• John R

Sunny Side Up

Getting immersed in the immediate.


I’m not much of a world traveler. I can count the number of foreign countries I’ve been to on one hand, and that includes Canada, which is cheating. We could add Las Vegas to the mix—that’s pretty foreign—as fate would have it I’ve been there more than I care to recall.


But I have stood in the column of sunlight that falls from the open roof of the Pantheon, and I’ve jumped naked into the Baltic Sea in the middle of January. I’ve watched 14-foot manta rays sashay through the waters of the Bahia de Banderas and seen the northern lights pirouette in the night skies of Manitoba.



I’ve done a bit more traveling within the continental U.S., although in an official capacity that often had me bound to airplane terminals and hotels. Nevertheless, those trips also brought me to the open plains of Nebraska to see one of the last original sod homes melting back into the earth, and to the backwoods of Arkansas where migrating tarantulas created a moving carpet on the forest floor. I’ve been on the shores of a Wisconsin lake in April to hear the ice crack with a whistling rumble—shooting from one end of the lake to the other—as if God was hurling a giant bowling ball across the floor of heaven.


These kinds of moments invite us to partake of an Earth that’s wondrous and complex and magical. They can enable our empathy and retrieve our humanity. Hopefully, they remind us to be humble.


But it’s not necessarily grandeur that has the power to blow our minds (although a sprawling vista can definitely be sublime) Nor is it necessarily the vividness of an experience (although the shocking cold blackness of the Baltic Sea is forever seared in my memory). In fact, a transportive, meaningful connection to the natural world is more likely to occur amidst the ordinary and the everyday. It happens when we engage with the immediate, letting the natural world find its way into our fluttery souls no matter where we might be.


In our own gardens, for example.


Ours is a modest property, merely an eighth of an acre—about half the size of a typical suburban lot. Yet these foreshortened boundaries offer no fewer examples of the intimacies between geology and biology, of the teeming complex interplay of soil and plant and animals, than any far horizon or depth of ocean or vastness of sky.


Here our spinach does battle with an invasion of leaf miners, a venerable climbing rose seeks the upper reaches of a 40-foot-high crepe myrtle, a group of heretofore placid daisies suddenly erupts into a towering island of nodding color. Well-planted dahlias refuse to emerge while unwanted weeds and invasives flourish in every concrete crack and patch of malignant dirt available.



Daddy long-legs hang fibrous webs in the eaves, tiny garden spiders fashion diaphanous doilies in the lilies, an occasional black widow pokes her bulbous body out to inspect the world of light before scurrying back into her preferred darkness. Trumpeting scrub jays trumpet do battle with marauding ravens as each seeks eminence over our modest patch of yard, unconcerned robins troll the grass for the trove of fat grubs that live in our lawn, ash sawflies are devouring the lower leaves of the Raywood ash.


So I sit in an old lawn chair, close my eyes, and turn my face to the warming sun. The heat feels good, like it’s sinking into my brain. I hear the enchanting melody of a black-billed grosbeak. I think: A few cut daises would look nice in a vase.



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