back “home” or are invoked by human-doings which were often triggered by signs of disregard for the natural world in the form of garbage, which we have far too often found on route to remote places like this. This is a practice of ours; to pick up garbage and has been a practice of mine since childhood. When picking up garbage that has made its way into precious natural places, I imagine that it feels good to the forest. As it would to an animal being groomed free of parasites.
Just being in nature has always felt nurturing to me. My mind is calmer, thoughts clearer, awareness more keen, sleep more sound…. And so, I’d hope the benefit would be both ways as we plucked pieces of garbage from the Earth’s body and in return receive a mental and spiritual benefit. I have always felt more balanced in nature, as if I have truly come home.
Many more times I’d find myself peering curiosly into the river’s water. That river was so precious to me, …IS so precious to me. At one point before deciding to swim again, my partner and I saw a Spiny Soft-shell turtle come to surface then descend out of view just as briefly as it appeared. Gasping in excitement I relished in the aliveness of the river. While swimming I imagined burrows hidden in the banks where perhaps the turtles hid as we swam. The spot where I had seen strings of frog eggs just a day or two before was now bustling with tadpoles. The area was special. Fertile. Alive.
Our days carried on like this with variations of these activities. But mostly our days were the same. At pre-dawn, a soak, a swim and perhaps a beaver sighting. Some mid-morning wanderings. A pre-lunch swim. Some cool shady, mid-afternoon downtime observing or reading followed by another swim and so-on.
Being out there keeps me sane and keeps the anxieties of that artificial world in which we all live in at bay. As our food supply began to wane the forest tugged at our hearts to stay, yet another day. Alas, we must go.
I didn’t want to leave my home in the woods.
Heaven. Just heaven.