Monday, July 28, 2008

encounters with nature

I have a severe love-hate relationship with nature. Too much close exposure tends to bring out my dramatic side. The right kind of exposure is extremely refreshing.

The love side of the relationship is less visible because it is usually experienced in solitude. I love to go outside in the small cluster of trees in our backyard, on our hammock, with a monster-size citronella candle and good book. It is all that is perfect. It's peaceful and beautiful. I love driving for the same reason. After getting past the concrete-wonders and perfectly manicured lawns, there is nothing so lovely as driving through the mountains or over a river (to grandmother's house we go...have fun with that one in your head all day) or through deserted countryside or under a canopy of trees on a bright, clear, sunny, fresh day.

Snow is quiet in falling and invokes a stillness uncommon at any other time. The changing of leaves is dramatic. Thunder commands attention. Waves are deceptively powerful. Rivers are childlike in the jumping and splashing and curling of the water over rocks.

Nevertheless, all that is well and good and beautiful cannot hide all that is not. I submit as evidence of the other side of the relationship the following unfortunate stories (all true and sadly not comprehensive).

In preparation for my wedding, my sister and I decided to go hiking. There are two particular mountains in our area, and I'd been on the better known so it was time to explore the other. The trail was barely visible, no signs indicated any progress (a problem when trying to stay motivated) and more than once we thought we had reached the top only to look over and see more mountain left to climb. Now, my sister's physical comedy on my own inability to climb is much more entertaining that words on paper, but I had the last laugh when she ran through a spider web. Why do you think I let her lead? It wasn't that nature was unkind; clearly, I was unprepared. Yet, what was beautiful from a distance, packed a mean punch when I ventured near.

On my honeymoon to Costa Rica, my husband and I went horseback riding along the beach and through the local fauna. I took great delight in having the independent horse that was quite comfortable leading the expedition (I'm pretty sure the horse had traveled the sand and soil multiple times before). That is, until we went from the open, sandy beach to a tightly formed trail in the "rain forest." About half way through I realized that in the event of a spider sighting across the trail (yes, I did learn from my pre-wedding adventure) my horse would ride me straight through it without a care in the world. Sure enough, not two seconds after having had said thought, we approached a huge, carefully-spun web that was located right about at the level of my head. Gracing the center was a spider at least as big as my fist. Snakes I can deal with; spiders are not all. I laid back on my horse (think Matrix-esque) and screamed like a little girl as the horse ambled along underneath the web. I actually managed to go completely under the web with the horse. My husband and the trail guide laughing behind me. Again, not a friendly nature moment though probably not unreasonable to expect to find a spider living outdoors.

When my husband and I volunteered to do some Hurricane Katrina relief work in Biloxi, MS, I was introduced to no-see-ums. After a week with these tiny, pesky bugs I renamed them the Saber-tooth gnats. My arms and legs resembled a bad case of the Chicken Pox. I had sprayed gallons of multiple-types of bug repellant over my body but to no avail. They were little, ferocious and after my blood. Unfortunately, though these were by far the worst examples of insect-to-body attraction, this is not an isolated event. Half the time I spend outdoors is slapping myself to get bugs off so that half the time I spend indoors is itching the bites (yes, I realize you're not supposed to scratch...I love when people who never get bitten or end up with one bite after an entire afternoon outdoors take the high and mighty road. Kudos).

Perhaps nature itself is not to blame for these disasters as much as me being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The association is too nearly linked though for me to be completely forgiving. Even in the hammock, enjoying the beauty of the trees and wildflowers I am bombarded by gnats, flies and mosquitos (citronella candle notwithstanding). I spend half my time slapping myself, again.

If I may extend this to include a metaphor (yes I can, it's my blog), isn't that true of life? From a distance, most things seem rosy and beautiful and perfect. The closer one gets the better the chances are that something will be uncomfortable or un-pretty. But you can't toss it out together because the good is still there and is still worth seeing. Sometimes you just have to lay back on the horse and scream like a girl to get through the ugly. Or slap yourself.

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