The first time I felt close to nature occurred one afternoon in my childhood when I was too young to find the words, or even have the thought that I was close to something big and wonderful, something that held me every day in an enormous embrace that went beyond the horizon and deep into the dirt. As a child my experience of nature was small, intimate, clear and detailed: the individual petals of dainty flowers that grew in the grass, their leaves smooth in spite of their sawtooth shape, the green stem so perfect, a slender tube covered in tiny hairs, a piece of art I could hold in my hand. I waved it in the air, twirled it, and placed it on the edge of the sandbox for safekeeping.
Tiny blades of grass spread over the ground and tickled my legs, turned my knees green, as I smelled their sweet freshness. Each blade, a spear of gentle green, tasted a little sharp and sour. And then I touched the bark of a tree where dad had rigged up a swing. I couldn’t quite reach the seat and balanced on the tree trunk to stand up higher. The tree was rough, jaggedy and unpredictable. I felt around for a place flat enough for my small hand. A piece of bark fell off. It was light, like paper, and tasted like nothing, just took up all the wetness in my mouth, so I spit it out.
The breeze came up that afternoon and caressed my face. I rolled over onto my back and looked up, through the leaves and branches of that tree to the clouds sailing by: wisps of white, drifting and changing shapes far out of reach. My mother leaned over and brushed my forehead. She’d been sitting next to me in her lawn chair, but until that moment, I’d forgotten she was nearby. That contact with my mother ignited the moment. That loving, human touch made me realize the world that surrounded us was equally alive and held us, mother and daughter, in a silent embrace with no expectation, amid the quiet beauty of its incremental unfolding.