There are so many things we fail to notice in this world. Some of this negligence is the product of being adults. Our minds are so consumed by things to do that we cease to pay attention to the diversity of life all around us. We grow numb to the passing hours. Even days slide by. Sometimes, years. All because we miss the simple shape of a swallow on a wire.
Those of us who run and ride and swim have more opportunities than most to avoid such ambivalence. Now that the pandemic has encouraged (forced?) more people to get outside and exercise, many are finding good reasons to continue.
Mostly people go outside to keep sane and stay healthy. That contact with nature rather than each other may be keeping us all safer while changing human minds and bodies. Fresh air helps. But so does getting a little dirty.
Nature speaks to us
I once gave a series of talks titled Nature: The Ultimate Stress Reliever, whose main point was I’m now finishing up writing a book titled Nature Is My Country Club. The point of both is that the world is waiting for us. Nature speaks to us if we watch and listen. We simply need to get out and encounter it.
A place to escape
That doesn’t mean all is peaceful and serene in the natural world. A swallow on a wire seems peaceful enough. Yet they are also caught up in the swirling winds of survival. They need to eat. To breed. To move. To migrate. Summer is no less consumed with flying about as any other season. They are like us in many ways. The point isn’t that we’re missing some kind of peaceful sphere of existence by ignoring nature. It’s that the drama we already have running through our heads needs a place to escape. As every rider on a bike knows, there is nothing like hammering the pedals to let off some steam. As every runner also knows, anger and frustration melt away under the miles. And as every swimmer knows, the water washes away your immediate concerns.
I was driving on a country road this week when the sound of an angry kingbird caught my attention. The bird was swooping and diving at a red-tailed hawk perched on a telephone pole. (Do we still call it that?) Back and forth and up and down the kingbird went. The hawk seemed unperturbed. What an example of stolid disposition.
It’s funny how a simple scene like that can make you stop thinking about a lot of other things in life and go “Huh, that was interesting.”
When I ride my bike far west on country roads, it is the little things that start to stand out. The thin song of a meadowlark far out in a field. The tarsnakes twisting along the tarmac. The songs of chorus frogs in spring give way to grasshoppers in summer, then crickets and katydids. Suddenly it is fall again and the days grow shorter. Those rides flirt with darkness. A few blowing leaves mark the arrival of autumn.
Then come snow snakes in winter. The whirr of mountain bike tires and frost on your sunglass lenses. Nature keeps asking us questions. Begging our attention. Nothing works better to make us feel more alive.
If you’re not already taking in what nature has to offer, you should try it sometime. Being more alive is a ton more fun.