Nature Not Just Scenery

waterfall

A lot of times we think of nature as only what we can see from a scenic overlook. Now, I like a big panoramic landscape view as much as the next guy – lofty snow-capped mountain peaks behind a flower carpeted valley or a canyon filled with strange formations of red rock –  you know the kind of stuff I mean. These postcard views are nice, but there is way more to the story than that.

When I’m out walking in the woods it often strikes me that nature isn’t just a pretty backdrop for our human activities; there is life here that goes on quite apart from me or anyone else that happens to wander through. Flowers bloom whether there is anyone there to see them or not – trees grow, deer browse the underbrush, birds sing. There is a vast, beautiful, and complex world that we completely miss when we reduce nature to mere scenery.

I thought about this once again as I was wandering through one of my usual haunts the other day. I was feeling sluggish and tired. I had to push myself to keep climbing over stones and fallen logs and up and down ridges and gullies. I even took a nap next to a waterfall at lunch time. It turns out I was coming down with a virus and spent the next couple of days on the couch.

The illness was a bummer, but the early effects of it slowed me down so that I took the time to better appreciate the small hidden life of the forest. I would be hunkered down taking photos of a waterfall or an interesting tree root formation or something and then my mind would wander off somewhere and I would find myself just sitting and staring at the current lines on the surface of the water as it twisted among the stones.

waterfall

At first glance the lines seem to always be the same, but watching them for a little longer reveals that they undulate back and forth across the flow of the water. I couldn’t tell if the fluctuations formed a repeating pattern or not.

I took some photos of a waterfall at very high shutter speeds to “freeze” the water. I noticed that in each photo the shape of the water looked different. I wonder if the water always falls in some complex pattern or if every instant in time is as unique from another as snow flakes?

I stared into a deep plunge pool – white and roiling at one end; smooth and clear as glass at the other. Instead of seeing it as a swimming hole for hikers to splash around in on a hot summer day, I understood it as a home for water striders magically skating over the surface and a place where frogs leap from the banks with a kerplop and kick and paw their way under the submerged leaf litter to hide and as a hatchery for tiny young fish darting into the shadows.

I watched for some time as a crawdad slowly made its way across the bottom of the pool. It was about 3 inches long and all rusty brown. The color matched almost perfectly the iron stained rocks. I wouldn’t have seen it at a glance. Only by watching the pool intently was I able to descry its subtle movements as it tip-toed along on its spiny legs until it vanished under the shadowy lip of a stone.

At another point I stood watching the light play across some stone ledges and movement caught my eye again. A newt rushed into view. He flitted in and out of gaps in the stones with staccato bursts of speed – in just a few seconds he was gone.

stone

On the other end of the speed scale is the millipede. No speed bursts here. About 5 inches long and as big around as my pinky, the millipede just rolls along on all those legs. The movement ripples from one end of the body to the other like the crowd “wave” at a baseball game or a gear traveling down a screw – over and over again. I found it soothing to watch actually.

Next time you are outside, remember to stop and look intently once in a while. You don’t have to be miles away in the deep dark woods; a back yard or a park will do. Enjoy nature for itself rather than as a backdrop for our human activities.

MDW

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5 Responses to “Nature Not Just Scenery”

  1. suburbanlife Says:

    A very nice reminder to just “be” in nature without preconceptions or expectations. Being still and a passive observer yields wonderful perceptions of the richness available from merely attending to what is surrounding one. The picturesque is vastly over-rated. G

  2. Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) Says:

    FR,

    Good timing on this reminder as I’m getting ready to head out for a little fishing tomorrow. When near and in the water looking for fish, it is tempting to skip everything else with single-minded pursuit (focusing on the mark actually causes me to look beyond the mark – that’s a lowercase “m,” by the way ;-) ). But when I stop and look, there are some amazing things underfoot.

  3. forestrat Says:

    Thanks for commenting guys. Sorry to be so lax in responding. I don’t know where the time goes.

    MDW

  4. flandrumhill Says:

    It can all be so soothing. I often try to go out without my camera so that I can just enjoy the slowness of things and take in what catches my attention at a deeper level. Water in motion is one of those things that can keep me interested indefinitely. Its movement is full of mystery which your photos always manage to capture.

  5. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Hi Forest Rat,
    That’s a very beautiful piece of writing!
    K

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