The first thing I do every morning is look out the window. I’m not checking the weather; I’m checking nature. I’m looking for birds in the treetops or at the backyard feeders. I’m looking for the family of five sparrows that nest in my rhododendron bush. I’m scanning the skies for new visitors, like the Northern Flicker who perched in my yard for the first time a few weeks ago, or the sharp-shinned hawk that hopped beneath the shrubbery. Occasionally, my diligence is rewarded by something truly breathtaking and unexpected, like a deer standing in front of my dining room window, or a red fox playing in the snow in my backyard, or a hummingbird hovering gracefully nearby. I’ve always been enthralled by nature, thanks to my mother, who taught me to feed the sparrows when I was just a little girl, and to my father, who often took me to the park to feed squirrels and to the creek to watch the water trickle over the rocks. In good times and in bad, I seek refuge in nature, where God’s natural order thrives. In the middle of the woods, surrounded by falling leaves and birds singing, I am reminded that I am a very small creature in God’s immense world.
When I was a little girl, I spent as much time outside as I could. I loved the little sparrows and the tiny pink apple blossom petals that fell from the tree. I loved the sycamores that lined the streets throughout the neighborhood. As a teenager, I hung out in the churchyard surrounded by woods. During a high school class trip to upstate New York, while my classmates stood around talking, I walked off in the opposite direction to find the stone bridge that spanned the river (got in a bit of trouble for that one!) I did my homework at a desk in front of the window so I could see the apple tree in the yard. Today, my painting easel is positioned in front of the window for both the light and the view, and the desk at which I write is set before a picture window so I can see the backyard. Nature clears my mind and enhances my prayers. Throughout my life, nature has comforted and upheld me.
It upholds me now. I woke up this morning rather troubled and dejected. Morning news broadcasts reminded me that America, in its current state, is a mess. I heard about the Wisconsin pharmacist who destroyed vials of Covid vaccine because he erroneously believed the vaccine alters DNA. I heard once more about President Trump’s phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Trump’s 80 minute rant in Georgia last night. I heard once again the illogical claims that Joe Biden “stole” the presidential election. I considered and promptly rejected each of these as a topic for my first column of 2021. I don’t want to think about the misinformation regarding the pandemic and the Covid vaccines. President Trump, for so many reasons, is offensive to me, and I do not want to think about him either. This is an increasingly divisive, ugly world, and I don’t want to deal with it. After four years of filth, America needs a good, long shower. Of course, other than metaphorically, that is impossible, so what can we do to renew and refresh ourselves?
Go outside among the trees. If you can’t go out, open the window and look out. Really look. Note the color of the sky, which today is a muted gray you will not find in any paint tube or crayon box. Watch the squirrels twitch their tails as they play or beg for peanuts. See the birds glide through the sky. Watch a little sparrow balance atop the tiniest of branches. Listen. Block out the sound of cars speeding by and focus on the natural. Hear the birds. Hear the breeze in the trees. Look up and marvel at the bare tree branches silhouetted against the winter sky and listen with all your might. Take a deep breath and let nature speak to the still, small voice within you.
To maintain your sanity and your peace, do this every day. Be renewed daily. Be sustained. Be hopeful. Seize the grace therein and keep it close. Then and only then, move forward and begin your day.