Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On what is good in life – Part I

After being on sabbatical, it is a bit tough to settle back into the routine of a college semester.  And this semester has had a particularly hectic start as our department immediately started bringing in candidates for interviews, we had a new staff member start, and we have had some messy winter weather leading to school closings and delayed openings for the boys.  Kind of throws a monkey wrench in best-laid plans.  Thus, only 10 days into this semester, I was really looking forward to today – a day with no classes to teach and relatively few meetings.  A chance to slow down and catch my breath.

My husband drove the boys to school, so I had the chance to stay behind and take Revi the dog for a long leisurely walk.  This is something I rarely get to do on a weekday morning during the semester (at least this time of the year when it is still dark when I normally leave the house).  The morning was particularly nice since it was “balmy” – close to 30 degrees rather than in the single digits as we had just been experiencing.  The forecast was for a storm starting in late afternoon and already the flurries had started.  The steady but lazily falling snowflakes made our woods look like we were inside of a snow globe.

As I have mentioned on this blog before, I truly love walking through the woods with a retriever and after the bitter cold days we had just gone through, Revi was particularly enjoying this jaunt.  As we reached the section of our property that opens up into a savanna-like area, we were greeted by a ruffed grouse flying out of a white pine.  There are not many left in this part of Pennsylvania, although we see them on our property from time to time.  So this was a treat. 

These birds are notorious for startling hunters and hikers due to the loud noise they make when they take to flight.  I haven’t hunted them in years but my instincts were still there and I followed the flight of this bird as if I were lining it up in the sights of my shotgun.  The moment brought me back to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I grew up – where flushing grouse in the woods was common.  My young retriever hasn’t seen very many game birds, but he instinctively stopped and watched, assuming that he must be expected to do something.  “Did she throw a stick?  Am I supposed to retrieve something?  Where did that noise come from?”

Just this past weekend, I had also been thinking of “home” – as I had the opportunity to go cross country skiing and eat pasties on Sunday.  Both are activities characteristic of growing up in Upper Michigan.  Fond memories.  Plus the Green Bay Packers won the division playoffs.  I am not a football fanatic, but this is the first team I ever followed as a kid.  Dad likes to watch football and he likes the Packers.  Like father, like daughter.

Revi and I continued along both tuned into the array of tracks and trails in the snow.  I was fascinated with how many different tracks and patterns there were.  His nose was close to the ground and seemed equally fascinated with the vast number of scents.  With his gaze and attention so focused on the ground, I sometime wonder how he can go through the woods without crashing into a tree! 

At one point along the way, there was a small downed tree that had snapped off recently.  All around the remaining trunk were fresh “wood chips” and rabbit tracks.  Clearly, someone was having fun grinding down their teeth.  Rabbits, squirrels, deer, mice, voles, fox and bird tracks were crisscrossing throughout the woods as if they were creating a graphic design.  Collaborative artwork.  Interesting concept.

All of a sudden, Revi stopped and was attentively watching something in the woods that I couldn’t see at first.   As he started to cautiously walk off the path into the woods, I saw two stunningly beautiful red fox darting around the trees.  It looked as if they were playing tag.  But then they saw the dog and decided to split, running in different directions.  An amazing dose of nature’s gifts this morning, and, of course, no camera in my hands!


I recently asked my students and social network acquaintances what makes them happy and what couldn’t they live without.  I am compiling the responses to post a summary, but I suppose it is only fair that I share a bit about what is important to me.

Like many, my family comes first on the list.  I am so blessed to have 3 wonderful guys in my life and home, including two sons who (despite being teens) are incredible.  They are smart and funny and have big hearts.  And still give me hugs. What more could I ask for?  I have a husband who is an amazing father, my sounding board, my best friend, a colleague, and incredibly patient with me.  Again, what more could I ask for?  I only wish I didn’t live 1000 miles from my parents and my brother and his family.

Another thing on the top of my “what is important to me” list (and that I couldn’t live without or at least I wouldn’t be a very nice person) is nature.  I need the silence of walking in the woods – it calms me.  I am blessed to live in a place where I can walk out my back door and see red fox playing in the snow or see a red-bellied woodpecker or intensely vibrant bluebirds from the window as I work on the computer.  I have a gorgeous view of the Appalachian Mountain Ridge (known locally as Blue Mountain or the Kittatinny Ridge) from the house – at least when it isn’t hidden by clouds.  It takes on different personalities depending on the season or weather.  Recently, it has been glistening with ice-coated trees. 

I am in awe of nature – whether it is my Lake Superior (which I have written about previously), the intricate details of a flower, or the amazing complexities of the biochemical processes of cells.   I am truly fortunate in having a career that allows me to constantly study and teach about such marvels.

The changes of the seasons are miraculous allowing us to look forward to the rebirth and renewal of spring, while at the same time appreciating the crisp beauty of a clear blue sky over ice-encrusted berries and branches on the shrubs and the sense of purity after a fresh snow (at least until the salt and mud and slop discolor everything again).  And oh, the colors and smells of fall.  I don’t think I could live in an area that doesn’t really have four seasons.  (Don’t get me wrong.  I absolutely love warm tropical breezes and rainforests when I visit areas to the south.)

I love the giggles of children.  I have been fortunate to learn first-hand that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world; the smiles and giggles of young children can warm hearts anywhere.  Traveling and learning about other cultures and places is important to me.

I need my quiet time, a chance to read (I love books), and the opportunity to continue to learn.  I love to cook - especially baking with fresh fruit from the farm and the happy faces on my boys when a pie comes out of the oven.

And finally (at least for this posting), I need my regular dose of good news stories, stories of hope.  It can be something as simple as the family about an hour away that is keeping their feeder and heat lamp going to help an Anna’s Hummingbird stay alive.  This poor tiny creature somehow ended up in the wrong part of the country at the wrong time of year.  But this family cares enough to try to save it.  It might be the rescue of the Chilean miners – mentioned again in our President’s State of the Union speech last night.  It might be stories of people who sacrifice much to give to others less fortunate as my friends in Ecuador are doing as I type this.  Or it might be stories of restoration of a contaminated mountainside.  What is important is that there are so many positive stories despite what one reads in the paper or hears on the news.   So much to be thankful for.

1 comment:

  1. Diane,
    I'm glad you're writing on your blog again. I recently went through your assignment without writing anything down. Family, Nature, Children, and the sense that one person can truly affect positive change are all way up there for me. Guess that encompasses hope. Yes, you got it right in your elegant words! Reminds me what a simple walk can do to clear my head and allow the words to flow again. I think I'll start the day with a good, long hike tomorrow. Thanks for the inspiration.