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JOY

The word joy perfectly describes the intense happiness I feel whenever I am immersed in nature.

We evolved in the natural world. Over tens of thousands of generations, it is where we became who we are. And while many of us may have left the natural world of our own free will, the natural world has not left us.

It is impossible to be fully human without nature; we are part of each other. Nature is not separate from human nature, it is a deeply rooted part of who we are. If we cut ourselves off at the root, we will perish like a wildflower wilting in a vase. Yes, the vase might be beautiful, but the life it holds inside will slowly vanish until there is nothing left but a lifeless withered stem. Sadly, I know too many people like that. I’d venture to guess we all do.

I spent a lot of time in nature when I was a child. I sought out my designated special places to escape to whenever I was unhappy or wanted to be left alone, knowing at a very early age I could always rely on nature to transmute my pain into joy. Because of this, I often feel like nature saved me which is why I feel so passionate about returning the favor.

Like the earth itself, spring is when I reawaken. Clothes are shed like the tenacious leaves of a beech tree; defiant throughout the long bitter winters, they finally fall away when sensing the signal new life is ready to emerge.

When my children were babies, I would watch them sleep so that I could be there to watch them wake. I would hold my breath in those tender moments of pure joy, watching them smile softly as they began to wake and take in the world once again.

Then the moment I would have been waiting for would come, when they would lock eyes with mine and a smile would spread across the whole of their face and their tiny arms and legs would start waving in excitement and my heart would be so full of joy at that moment it felt in danger of bursting, though my breasts heavy with milk, would always burst first.

As they grew, their joy being in the company of nature grew along with them.

Spring developed their senses. They were stained red as sweet strawberries left juicy tracks down their chins, leaving them with sticky fingers and an appetite for more, and bathed in green as trees leafed out and determined blades of grass pushed their way back up and out and into the world to tickle their tiny toes.

Hundreds of peepers sang them to sleep, then barred owls would sometimes wake them in the middle of the night while serenading their mates in surround sound. The four of us would stick our heads out the windows to listen as we howled with laughter, believing we had somehow woken up in a jungle.

While hunting for lady slippers, the heavenly scent of lilacs and lily of the valley perfumed the air they breathed and became a part of them just as they had for me when I was a child – an inherited olfactory memory.

If they happened to spot a salamander or a snake while walking in the woods, they would greet it like a long lost friend holding it up carefully for me to see. And with kid-sized shovels they helped me to till the soil and plant tiny seeds in the garden, learning patience in an increasingly impatient world.

The older they got, the more they blossomed, and like a tree in full flower seen from a distance, they began to resemble big bright bouquets of beauty spreading joy to everyone they’d meet.

During the long hot days of summer, we’d spend as much time as we could at the lake, swimming and fishing and catching frogs. Or drive to the ocean and spend the day playing in the waves and scouring the tide pools for crabs. Arriving back home, their skin still warm from having been kissed by the sun, they would be lured into a late afternoon nap as if the tide was still pulling them under, reminding me of when they were babies.

On rainy days, we would lay in the hammock reading together, our favorite shared read being, Watership Down by Richard Adams.

We enjoyed that book so much that we surprised my husband with a kitten for his birthday that year, naming her Hazel, after the rabbit who, like him, was known for bringing out the best in his friends.

Summer also meant riding, for my son that was dirtbikes and the like – that’s what brought him joy, while my daughter’s joy came from the real thing; living breathing horsepower.

She learned to ride at a very young age, so over the course of the next sixteen years, I had the privilege of watching her considerable abilities in the saddle, grow alongside her long, lanky body. Having our own horses was an enormous amount of work, but like the horses, she took it all in stride, very rarely if ever complaining about it.

Our horses filled our hearts with joy on a daily basis, and I will forever look back on that time with an appreciation for the memories they left behind. Like the time my daughter and I were galloping up a narrow trail in the woods, her and her horse Apache leading the way, when a buck came out of nowhere, leaping across the trail as it almost collided with them, causing both of us to nearly fly out of our saddles from their effort to stop on a dime. Our hands were shaking from the adrenaline coursing through our bodies, but we were laughing hysterically from the feeling of pure unbridled exhilaration.

