It’s May and suddenly the world is green again. We’ve finally made the leap from winter to spring and so to celebrate, we spruced up the backyard. We pulled weeds, trimmed the ivy on the fence, cut crisp new edges to define the flower beds, planted some sweet peppers and tomatoes (for the grandkids), then spread a fresh blanket of black mulch over everything to frame the painting.
Actually, that’s all a lie. “We” didn’t do any of this; Cheqi did. Cheqi is an artist with a machete and shovel; a master of the pitchfork and hoe. He’s a hard worker who can drive a wheelbarrow like Mario Andretti once drove a race car. He must be a magician, too, because and at the end of two long days, he made all the detritus of his labor disappear like Houdini, leaving the garden as peaceful and pristine as Eden before the fall.
Henry David Thoreau published Walden in 1854. The book is a transcendentalist’s hymn to a simple life lived in nature. One-hundred and twenty years later, Annie Dillard won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, her narrative of a solitary year spent observing the natural world from a cabin deep in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Now I’m not saying our backyard can compete with Walden Pond or Tinker Creek, but it does promote quiet thoughts about living simply in nature. Green space has a way of doing that.
So does water. It’s not surprising that Thoreau and Dillard honed their philosophies next to a pond and a creek. There’s something about water that promotes reflection; maybe it’s as simple as the refraction of light that enables us to closely observe the true shimmer of the world. Just this morning, I rose early and sat on a dock to watch big and little birds fly—nothing unusual in that except I was looking down, not up. I was watching their flight paths reflected in mirrored surface of Little Greenwood Creek, a tributary of the Wye River. There was no wind and the tide was slack, so there I sat, staring out at a new day through twin windows of water and sky. As above, so below.
I’ve often tried to express how fortunate I feel to live in such a beautiful place. It may sound corny, but there are moments here when I feel that I’m one with nature, as though the beauty of this world has somehow seeped into my soul. Sometimes that moment happens under a starry sky; sometimes it happens in the cathedral that is the nearby golf course I love; sometimes it hits me when I’m sitting with morning coffee on the front porch, or now, thanks to Cheqi, in the peace of our rejuvenated backyard.
Both Thoreau and Dillard immersed themselves in nature to better understand their unique individuality through introspection, self-sufficiency, and living simply. That’s a luxury few of us can afford. But maybe we don’t have to remove ourselves completely from society to find our place in the world. Maybe it’s enough to find one quiet moment in each day to be thankful for all that we have.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.