May Day! May Day! So, even though the past month has been cooler than usual, cloudier than usual, and really hasn’t felt any different than March, look around and you’ll notice how green and lush everything has suddenly become. We are clearly in the throes of Spring growth and, thankfully, the forecasters are saying that weather to match is right around the corner.
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that one week ago today was the start of the four-day City Nature Challenge. It was also–not surprisingly, given recent patterns–a day much like today (only colder): cloudy and drizzly in the a.m., with minimal improvement in the afternoon. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the CNC had been scaled back to a ‘Backyard Nature Challenge‘ or at least a ‘Neighborhood Nature Challenge.’ Participants were being encouraged not to travel wide and far in search of exotic wildlife, but, instead, to remain local and look for biodiversity near to home.
At least on Day 1 of the Challenge, I abided by that suggestion. Once the rain stopped, I spent most of the afternoon wandering the streets of my own neighborhood, Mays Chapel, and exploring the small woodlots nestled between different courts of townhouses. I was delighted to find several streams that I didn’t know existed and to discover that a pond which I thought was quite small was, in fact, more substantial than I had known. Perhaps it was just the joy of being somewhere other than at my desk in the loft my own house; maybe it was the disbelief that I was just now discovering new natural places within 1/4 mile of my residence of the past 15 years . . . but what had started as a ‘quick introductory stroll’ to the CNC turned into four hours of exploration filled with many moments of wonder! The feeling of having discovered some new local gems within a ten-minute walk from home was uplifting. The common plants and animals in my neighborhood somehow seemed more beautiful and awe-inspiring than usual. And the thought that we humans tend to march through a daily routine relatively detached from our five senses–that we pass by the same sites day after day after day without even noticing the incredible sights and sounds and smells around us–stuck with me as I struggled to sleep later that night.
Human beings have a strong sense of home. Our emotional attachment to the place where we hang our hat is deep at our core. However, we tree-hugger types tend to think that we must travel away from that home and off into rugged wilderness to get our nature fix. As a result, we create a bit of a conundrum for ourselves. We drive deep into the mountains or off to the sea to ‘get away from it all.’ We spend obscene amounts of money on ‘eco-tours’ and fly to exotic lands to see new species. At the same time, we’re enraged about climate change and the heavy use of fossil fuels in our society . . . without questioning that maybe our wanderlust makes us a significant part of the problem. If the quarantine of coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that home can fill a much larger niche in our daily life than just where we eat dinner and sleep. Most of us have recently realized that home can, for most practical purposes, serve as a more than adequate office space. After last Friday’s experience, I’d suggest that even for us nature lovers, there’s much to be said for a ‘staycation.’ Especially in the midst of spring’s rebirth, when the view out your front window changes by the day, one can easily find those ‘Wow!’ moments that take your breath away, when you spend fifteen minutes marveling at some bug or plant or frog in a new light–and it feels like only 15 seconds have elapsed–right in your own yard.
Of course, I’ve known this all along–as have all of you. When I was a kid, I spent many a day hiking to two natural areas within a mile of my home, forming my first real connections with nature long before I had a driver’s license. But I needed the reminder last Friday. Nature isn’t something you have to go find in national parks or wilderness areas. It’s here, everywhere–all around us. Last Friday brought back that re-realization for me. And even though I proceeded to spend parts of the next three days exploring more ‘wild’ areas of Baltimore County and finding more unusual species of birds and plants and animals, somehow my photos from that first afternoon, taken right in the midst of sprawling surburbia on the west side of Timonium, are my favorites of the entire CNC. Please indulge me, if you will, as I show you some pictures of my home . . .