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Friday, June 10, 2011

Appreciating Nature

Most of us in today's urban society are so separated from nature that we don't realize what we are missing. Living in overdeveloped, crowded, traffic-choked, over-paved communities where nature is, if we're lucky, found only in a few isolated parks, we are cut off from the benefits Mother Nature offers us. And the sad thing is, many people don't know what they are missing.

We don't need to disappear into the wilderness for days or weeks at a time to benefit from nature. For me, a walk through the bosque along the Rio Grande River, a challenging 8-mile hike in my favorite California county park or listening to the sounds of the ocean are among the most relaxing and enjoyable things I know. Another special treat is getting to spend time with the wolf-dogs at the rescue where I volunteer. Sitting in a pen with one of these magnificent animals is a special blessing. To me, wolves epitomize the beauty of nature.

Since I now live in the high desert of New Mexico, there are no ocean waves to listen to. The hiking, rather than along forested trails, is through rocky areas often exposed to the blistering sun. The Rio Grande, following a severe and on-going drought, looks anything but grand. Still, nature is here and to be enjoyed if I will but look for it.

Looking out my kitchen window, I often see rabbits, both cottontail and jack rabbits, feeding at the pan of bird seed I set out every day. They frequently are joined by quail and smaller birds. One winter day I spied a Cooper's hawk perched in a tree just outside my office window. On a walk along a paved trail not far from home, I saw an owl perched on a fence post.

This week, I spotted my first-of-the-year family of quail: mother in the lead, 10 babies scurrying behind her, and father bringing up the rear. I also see quail and roadrunners, and once in a while a small lizard, in my back yard. Roadrunners are funny birds, speeding across the road, leaning forward as if into a howling wind. They have feathers that stick up like unruly hair on the back of their heads. And unlike the 'beep beep' of cartoon roadrunners, they make an unusual metallic noise when irritated. The high-pitched sounds of quail are commonly heard during my daily walks around the neighborhood.

If I'm lucky, I may hear the howling of coyotes late at night or very early in the morning. I have seen these elusive animals only twice in the year since I moved here, and both times I was without a camera. They silently and quickly slipped across the road and into the sagebrush, totally disappearing from view.

From the windows of my home office, I look out on the expansive New Mexico sky and the Sandia mountains only a few miles away. I have seen gorgeous red sunrises and the mountains frosted with snow. The sunrise at left was beautiful beyond belief. I was fortunate to have a small camera with me that day. An enlargement of this picture on canvas hangs on my bedroom wall. It is one of the first things I see when I wake every morning.

A couple of weeks ago I spent the day at Ghost Ranch, made famous by the great American painter Georgia O'Keeffe. It was a wonderful, relaxing day spent by myself, hiking and photographing the fascinating rock formations of the area under a brilliant blue sky..

Sometimes nature is right outside my window. At other times, I have to drive a couple of hours to reach one of the many spectacular places in this beautiful state. So turn off the television, leave the cell phone inside, grab a cup of coffee and head to your patio or nearby park. Listen, really listen, to the sounds of nature. What is important isn't where we find nature. What is important is that we do find nature and take full advantage of the healing properties it offers.