“When we talk about “nature”, the first thing a lot of people picture is a wilderness setting with little to no overt human influence. These are certainly a significant part of nature, but they are not the sum total of nature itself. Most of us didn’t grow up right next to vast forests, fields and deserts, and even if we had we wouldn’t have been allowed to ramble across them unfettered. Instead, what many of us had were small open lots, parks, yards (our own or neighbors’) and the like. Because these may have been all we had, they became the definition of “nature” for us, and that imprint can last a lifetime.
For myself, when I was in my own small places, my fields and little patches of woods, for that time I was free and autonomous. I could explore those scant half-acres with impunity, and as a young child they seemed so vast and inviting that I didn’t want for more space. Instead of hiking for miles, I was exploring every inch of the land, every stone and stump and tree and pathway. I can even still remember the smells of sun on stone and cedar branches. That attention to detail is something I’m still learning to recapture as an adult recovering from the trauma of losing those places to destruction.”
This blog post is a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to those magical places in “nature” you discover and explore as a child, and it ignited my memories. In yours or a neighbors backyard, a rabbit hole through the brambles in a vacant lot, or as in my case, the small natural stand of fir and cedar trees at the end of the street where I lived. Sadly I don’t have photographs of the “forest at the end of my street” in that Portland suburb. However these images are photos of some of the places here in the SF Bay Area that have reminded me of those first small sacred spaces in nature I explored as a child and where I discovered and nurtured my connection with Nature.
The small stand of fir, cedar, and spruce had lots of undergrowth and some brambles. There were rabbits, pheasants, snakes and big garden spiders hanging in their webs. It was big enough that once you entered you lost sight of neighboring houses, cars and yards. It enveloped you. It was exciting and a little mysterious. I loved it.
There was a foot path worn through from the end of my street to the end of another residential street on the other side. I would walk this path to visit my friend, and walked it at all different times of day. Saturday mornings it would be bright and filled with dappled light from the sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves and branches. In the evenings it became dark and quiet and a little scary, although only in the darkest places far off the trail. In the summer it was a cool place, with the sounds of insects droning and birdsong. In the winter the ground cover and under brush seemed asleep, although the presence of the larger trees was ever wakeful. Silent witnesses to the passing of much more time than I had seen.
It was here that I first faced the natural cycle of life and death, when I came across the decaying body of a house cat. I told no one about what I had found, as I was sure that an adult would sweep it away and sanitize the spot before I had a chance to learn anything. I watched the decay process over the course of a week, until the insects finally claimed the last recognizable bits of the cat body. I was the kind of kid that caught snakes and held them just long enough to study them, climbed trees to see the sky blue eggs in a robin’s nest, followed wild rabbits through the bramble tunnels trying to catch one, accidentally startle pheasants out of their hiding places, and watch them as they flew straight up in a cluster.
Summer times sleeping outside in the backyard of friends was another magical experience for me. After they would be long asleep, I would lay on my back and stare up in awe and wonder at the amazing night sky, trying to connect the dots of the constellations I knew, and thinking of the mythologies and stories connected to them.
The early experiences I had in these small sacred places in nature completely shaped my cosmology and view of the world. It instilled in me a reverence for all life, and a desire to preserve the wild spaces that are left. It was a great gift, and I am grateful for having those experiences when I was very young.
My family is moving back to the Portland area, after ten years in the San Fransisco North bay. Once I am back, I would like to revisit these places of childhood memories, and I will add my photos to this post.
Thanks again to Lupa for the inspiration, and gift of revisiting those awe filled places of my childhood.