Icouldn't have been more than five years old when I truly began to appreciate the natural world. Surely the wonders were everywhere. (My family lived in the country.) But the actual seeing, the observing, the reality came all at once, like a revelation or an awakening to a world cleansed by some purifying fire.
I was in the meadow by the Pond (always a capitalized place in our family's vocabulary) lying flat on my stomach, just back from the water's edge. My father was nearby, fishing for bullheads. It was after supper, and I'd been running through the meadow, chasing butterflies and grasshoppers that always managed to stay one flit or hop ahead of me. Finally, I flopped onto the grass and rested my head on my arms.
There was a moment of stillness, not just around me, but an inner quiet that emanated from me, like a soothing layer of mist over the dawn of creation. That stillness enveloped me while sharpening my senses in a way I'd never experienced. My face was close to the ground, turned sideways. I could smell the earth, cleansed and pungent, as it was after a thunderstorm.
The moment marked the beginning of some wonder I'd never before been conscious of, and suddenly I wanted to eat some of that good earth.
I wrapped my tongue around a grass blade and nipped it off. I chewed slowly and swallowed it, complete with clinging grains of soil. It tasted green and alive, with a pleasant after-bite. It was wild and raw and delicious; it would remain in my memory thereafter.
The ground beneath my slight body was hard and yet resilient. I felt I could bounce on it if only I weren't so comfortable. Too relaxed to try, yet fully aware, I heard the crickets and katydids stirring nearby, the whirr of a cicada, the thumping of a bullfrog as he lowed his love song from the marshy border of the Pond. I heard the wavelets speak as they met the shore, propelled by the evening breeze, and a red worm slithering through a clod just under my ear.
I heard the ratchety zing of my father's fishing reel as he cast into the deep. I heard robins calling to their young - just tentatively stepping out on their own - an inimitable twilight warning: "Be careful, be careful...."
The slope where I lay was an overgrown cellar-hole, a place where a house or barn once stood (I learned this later - long after the meadow was covered with blacktop and all that wonder destroyed). There were tiny flowers growing just alongside my nose: yellow cinquefoil with scratchy runners, pale bluets in colonial clumps, sweet white clover, and purple self-heal. Delicately fragrant while violets made it a field of Elysium, and starry chickweed danced among them.
Of course, I scarcely knew any of those flowers by name. But all at once I loved them fiercely, needing no further identification than that gentle slope by the Pond. I knew it as intimately as if I myself had sprung from the same soil and was related to everything in reach. I might have lain there five minutes or half an hour. Maybe I briefly dozed. When I roused there was a quicksilver star in the darkening sky, and a quarter-moon like a pared fingernail practically cradling it.
The grass was heavily dew-wet. A mosquito whined over my head, and some strange bird hooted from the other side of the Pond. I sat up and watched as my father gathered up his equipment, disassembled his bamboo rod, dumped out the remainder of his can of worms, and shouldered the old wicker creel.
"Time to go home, Pollywog," he announced. "They're not biting yet. Maybe later, when it gets real dark. Did you hear that old owl tuning up just now?"
I heard the owl claiming the night. And I smelled the shivering air. The scent of flowers I'd crushed as I lay back there came with me as, hand in hand, we crossed the meadow and climbed the bank to our own street. Their images were etched in my memory. But it was the sharp awareness of everything combined - grass, flowers, bird and insect music, the moistness of earth - that prickled my senses and made me a willing devotee to God's handiwork. I was kin to all, I realized: blade and star, earth and water, feather and flesh.