His (Daniel Boone’s) idea of happiness included unspoiled country where the land could sing its authentic songs, and where men could hear the call of wild things and know the precious freedom of the wilderness.
~ Stuart Udall, The Quiet Crisis
I crossed the parking lot in a light rain. This mountain park had no nearby shelters, and my car was the nearest dry place. A large SUV pulled into the lot in front of me and the passenger rolled down his tinted window. Obviously seeing my park volunteer uniform, he had a question. “Have you seen any deer or elk?”
I shook some rain off of my hat, “Yes, I’ve seen a half dozen deer out on the trail.”
He seemed annoyed, “Elk. Have you seen any elk?”
“No, no elk.” I responded.
He hesitated, and I noted that it was raining and I’d like to get into my car. He abruptly rolled up his window and they drove off.
I know the desire to see the wild things. On the internet, in our mail and on our calendars we are deluged with the majesty of the wild. Incredible photos of fantastic scenery, national parks and wild creatures tell us that as civilized humans we’re missing out on a major part of being alive.
I agree in part. In the anthem of my early days, “Rocky Mountain High,” John Denver sang “I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly.” I’ve made the trek to scenic wonders and been suitable awed. I’ve searched out places to see wild creatures, and been amazed. I’ve watched TV specials about the planet, its places and creatures and yearned to see them for myself.
But I cannot go everywhere, and I admit, sometimes the journeys I have taken haven’t been worth the effort. I have learned, though, that I can also revel in the wonders of nature close to home.
My visits to the nearby open space parks have shown me that you don’t need to go that far to have a compelling nature experience. On my hikes I enjoy seeing all manner of birds and the occasional small animal, and have nearly burned up my phone photographing the wildflowers. Often I’m on a little-used trail by myself, and the sounds in the silence trigger some primal response in me to walk quietly, slowly, and try to see everything at once. The people that pass me are most often in a similar state of heightened awareness, open to everything going on around them.
I’ve also learned over the years that nature isn’t on demand. Sure, you can go to Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall and see the massive elk herds (and massive herds of tourists), hear them bugle and watch their cavorting (the tourists too). But, nature picks its own times and places regardless of our desire to witness it. Sometimes I’ve spent days backpacking in wilderness areas without seeing anything more interesting than a pika or larger than a marmot. Those incredible nature photos and videos we see were earned by a large commitment of time and effort.
Almost never have those great shots occurred in the parking lot.
Nature Comes to You on Her Own Time
Early morning, first cup of coffee. I become aware that the sound I keep hearing is something I should know. Looking up out the open window, I realize that it is the cry of a hawk. Briefly, I see two large birds circling high above my backyard, calling to each other. Fighting or mating, I can’t be sure. They gradually drift out of my view and the calling ceases.
About a month ago we had a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks hanging out in one of the tall trees in my neighbor’s yard. They appeared to be mating, and made quite a racket. Once a Sharp-Shinned Hawk flew in through our open french door and attacked some bauble hanging in the kitchen window right over my wife’s head. For a while, a pair of Great Horned Owls hung out and made interesting hooting in the evenings. We also see bats fluttering across the evening sky, and several times have found one that failed to reach the roost clinging to a shaded tree or window well throughout the day.
Of course we have squirrels, and there are bunnies in nearby yards. At night we have raccoons and, occasionally, foxes in the mornings. We had a wood rat in the attic. There were active beaver in the nearby creek until they were relocated to save the creekside trees. Once we had a mother and two young deer leap the fence and wander into our backyard, and a fawn was temporarily stashed in the tree lawn across the street by its mother. Years ago there was an elk bedded down in someone’s lawn down the block, last spring a young moose wandered up to our front door, and a few years ago a young bear took a stroll down the alley.
Seeing these wild animals anywhere is pretty cool, but near your home, it’s special. But it’s important to understand that, most often, nature comes to you on her own time, whether it’s in your backyard or in a wilderness area. I believe that our appreciation for the wild world begins with knowing that we don’t have much control over nature; we can only control our acceptance of its gifts, regardless of their magnitude or proximity.
After all, we are only human — and nature is only natural.