At least once a week since last summer, Wade and I have gone for a walk in the University of British Columbia Endowment Lands with our daughter, Hazel. Miraculously untouched, the Endowment Lands are a five-mile-square rainforest in inner-city Vancouver — a marvel of old- and new-growth trees, unperturbed patches of fiddleheads and bracken fern, squishy blankets of rare mosses, and steep seaside cliffs that drop down to the Straight of Georgia.
We know: we’re ridiculously lucky to live mere minutes from a place people would normally come from all over the world to see. Indeed, for more than a year, this forest has been our whole world.
Nature feeds us. The oxygen, the exercise, our game of spotting the most bizarre mushrooms, of noticing how an old stump has further decayed, all the forest noises.
Last week, we stood and watched an owl for 15 minutes. At first Hazel, who is eight, was interested. Then boredom set in. Then interest again — and the next day she brought it up and we talked about it for ages.
I feel different when I come home from these woods: my mood is lifted, my shoulders relaxed; I laugh more easily; I’m softer and also, somehow, stronger — involuntarily fortified by the resilience of the forest to take on another day with a little more durability and patience.
There’s a poem by William Wordsworth called “The Tables Turned” that inspired the name of one of my favorite talismans, ‘Let Nature Be Your Teacher.’ The poet asks the reader to put down their books (“enough of science and art”) and learn, instead, from the sun, the fields, the leaves. On many days spent managing Hazel through online schooling, it’s a tempting call. By contrast, the educational gifts she takes from the forest come with giddy ease — a welcome respite for both her and I from my sometimes too-tight grip on how she must interpret things or where value lies.
In the woods, we are expansive — keen, as Wordsworth writes, to “bring with (us) a heart that watches and receives.” On Earth Day, and every day, I hope you have a place that inspires the same in you.
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