Betty Duffy

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Watch Us Enjoy Nature!

We brought our kids to a state park for their Fall Break. Southern Indiana is awash in yellow and orange, and the park is crawling with young families, cameras in hand. By the playground stands a large Pin Oak Tree, occasionally dropping leaves like a swarm of butterflies. A mother grabs her camera with its mega lens and begins snapping pictures while her son dances around trying to catch leaves.

Can’t help snickering to myself, “I bet she has a blog. I bet she’s going to post these photos to let everyone know that her family enjoyed nature this weekend.” As soon as I had the thought, I realized that I want to write about how we enjoyed nature this weekend.

I want to write about the hike we took through the woods with the kids, how the little ones ran ahead and got so tired they had to be carried halfway. How I plucked Sassafras leaves from the edge of the trail and nearly stuffed them up my nose to keep their scent. Would have taped one there, had I tape. My three-year-old picked up a “weaf” and decided it would be his pet, and that he would name it. Naming is on the brain lately because we’ve been trying to name our dog.

Our dog now has a name. His name is Doug—chosen by popular vote and suggested by the same boy who named his stuffed cat “Lisa” six years ago at the age of three. Lisa is still a prominent member of our family. My son sleeps with Lisa every night. That sounds wrong. It all sounds wrong. Lisa and Doug should be our suburban neighbors who invite us to their beige house for Euchre night and coffee. But darned if I don’t love the fact that the dog’s name is Doug, and that my son still loves a stuffed cat named Lisa.

I could write about how my boys became sweaty and took their shirts off. Their backs are so beautiful. Each little muscle around their shoulder blades flexes when they lift their arms. I sense the hint of manhood under that smooth skin and it makes me feel hopeful.

But hopefulness has been a friend of mine lately. Seems that serotonin bump I had last month has everything to do with the return of my fertility. Had a flirtation with its return a month after the baby’s delivery, but I scared it off when the baby began nursing more heavily, and I started losing weight. Now, it is here to stay, and I’m becoming reacquainted with the cyclical nature of my femaleness that has been a stranger to me these past nine years. So this is the vast experience of womanhood around the world—these highs and lows. I feel a part of something. I want to remember this: Rejoice! It is day 15 and everything, everything is beauty!

When Mom and Dad first bought the farm and started forging their trails through the woods, I wanted them to get a bulldozer and make the trails wide and neat, covered with mulch, so I could take a clean walk, free from overhanging branches that might serve as a launch pad for ticks and spiders. For the same reason, I didn’t want a dog, the way they leave their slug trail of mud and fur and saliva on everything they touch. How can one enjoy the best things when one is averse to getting dirty? Life is messy, kids, dogs, nature—it’s all so dirty. And the only way to be happy is to accept it, embrace it. I’m not too good, too tidy, too untouchable for the messy gifts God wants to give me. It’s holy dirt, holy life.

When I had my first child, someone gave me my first houseplant, a peace lily, and suddenly I wanted more plants. I was in the throes of creation, bearing kids. Life begets life. I wanted more life, more kids, more plants, a garden, to plant trees. My husband took up woodworking, started caring about heirlooms. He makes furniture, and now walks through the woods singling out the cherry trees, counting board feet in the Walnut trees, points out two trees fused together by a burl. “They look happy,” he says, those kissing trees, begetting a bark growth worthy of a veneered breakfront. He sees it in his head. Creation begets creation.

This is a good thing, all these people at the park enjoying nature. I’m so happy that they’re here taking pictures of the trees to post on their blogs. Make people envious of the way your family enjoyed nature. These things have a way of catching. Can’t read about someone enjoying nature without wanting to do it too. Life begets life. It’s contagious. It’s good.


Robert said...

The bit about your boys backs reminds me so much of the feeling I have had watching Basil. Sometimes it is an expression or a protective arm around his 2 year old sister but each time I am filled with a moment of hope and also a bit of longing for a baby that is fast giving way to a boy who will, it is clear in these moments, eventually give way to a man.

I also identify with your cycling. I have enjoyed (never thought I would say that) 7 months of fertility for the first time in a decade. I had forgotten how exhilerating ovulation can be! Everything looks new and fresh, all life is possible, the breeze is felt more keenly on my cheeks. It was not until living here on the equator that I fully appreciated the importance of seasons for my life and it was not until regaining my cycle that I realized how much more alive I feel with the ebb and the flow. I would not trade the decade of pregnancy and nursing for the world but I can not help but feel that I do not want to live in a world without seasons for long. The equator is not for me - I need the spring, the fall and even the sticky summer and the desolate winter. I am sorry to say that I am not virtuous enough to fully appreciate the light without the dark ;)


TS said...

I now have a new screensaver! :-)

Marie said...

I balked at dirt a lot, too -- there was a local "beach" from a river when my oldest was little that the kids swam at, the geese were thick, so you can guess. . . .I had a very. hard. time.

But now I'm an old lady, I love when they play in mud, etc. I think I figured out that the middle class cleanliness taboos are about thrift and health. So, I had to figure out whether a dirty pair of shoes was a good price to pay for a day of joy. As for health, I've learned that most of the things that really make kids sick come from other people. They don't get a cold from playing in the rain, they get it from going to school and sitting next to the coughing child.

Betty Duffy said...

Jus, I still smile when I think about our conversation: "If you're feeling optimistic, don't do it!" You know what I'm talking about.

And I appreciate what you said about the seasons, especially as we move into the darker season ahead, here in the northern hemisphere. I'll have to remember what you said about enjoying the light, having experienced the dark.

Marie, Interesting connection between dirtiness and middle class thrift. I hadn't thought of that, but it's true. So many of my decisions about what I'll allow my kids to do are motivated by laundry and the cost of replacing clothes. My subconscious antidote to the cost of clothes thing is shopping thrift. It doesn't hurt as much to replace pants that cost 75 cents.