Last week, the heavens opened up and sheets of rain crashed about our house for hours on end. The torrent was such that the idea of the entire tri-state region beckoning the storm with an effective group rain dance could not be ruled out. So plentiful was the moisture in the air that walking along the sidewalk would have been more akin to a swim. You get the point, it was rainy.
During a relative lull in the downpour, I stood at the kitchen sink when a frog’s ribbit echoed through the kitchen so loudly that I startled myself motionless. Understanding that I was not in a bog, I ruled out frogs at my feet, but, upon closer listening, I deduced that the infringing croaks originated right outside our kitchen window. Moreover, as I crept closer to the window, honing in on the amphibious squawk, I realized that it was not a ribbit solo but, rather, a chorus of frogs outside my window. I dashed out to the front porch into the soupy night and was greeted by the rumble of thunder, the splatter of heavy rain, and an anuran ensemble. I spotted one of the singers near our bushes; compared to their powerful croaks, these toads were tiny. I couldn’t understand how such tiny bodies produced such booming, echoing croaks! I laughed at the preternatural spectacle of the moment, and, as I stood on the porch listening to the storm and to the show, I also thought back to 1983.
In 1983, or thereabouts, my family took a trip to St. Louis, Missouri. I remember precious little from the trip, but, with clarity, I recall three things: going up in the Gateway Arch, swimming in our hotel pool, and Dad becoming upset that neither my sister nor I showed much interest in the botanical gardens. His frustration aside, I suppose we weren’t unusual for seven- and four-year-olds. No matter how beautiful the blooms, most kids just aren’t going to go wild at the prospect of flowers, trees, and bushes.
My ambivalence to nature remained strong throughout my childhood. I was not opposed to being outdoors if it meant playing sports or perhaps earning some spending money by mowing a lawn or two, but I certainly didn’t feel the call of the great outdoors. Camping seemed unnecessarily uncomfortable, and gardening or planting flowers involved getting dirty. I didn’t see the appeal, yet there was Dad, working in the yard, planting flowers and bushes. I always recognized that our home had one of the prettiest yards on the block; I just couldn’t work up any interest of my own beyond appreciating the final product. Mother Nature and I were not close.
I’m slowly changing, though, and our move to a more rural exurb of the DC area has hastened that change. My early morning commutes are often greeted by a bubbling red sun as it peaks over the horizon, and the deer and fox are so plentiful as to create hazards on the roads. Woodpeckers, hawks, and groundhogs are not uncommon running partners as I stroll through my tiny new hometown, and the simple stretch of fields, farms, barns, and trees on my daily drives invite a slower contemplation of all that is not concrete, steel, and plastic.
I am not ready to quit my job, live off the land, and sew my own clothes. I won’t give away my laptop or stop enjoying my satellite radio. That said, promoting Mother Nature from background extra to recurring guest star in my daily life has been a healthy counter-weight to my workdays spent e-mailing, instant messaging, and otherwise staring at a computer screen, as well as my nights blogging, Netflixing, and texting. I can’t fight the creep of technology in our lives, and I don’t even want to. But, I am more than happy to acknowledge that, as I get a little older, the natural world becomes a much greater source of peace, happiness, and wonder for me. I’m old enough to appreciate that gardens, or even a tiny flower bed, take work; to contemplate the awesome natural forces that make canyons, waterfalls, or small frogs; and to consider my tiny existence in a galaxy and universe literally full of natural wonder.
And so I stood on my porch listening to the chorus of frogs, thinking about how things change, and counting the amazingly ordinary, natural beauty that populates our lives. And, next month, when I take my parents to my favorite botanical garden, I will, in part, consider it payback for Dad’s ill-fated visit thirty-four years ago. I promise not to complain.