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Branching Out: Choosing change and complexity

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

Most of us can look back on life and think, “Yeah, that moment changed me forever.” I’m grateful for those moments, because they reconnected me to the natural world. I say “re” because we’re born connected but capitalism breeds it out. It’s a choice to find our way back.

When I was 9, I stepped from the vision clinic wearing my first pair of glasses. I saw individual leaves on a tree, fluttering chartreuse and emerald, sunkissed and shadowed. I full-on gasped. I never knew! So enchanting! It was an awakening.

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At 18, on a sparkly spring morning, I pulled on my first cut-offs of the season to attack a Manhattan euonymus blocking sunlight through the kitchen window. One cut became one hundred. Sun on skin; exertion, muscles, sweat — I discovered an endorphin high so sensual, so powerful, I haven’t quit playing in Nature since.

At 22, new to the Rockies, I wandered from camp, up through a meadow, far above. Azure skies; butt on the ground; immersed in grasses gone to seed, eye-level. So quiet, so seemingly still, I felt the immensity of the planet — and here I was, alive in it. And through the silence, grass softly tossed and swayed. Ponderosa needles whispered. “This is always here,” I realized. Beyond our broken society, Nature is here for me.

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Nature slowly became my lover, my partner; my forever and always — a foundation of unshakable, ego-less confidence. As my treasure, it’s a relationship I invest in each day. The dividends are exponential and never, ever lose value.

We’ve shorted ourselves, prioritizing the beauty of Nature, an object to desire or dismiss based on looks or dollar value. “Stuff” doesn’t matter, really. A hammered gold bangle is so very pretty, yes. But, oh, my… waking to the fragrance of a kaffir lime in bloom? Unforgettable. Its leaves, bruised in a steaming bowl of tom yam kung? Mouth-watering. Memorable, when shared.

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Death is a poignant, powerful part of Nature, too; say, a life story writ large in the contorted limbs of a fallen pine. I want a helicopter on speed dial to airlift fallen junipers into my living room, as though it was possible to absorb by osmosis the endurance, grace and tenacity within those ancient limbs.

I’m a landscape designer, so it’s taken a lifetime to get over the Nature porn that aroused me so with that first pair of glasses. My education perpetuated objectification, harping on labels versus roles in ecosystems: Latin names, common names, appearances, characteristics. “Plant in threes and fives!” And then there was HGTV, treating plants like furniture to be arranged. “Stay put, don’t change, look perfect!”

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The bird’s eye view I learned from climbing taught me otherwise. The ecosystems I had to understand in hunting and fly fishing taught me otherwise. As has chance and serendipity.

A bird pooping seeds — voila, wild asparagus! Fluff on the wind — voila, colonies of butterfly weed. Change is natural and imperative and stasis is not a good thing. Do you want it in your marriage?

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And therein is the kicker. Moving from “looks” to dynamic, complex, evolving relationships: understanding a plant or mineral or creature. Knowing something intimately, we can anticipate its behavior or character and engage with that. Including Nature in a deep, intense way makes life rich. I cringe that our culture reduces Nature to a “maintenance” thing.

“Give me low maintenance.” “Give me ‘xeriscape.’”

How about, “Make my life sublime?”

The late and lusty Jim Harrison exposed me to the concept of phenology in “The Road Home.” I seldom know the day/date/time, but I do know that silver maples next to a driveway can bloom as early as March, and what 7,352 hungry honey bees sound like, gathering pollen. I know that morels can pop by Memorial Weekend. It’s absolutely alive — and not just the separate parts, but the totality of it.

Nature is desire, yearning, hoping, exclaiming, smelling, touching, tasting. I can see why dogs roll on their backs, kicking their feet in the air, wallowing in Nature. (Have you tried it? You’ll laugh.)

For 17 years, I’ve shared my natural wonder with you, one column after another; first with the Valley Journal, and here in The Sopris Sun. Seasons come, they go. We’re born, we live, we die and we return to Earth. This is my last column and my final summer here in Carbondale. I am the cliché creative that can no longer justify rents larger than most mortgage payments.

As Ram Dass wrote, “Our journey is about being deeply involved in life yet less attached to it.”

I’ll flex my non-attachment muscles regarding three decades of life in Colorado, sigh and remain deeply involved in Life elsewhere. ~

Tags: #Branching Out #community #diversity #Geneviéve Villamizar #Nature
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