“To feel a full and untrammeled joy is to have become fully generous; to allow ourselves to be joyful is to have walked through the doorway of fear… the laughter of friendship, the vulnerability of happiness felt suddenly as a strength… I was here and you were here and together we made a world.” – David Whyte Consolations

Another of my favorite memories took place on a gorgeous and unseasonably warm late fall afternoon when my daughter and I were trotting the horses through an overgrown field. With the grass nearly reaching their bellies, their slow deliberate motion set a wave of monarch butterflies into flight so we stopped and stood in the center of this incredible orange storm, knowing intuitively that we might never experience anything like it again. Sadly, we were right.

Autumn, happened to be the name of her first horse (pictured above) but it was also one of our favorite times of the year. The tadpoles collected in the spring were now frogs that we released back into the pond. The fat monarch caterpillar we had found and collected along with its dinner, the milkweed, had undergone its metamorphosis and was released back into the wild, a breathtakingly beautiful butterfly we named, Flutterby.

All these many years later, I can still see the look of pure joy on their curious faces as they watched it emerge.

My children were also slowing undergoing a metamorphosis. Their chubby baby faces had, over the passing years, morphed into the adult faces they present to the world now.

Just as every fall signaled the coming to an end of another year, so too, came the end of their childhood.

Gone were the days of stripping ferns fronds from their stalks to turn into makeshift bright green bouquets, and popping open milkweed pods to run their fingers through its fluffy white floss. My kids were ready to take on the world, and I somehow had to find the strength to encourage them to leave me.

My greatest joy in life has been watching them grow into the kind, loving, strong, confident adults they have become. My heart is as full today as it was watching them sleep in their cribs all those years ago.

“If joy is a deep form of love, it is also the raw engagement with the passing seasonality of its existence, the fleeting presence of those we love understood as gift, going in and out of our lives, faces, voices, memory, aromas of the first spring day or a wood fire in winter, the last breath of a dying parent as they create a rare, raw, beautiful frontier between loving presence and a new blossoming absence.” – David Whyte Consolations

My son has moved out and into his own home, and his absence is still felt every day nearly a year later. My joy for him as he starts his new life is the deepest form of my love for him.

I know my daughter will be following in his footsteps all too soon, so I savor every minute I still have with her. I will forever treasure the joy she has brought into my life as well as the joy she brings to the life of so many others.

Even in the brutally cold conditions in the dead of winter, they warm the world with their love for it. Their love of all things snow brings them copious amounts of joy which in turn makes me joyful – from the comfort of the couch in front of the woodstove.

While I don’t share the same joy they do while snowmobiling and ice fishing and snowboarding and the like, I am still able to feel genuine joy while walking through the bleached winter white landscape.

There is an almost indescribable beauty that comes from the first snowfall of the season. There is a settling in, a seeking out and a finding of a warm, comfortable spot, the ease of the shortened dark days feeling a bit like a sigh of relief. And that, too, can be joyful. Because even during those dark days, I am filled with joy to be alive never knowing how many springs I may have left.

Like the frozen cherries in this picture, I trust that I too will eventually thaw and be overcome with joy once again when I hear the red-winged blackbirds signaling the return of spring, conk-la-ree! conk-la-ree! conk-la-ree! 

With joy in their hearts, their songs blossom like a crocus pushing up past the snow and our deep and abiding love of nature flourishes once again.

It has been a joy to write this love letter to nature and truth be told a joy to know that I have now reached the halfway point in this blog.

I hope you are enjoying it.

 

NEXT WEEK: LONELINESS

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

4 Replies

  1. beverly wolfe

    If a person reading your blog wanted a child, they would want many after reading how you relish your children. Love ya

  2. Linda

    Beautiful Amy!

    1. Thank you, Linda! This one really was a joy to write 🙂

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