Thanksgiving Memories and the Solace of Nature

The Wilder Side of Oakland County

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There is much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving week. I am thankful that as a little kid in rural Connecticut I was never surrounded and drowned in a sea of electronic toys or endless hours of staring at a television. My parents fueled my desire to explore and let me get muddy and skin my knees. Flipping through the magical pages of National Geographic at a very early age had me staring in awe at big cats, jungles, wild rivers, incredible terrain and strange people in faraway lands that looked nothing like me. A big world was waiting, travel-lust fever was incubating, and my quest to know more was born.

Two year old Jonathan sets out to explore the woods; barefoot and with minimal attire.

Two year old Jonathan sets out to explore the woods.

During this Thanksgiving week fond recollections race through my mind. I remember running barefoot through meadows, scampering over stone walls, peering down the old forbidden well, and of course dropping pebbles down to hear a splash. Adventures were simple and raw and there was no greater pleasure than snooping through an old musty farm shed that smelled of generations of mice. Picking Japanese Beetles off garden plants kept me entertained for hours. When November darkness arrived, and trees were barren of leaves, I would climb up on the back of the old couch, most likely stepping on our Labrador, Midnight, and we would push our noses against the window. I waited with unbridled excitement for the first snowflakes, and he wondered what I waited for as his tail wagged.

I brought treasures home in those days. Some with many legs, others with scales or wings and some dead, some alive.  It was a time of carefree encounters with the natural world through the eyes of a three-year-old. The world was a wonderfully exciting and peaceful kingdom rich with toads, turtles, frogs and snakes. I remember seeing Red-Tailed Hawks soaring — back then they were called chicken hawks — and to my horror and dismay, when one hung from a neighbor’s fence, perhaps to warn other red-tails away.

I am thankful I had that opportunity of wildness, an opportunity that led to my current incurable addiction to nature’s way. A path that led me to scribbling about nature for Oakland County. Not much has changed since those early days, except more often than not, I am not running barefoot. In times of angst or world trouble, I find solace-differing than escape or willful ignorance-in nature.

The world may be aflame with troubles, hate and fear, but we can still be thankful this Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for the beauty of sunrise and sunset and every hour in between.
I am thankful for the enigmatic, majestic and fanged creatures of the wilds.
I am thankful for the wonder of tiny things: tree frogs, fungi, lichens, spiders and dewdrops.
I am thankful for bluebirds that seem to always know joy and warble to the seasons.
I am thankful for the barred owls that enliven my wooded swamp.
I am thankful for the coyotes that yip in the night.
I am thankful for the giant oaks that shade our county and the lakes gifted to us by glaciers.
I am thankful for friends who feel and share heartfelt passions for the wild places and wild things of our land.

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I am thankful for the nearly 7,000 acres of Oakland County Parks, 25,000 acres of Huron-Clinton Metroparks, nature conservancies and sanctuaries. I am also thankful for the expansive public lands of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that offer hundreds of miles of trail that span our county and windows to the world of nature. At times like this they are a place for peace, solitude and solace. So this Thanksgiving week I wish everyone the best of days and share a message:  read the haunting, yet hopeful poem of Wendell BerryThe Peace of Wild Things, and then go for a walk on the Wilder Side of Oakland County and set yourself free.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter, Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Parks.

Visit Oakland County Parks for information  on Rose Oaks County Park and the other 12 parks managed by Oakland County Parks and Recreation. Follow Oakland County Parks on Facebook and Twitter for more fun in Oakland County!

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