I’m looking at a blank page and wondering what to write about. I’ve been writing journal
entries for 43 years, so you might assume I’d have it figured out by now. Most of the time my route comes naturally, but every once in a while it’s good to think about the writing process. First of all, I get off my fattest body part and walk outdoors. I decide to open up my senses and discover something new.
Maybe there’s something I can focus on to guide me on my way. I haven’t seen the prairie warbler in years. Maybe I can find the bird uphill, among the shrubs and short trees of its usual habitat. Even early in the morning, the air is getting hot and humid. If I’m going for the hike, I’d better move before the walk becomes unbearable.
Near the back line of my property I find some heavy rocks flipped upside-down. They are flat rocks that had roofed a world of ants inside the soil. The ground is torn, so I think about bear. I should keep my eyes open for the chance of seeing He-Who-Flips-the-Rocks, though in likelihood I’ll see Lady Godiva riding bareback over the hill before I get a glimpse of Mr. Bear.
I start with what I know, what lies close at hand. I climb through the tall grass of the steep hill, walking-stick pushing at the heavy growth of summer. I listen for distinctive call notes of a prairie warbler, the rising, high-pitched zi-zI- ZI! delivered against the humid air. I hear yellowthroat, song sparrow, field sparrow, mourning dove, and cedar waxwing, but no prairie warbler.
Not till I descend from the high ground and pause do I discover it. I am watching and listening to a willow flycatcher there among the autumn olives when I see another bird. It’s yellow and white, a fleeting life that checks me out while flitting from bush to bush. And that’s the thing about the prairie warbler and so many other creatures of a rural landscape. If you don’t stop to watch and listen, if you’re just passing by and thinking there’s little more to see, you miss it.
Blending in with your environment makes all the difference when you’re out. Any hunter or gatherer will tell you that. You pause, you listen and take stock. Even for a little thing, a wonderful thing, like the glimpse of a prairie warbler. Spirits of a place enter your life and make a difference in how you see things day to day.
Who says there’s nothing to do in a place just left of nowhere? You take small steps in adjusting your relationship with nature. You center yourself with others. You’re important, but not God’s gift to creation. You take pleasure in acknowledging your existence. You might even write about what you’ve found while wandering.
I’m no expert on the matter, even though working as a naturalist for all these years. I simply offer the experience as a tip to those getting started, and to those interested in a life shared by many creatures. It’s not easy work, and forget about money. Nonetheless, the effort seems worthwhile.