Never mind what the dream was about. It could have been about so many things: my mother-in-law’s passing last month; my kids being far away; my own mortality, my husband’s, the dog’s… But in the moment of the dream I felt as deep and raw a sense of loss as I’ve ever experienced in waking life.
But then I woke up, and poof, the feeling evaporated. Soon after that, I realized that I haven’t heard the owl this summer. Usually I’ll hear him in the wee hours through the bathroom window, a muffled hoo, hoo, hoo, hoooo floating softly over the grass between our house and the woods.
His (her? their?) call has been a comfort these past 20 years. I first heard the owl a year after we’d moved in while I was in the midst of cancer treatments. That summer and fall, I found the nature here—the owl hooting from the woods, while I lay awake, feeling my poisoned blood pulsing in my abdomen, or a pheasant strolling across the lawn on a sunny afternoon when I was waiting for test results— to be comforting omens.
Being in nature grounds us. And, in fact, it’s good for writers. “Nothing coaxes jumbled thoughts into coherent sentences like sitting under a shade tree on a pleasant day,” writes Carol Kaufmann in last week’s New York Times, “With a slight breeze blowing, birds chirping melodies, wee bugs scurrying around me and a fully charged laptop or yellow legal pad at hand, I know I’ll produce my best work.”
I also heard writer and environmental activist Bill McKibben speak this week about why we must fight to prevent approval to complete the Keystone XL pipeline as one step in solving our climate crisis. He is so smart, so sensible, so inspiring, I hope everyone will join me in reading his new book, Oil and Honey: The education of an unlikely activist.
Nature is one of the things that truly matters to all of us, whether we know it or not. It is what binds us to this earth. We can’t live without it.
Now when I think back to that dream, I don’t worry about my mortality or my family’s — or even the owl’s, who if it was the same one, lived a good, long life.
No, I worry about the end of nature as we know it, and how little time we have to halt its decline. Not succeeding would be the greatest loss of all.
Beautiful Judith. Your words speak the truth and your photos are gorgeous. There isn’t a soul on this earth who can live without nature. I hope to join you sometime soon when Bill McKibben returns to our area.
Yes, Lori, definitely let’s go together next time.
Heather in Arles said:
I know that growing up in the country formed who I am and how I go through the world–that binding that you speak of so eloquently. And I wonder…it seems that younger generations do not have Moms who just open the door and say “Go out and play” anymore, so how can they have that same connection to the beauty of our planet? How can they realize that it is the only home we have?
Judith A. Ross said:
Hi Heather, A lot of kids today don’t play outside the way we did, that is true. My friend Eric and I roamed all over the woods in our neighborhood at a very young age. My kids had a big back yard that they rarely used. But, we took them camping and hiking and to natural places. They both grew up with an appreciation and concern for nature and animals and living in the city has only strengthened that appreciation for both of them. So even today’s parents can foster that connection. And I think it is up to us adults to do what we can to leave a relatively healthy planet for future generations. We may be among the last of us to have a ‘normal’ holocene for most of our lives.
Leslie in Portland, Oregon said:
Each of my two children (ages 28 and 33) is fighting for nature in every way they can come up with…they are more ardent environmentalists than even my husband and I. After being raised in Portland with lots of time outside and many wonderful progressive teachers, each of them now devises ways to live sustainably in communities in NYC and San Francisco. Looking at them and their many like-minded cohorts, Heather and Judith, I find much reason for hope…regardless of how they grew up, they love the natural world and work hard in their daily life to preserve and protect it.
Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said:
Hi Judith….I loved this post and your references to how important nature is to our soul and well being. Most people get so busy and disconnected from the natural world that they forget what their spirit craves. And that is likely why the message of Bill McKibben and others like him are so important. Until we value and appreciate something we don’t take the time or use the resources to take care of it. Thank you for these reminders and putting the word out–hopefully enough of us will hear it while there is still time. ~Kathy
This is a very well written post. I love the beginning, and I love how it is not preachy about the environment. Rather, it is about nature, which, as you point out, we cannot live without. Thank you!
Kathleen Volp said:
Your best post yet on the value of nature to reach deep into our souls and the terrible loss of of this spiritual connection with the war we wage against mother nature
D. A. Wolf said:
Beautifully expressed, Judith. Nature is indeed grounding and healing. Why don’t we seem to remember that it’s a gift to be cherished and protected?