The way I was raised, nature was something to look at, not necessarily something to interact with. It was there but it had no bearing on our lives unless there was a storm or a tornado, then it was something to be feared.
About the closest we ever came to interacting with nature was our annual excursion into the countryside to see how the corn was doing. Up to your knees by the 4th of July was considered an acceptable height and indicative of a good crop in southern Michigan. I also remember my mother’s lone fashion advice as a kid – never wear green with blue. I accepted it as some kind of an absolute as I did all else at that age – the plan of salvation as described by the Baptist church, public school education with its heroic stories: Christopher Columbus discovering the New World, the taming of the American west, manifest destiny; and a code of ethics that forbade drinking, smoking, playing cards, going to the movies or dancing. My father was the minister of the small Baptist church in the small village where we lived and it was important to bear a witness to the community and a standard for the congregation which was also small.
It was not until many years later that I questioned my mom’s fashion advice. I noticed, in fact, that blue and green were everywhere – the trees against the sky for example as they are in my backyard and how beautiful that is. I discovered movies and marijuana and ecstatic disco dancing. I never did learn how to play cards but blue and green became my favorite color combination. I also discovered that nature is alive and interacting with us all the time. It has a presence that is both wonderful and uncompromising. It has wisdom and can teach us things. It’s not the brute force that needs to be tamed and manipulated like my puritan forbears believed. It is inside of us, it is part of us and we are part of it.
When I started this book I wanted to talk about ‘what is human’ and approach it from as many perspectives as I felt I was capable of. From whatever source I could wring some insight and bring it to bear was fair game. It’s Spring, once again, where I started this essay. I look over the past year and feel my own humanity as a timeline. The years pass slowly but the days pass more quickly and minutes slip by almost unnoticed and the seconds – well they become a moment where this lifetime is happening, where I can view the timeline from. This view is also a function of humanity, the most intimate one. To notice that I have a lifetime – that is to say both life and time – is the beginning and the end of the story. I don’t think anything can be added to that, maybe decorated just for fun, edited a little for the telling of the story, learned from and accepted with gratitude but there it is – a lifetime. How human is that?
The bog filter flows into the pool. The watercress is going to seed. The water runs over the gravel bed and through the roots of the water plants. It rises up from the bottom where I have laid the plastic pipes with holes drilled in them. It flows from the main pipe that reaches all the way back underwater to the pump at the other end of the pool. The pump receives water from the current at the surface spiraling down to meet it, flowing from the waterfall at the end of the bog filter. Two turtles and 10,000 fish are sustained here, the swamp plants, the pickerelweed, occasional frogs singing, the croaking toads; as to the microbial life in the water I can only guess, the algae in abundance and the waterfowl that come to fish, the raccoons. The doves that flutter down to drink here and to bathe should also be included and the wind that ministers to the broad leafed elephant ear and the trees above and the sunlight emitted from our nearby star 93 million miles away and the sky itself which is reflected in the pool as if it loves to gaze at itself and every ripple and every shimmer of light cast by those ripples belongs to the nature pool. And I belong to it too because I have loved it. I have jumped in it, I have consorted with it and taken its coolness into my bones. I have felt relief and pleasure and now that this story is done I feel gratitude for the gift it has been – my little backyard suburban nature pool.
Everything will change, as night becomes day and becomes night again. The stars will burn out and the universe itself will disappear one day, I suppose. But I do believe that true pleasure and appreciation does not disappear but endures forever somehow, somewhere in a nature pool of its own making and there I will dwell, quite at ease, quite comfortable, quite familiar.