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I’ve always been an indoor person. I hid in my bedroom with a stack of books instead of wandering the neighborhood with friends. Fear that nature – all the bugs and roaring sun and ocean waves – would swallow me.
As an adult, I am a full-fledged Scrooge. My husband takes our 6 year old for hours of walks on our local trails while I marathon back episodes of The Mindy Project. He takes her to the city pool while I hang around in our air conditioner, read or make ukulele videos. He teaches her to garden while I play Spider Solitaire. Grilling? I hate them. Why should I want to sit around, braising in my own abdominal sweat, dodging wasps and being devoured by mosquitos? Bah, humbug!
To illustrate my discomfort in the open air, I sometimes tell the story of a time when a bee sat on my steering wheel as I exited the mall parking lot. I screeched back onto the property, drove diagonally across four parking spaces, put on the emergency brake, and fled the car. Another buyer watched from afar as I ran laps around the vehicle.
More recently, I’ve killed a succulent.
Still … there is something in these books that compels me to appreciate nature, even if it is from a great distance.
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Falling in love with nature (on the side)
The first time I loved the outdoors (fictional) was in my late teens / early 20s when I unlikely fell in love with the work of Barbara Kingsolver. (I say unlikely because Kingsolver doesn’t seem the least bit inside.) I read all of their books, but I was particularly fond of Prodigal Summer, who paces between a wildlife biologist who lives in the Appalachians and a town girl who settles down and staggered two elderly farmers with completely different approaches to the way they worked the land. Something about these different perspectives – deeply respectful, proud, cautiously hopeful – enabled me to look at the world outside my window with a deeper appreciation for the way we coexist.
When it came out seven years later with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I was hooked. I’ve read dog-eared pages of resources on farmers markets and seed packets, underlining passages on seasonal planting and cheese-making. Sure, I’ve never planted anything (all plants seem to die in my care) but the idea of it was intoxicating.
Perhaps it was my eventual appreciation and apologetic embrace of my interiors that kept me away from writing in nature in the years that followed. I think I went through my entire 30s without reading anything that brought me closer to nature.
But then the pandemic happened.
There is nothing that will make you go outside like you are trapped inside. And in the early days of the pandemic when the weather warmed up, we did a lot. As a family, we walked up the lanes and brought buckets in which my daughter would collect branches, stones, and tiny flowers. We looped around the neighborhood and watched the cherry blossoms and dogwood trees begin to bud and bloom. We made fairy houses in our back garden and spread out with chalk along our driveway. We looked for painted stones that were hidden in flower beds and under trees, dotted in different colors and decorated with motivational phrases like “have hope” and “stay strong”. ”
In December 2020, I read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass with the Feminist Book Club. I wasn’t excited about it. After all, what could I benefit from a book on “The Teachings of Plants”? But I was drawn to Kimmerer’s poetry and her awe of nature. Your writings on mutual life with the land made me want to live differently. Be a better person.
Shortly thereafter, I read The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson and World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. The former has once again brought home the importance of worshiping land and the things we grow, told through the story of a Dakhóta woman who was taken from her ancestral land at a young age to return later in life. The latter combines short, lyrical essays with charming illustrations, with each essay about a different natural wonder. The cover alone is a beautiful testimony to the flora and fauna that surround us, as fascinating as one of those magical eye pictures I used to see in the mall. I remember standing in front of them for minutes until the true picture on which the picture was based appeared. The cover of World of Wonders is like this, except I fall into his collage of intertwined flowers and creatures, a narwhal peeking out from behind catalpa leaves, a jellyfish flashing rainbow neon next to a potoo with large, yellow eyes.
Most recently I read Guerilla Green by Ophelie Damblé and Cookie Kalkair and Seen: Rachel Carson by Birdie Willis and Rii Abrego. The first is a hell of a charming graphic nonfiction about a young woman who is very interested in the guerrilla gardening movement. I liked his sense of humor, his seriousness, and his practical tips on how to make things grow in the most unlikely places. The second is a graphic biography of renowned marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson. It’s a look at how much a woman can achieve in the face of global environmental degradation. Both let you query the effects of our little actions on the world around us, both positive and negative.
Connect with nature in my own way
These days, I’m flipping my copy of Carleen Madigan’s The Backyard Homestead, marking pages on various gardening techniques, knowing I won’t dig my hands in the ground outside or tend the plants in our herb window.
Still, I dream of basil pods and small pots with garlic and spring onions. I dream of hyacinths and hydrangeas. Baking zucchini chocolate chip cookies with yield from our garden. Making eggplant parmesan empanadas. My husband and I look at various bird feeders online. He starts small pots with seeds and places them in our herb window to plant in the garden when the weather is warmer.
At the end of last year my daughter threw the seeds of one of her apples in a pot of earth, wiggled with excitement, her eyes full of dreams.
My husband and I weren’t hoping for much. But it looks like this tree will bear fruit in another eight years.
If this random selection of apple seeds can bear fruit, I can better appreciate the world outside my window. Even if I’ve only read through the pages of the books.
It’s amazing what can come from small beginnings.