Friday, August 5, 2011

Gasping -- and Feeling Lucky (Still)

Mourning Cloak: photo by Richard of "At the Water"
A post about the mourning cloak butterfly on my friend Richard's At the Water blog today reminded me of one I'd written just about four years ago, in the early days of Penelopedia. It still sums up my views on noticing and appreciating the natural world around us, and my great pleasure that my 11-year-old son seems to share some of this appreciation, so I am re-posting it today (thanks, Richard!).

Gasping -- and Feeling Lucky

My quote of the week [I used to include a quote in my sidebar each week] is an excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver's 1995 collection of essays, High Tide in Tucson. Here it is:

Someone in my childhood gave me the impression that fiddleheads [a type of fern] and mourning cloaks [a type of butterfly] were rare and precious. Now I realize they are fairly ordinary members of eastern woodland fauna and flora, but I still feel lucky and even virtuous -- a gifted observer -- when I see them. For that matter, they probably are rare, in the scope of human experience. A great many people will live out their days without ever seeing such sights, or if they do, never gasping. My parents taught me this -- to gasp, and feel lucky. They gave me the gift of making mountains out of nature's exquisite molehills. ... My heart stops for a second, even now..., as Camille and I wait for the butterfly to light and fold its purple, gold-bordered wings. "That's a mourning cloak," I tell her. "It's very rare."
The gift Kingsolver was given and gives to her daughter in turn is one that I was also given by my mother. Not, perhaps, the gift exactly of gasping, but of being on the lookout -- noticing and appreciating the beauty and importance of a hawk circling high overhead, a heron at the edge of a pond, a purple Siberian iris, a pair of squirrels in a backyard tree. It was she who, after I'd had an unnerving encounter with bats in my first Northfield basement, said, "But Pen, bats are interesting!" It was she who, having lived for several years where I was born, near a game reserve outside Nairobi, Kenya, agonized over the threats to the survival of the great wild animals of Africa and the prospect that one day they might be no more.

It is because of my mother that I scan the sky for raptors, pay attention to birds while I'm supposed to be paying attention to my tennis game, and at least now and then take my son (and my daughters in their day) to look for turtles and hawk feathers and creeks and footprints and berries in the woods. I hope, even though they may seem baffled by some of these passions (and perhaps more than a bit alarmed by my propensity for bird-watching at 70 mph on the interstate), I have planted seeds in them that will send down deepening roots and grow throughout their lives, enabling them to marvel at the beauties and complexities of nature and know that, no matter how seemingly commonplace their manifestations, they are very rare indeed.

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