Nature Connection: Finding Gratitude

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond Photo

These days of craziness in the world are leaving me sad, worried and just plain upset. Everyone’s talking but no one’s listening. We might as well be a big old flock of bickering grackles swaggering about in the backyard looking for the best treats and tidbits while pooping wherever we want, when we want, with no regard to anyone or anything else. We’re making a racket and making a mess and we don’t care. Some of us are more like the chickadees and cardinals standing in the wings waiting our turns to speak up with some dignity and intelligence, but right now we are losing, and we are losing “bigly.” We live in times we would have thought unimaginable even 10 years ago.

Just in case you haven’t been paying attention, our government has been stripping away environmental protections and regulations like they were disposable candy wrappers. We live in a time of enormous environmental threat and uncertainty but hey, let’s throw some more fuel on the fire. It’s like living in a world run by wild and dirty fifth graders with water balloons and cap guns. It makes no sense at all. Lord of the Flies, anyone?

I’m hard pressed to find a lot to be grateful for these days. Children are shooting other children in schools, people are hungry and homeless on the street, our veterans are returning to lives that don’t make sense anymore and women are still being treated like property. Animals are being abused, food is full of poisons, companies are growing bigger and bigger and controlling not only our pocketbooks but our elected officials. As I said, not a lot to be thankful for.

Unless. Unless I step outside, turn off all the noise and the chatter and allow myself to just be. It’s almost impossible to truly get away from road noise and air noise here on the Cape but there are still some places where the sounds of human drones and destruction are quieted if not muted. We can hear the wind whispering in the branches, teasing the last leaves from their perch. We can feel the earth beneath our feet and the sky over our heads. We can breathe deeply of air that is clear, crisp and healing.

At the beach the roar of the waves overpowers any sounds or thoughts of work or troubles. My mind is washed clean for a moment as I look out over a sea which has no end that I can see. As always I stand before the ocean totally humbled and full of awe. One day she screams and slams against the shore and the next she is still; glassy and silent, her moving nearly imperceptible.

Away from all the human drama, large and small, I can find my gratitude once again. I find it in the flight of seabirds, the smoothness of a shell I pick up. I find it in the tiny grains of sand that make a beach, the thousands of blades of grass that make up a field.

There is much to be thankful for in a single tree, even more in a forest of trees. When I stop to think about all the connectivity in a forest I am almost overwhelmed. All those wildflowers, fungi, worms, toads, chipmunks, chickadees and deer, oh my. Together they are the breath, the heartbeat and the blood of the world. Take away one and the world changes. Take away more and the world changes more, too.

In spite of all the horrible things going on, I find myself looking for the people who are not giving up: teachers who take the kids outside, families that grow and cook food together, citizens who tirelessly work to clothe, feed and help those having trouble helping themselves. I appreciate all who labor to find more sustainable ways of living on the earth and those who are quiet and kind as they help others to see alternatives to harmful things. There’s enough yelling and blaming. I’m thankful for those who encourage honest and caring conversations about tough subjects without losing their cool and those who are willing to listen without stomping off, sure of their own convictions.

There is plenty to be grateful for as we enter the season of Thanksgiving. As I write, a young mockingbird is sitting atop a shrub outside my window. This has been a hard-won perch but for now he is watchful but content. Two song sparrows share his space, but they do not concern him, and he does not worry them. They have all learned to live together in relative peace. On this cold morning, I am most grateful for their simple lesson.