A few mornings ago, while the rest of my little family slept cozily in our tent, I walked along the riverbank and soaked in the feeble warmth of the early morning sun as it slanted across the river. I watched chipmunks chase each other from branch to branch while a plump red squirrel chattered in annoyance. The stringy croak of a frog broke the air every few minutes and a young crow let out its characteristic “caw” in protest of something or other.
Nearby gulls blithely ignored the crow, too busy enjoying their feast of minnows and snails to bother with him. Their webbed feet left perfect impressions in the soft sand at water’s edge. As I walked along, alone in my early morning explorations, I saw another set of footprints interspersed with theirs, but as familiar as my own, if somewhat smaller. I was not the first person up and about that morning, it seemed.
I followed the footsteps for a while and spied a larger, shod set had kept pace with the smaller bare feet, my own belatedly adding to theirs. I gave the gulls a wide berth, enjoying the sight of them fishing and socializing too much to wish to scare them off with too close an approach. Thirty feet or so was plenty of distance, for while they sent the occasional watchful glance my way, they otherwise ignored me.
Not so the blue heron who, at a distance of 100 feet or more, took suddenly to wing, abandoning its spot among the reeds in favour of the distant and perhaps more peaceful shore.
Not a minute later, I spotted a second heron wading among the cattails while something unseen (but not unheard) made the bushes at my back rustle and branches snap. This heron, too, took wing before long.
There were treasures of a different sort to be found as well. The graceful spiral of a snail’s shell. The carcass of a dragonfly with a blood red body and gossamer wings edged in black and shimmering in the morning light. A single feather, black as night and as long as my forearm from wrist to elbow and belonging to the young crow perhaps. An orchid, rare and endangered, native to my home province and glowing sweetly orange from amidst a tangle of green leaves. A stone, somewhat thin and mostly round that gave me 5 good skips across the water when thrown just so.
It is hard to put into words how much I love the quiet wonder of the world we live in. These woods and rivers, the crisp air of an autumn morning on the side of a mountain, the steep rise of a rock outcropping leading to an even steeper plunge into lake water so clear it is as if there were nothing at all between you and the fish hovering some 15 feet below.
I love the city too, though it often saddens me. There is much of the natural world to be found hidden in its concrete and steel embrace. Spiderwebs on street signs. Bird nests on window ledges. Raccoons and mice and, yes, rats, too. Birds flying high or waddling along in search of the scraps we people leave behind. Bees big and small, busily moving from flower to flower, uncaring if they are ornamental or merely weedy volunteers springing up in the cracks of a sidewalk, ensuring that the wild daisies and stinging nettles and flowering crab apples will fruit and go to seed again this year as they did last. Butterflies sipping eagerly at puddles or water on the side of the road. And fish in the storm drains, quicksilver in the murky water and just as eager as their river cousins to devour a little bit of bread dropped by happy little fingers.
Even in the midst of asphalt and steel with a dearth of wild trees and rambunctiously populated meadows, there is a plethora of wildlife to be found if you look for it, really look. It makes me marvel at the adaptability and resilience of God’s creatures.
There is a miracle here, happening everywhere and in every place at every moment. Life finds a way, in the city just as readily as on the riverbank, if not so abundantly. I feel like a child in its presence — small and surrounded by things far greater than I am, by events and happenings I do not yet fully grasp, and filled with a peaceful sense of joy at the beauty of it all.
And my words, as always, feel so inadequate when faced with so much wonder.