“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” ~ Albert Einstein.
If all things were equal, I would live within sight of mountains. Anyone who knows me, knows this about me. I was born in a city (Manchester, UK) which is not far from the Pennines, a chain of hills that separate the east of England from the west in the narrow north, but I have no memory of seeing them. During the years that I lived there the UK was a dark, damp and foggy place, so it is doubtful that you could see much of anything! The buildings in the center of that city (which was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution) were so discolored by acid rain and pollution that they appeared to be black. It was years later, after the ‘clean air act’ and a good scrub, that I was shocked to see they were a light brown color!
I was fortunate in my childhood to have summers in Wales, camping in old army tents on a field by the sea. It was actually an estuary, where the river met the sea, in the village where my parents eventually retired. I don’t remember many of those summers, but the backdrop to that coastal village was the mountain range of the Snowdonia National Park – nine mountain ranges, most over 3,000 feet high. I would learn many years later of the special geological features that exist there, the result of glaciated valleys. They were formed from sedimentary and volcanic rocks, from eras that were even named after Welsh tribes – the Cambrian and Ordovician periods. This was fascinating to me much later when I studied geology in high school, but from a purely aesthetic point of view, a stunning skyline. My parents could look out of their bedroom window and spot the Moelwyns, one of the group of ranges in Snowdonia.
Moving to Jamaica as a child, quite apart from all the other amazing things I learnt and saw and lived, was the ability to grow up in the hills of Chapelton, in the center of the island. The town is hilly enough, and to the north, the Bull Head mountains dominate the view. You can trace the outline of the top of a bull’s head, hence the name. From my high school it was possible to stand and gaze at beautiful scenery in all directions, ridges and valleys, many shades of green, distracted from the lessons within a dark classroom.
With my love of scenes such as these, it is no wonder that, when I get the chance, I get away from my home in South Florida, which ironically is a tourist destination for so many). I have to remind myself of this, when I am longing to see mountains from my window, that I live in a place where many would love to live! But there are compensations (such as the weather!). Last week I chose to spend a week of my vacation in mid-Georgia. No mountains, but plenty of hills, and sometimes that is enough. We stayed in a peaceful cabin near a lake, surrounded by trees. The trees were mostly bare, but I was struck once more by the beauty, the elegance, the dignity of a naked tree. She stands exposed yet graceful still, fine branches lacy and delicate, unembellished pure inner beauty. And the birds can still hide in her branches, some so small they even seemed like random leaves left behind in the winter’s chill.
I was amused by mocking birds. Not the mockingbird, but those that chirp and sing and prove so elusive. Woody would come tap-tap-tapping each morning, but to identify which tree was tough. Then he would slyly hide on your blind side. But, I saw (glimpsed!) cardinals, blue jays, many sparrows and squits, and one day, an oriole! White-tailed deer scurried away from the car when we drove down the two-lane switch-back roads. Disconnected from my work life (we inadvertently left the laptop bag behind!) yet reconnected to the rhythms of life.
There is supposed to be something symbolic about a new year, a chance for new beginnings, for a new start. Most of us make resolutions though few of us maintain them. But with a change of scenery along with a change in the calendar, there is the opportunity for a new perspective, a new way to see how to live your life. And each day should be greeted with this thought, how can I live better? How can I respond to the normal stresses of my life in a healthier way? How can I live with my fellow man in a way that is better for humankind? How can I contribute to something larger than myself, instead of being solely and selfishly focused on me, me, me?
In my time away from home, I also visited my son and daughter-in-law who live on the edges of Atlanta. Their neighborhood is woodsy, their trees are the playgrounds for cardinals, blue jays and woodpeckers. It was there that I spotted my oriole. Deer randomly cross their garden and roads, more nuisance than pleasurable sighting. They are dog-owners, and as I accompanied my daughter-in-law and Honey (an aging rescue dog) on a walk, I appreciated that dogs are the world’s ambassadors. In an area where one neighbor felt emboldened to ask my daughter-in-law where she was from, (Chicago!) and was she a US citizen (because her roots are in Mexico and Guatemala), it was the dogs that did the ice-breaking. My family know all of their neighbors, and the dogs helped them to bond.
My friend posted an article this week that spoke to the power of ‘awe’ as a life-improving and prolonging state of being. When we become jaded, bored, locked into routines our health declines, our unhealthy hormones increase. But when we can see, appreciate, be awed by the simple pleasures of life like a sunset, a rainbow, a flash or orange in the trees, our positive hormones rise and our health improves. A simple fix!
This first Friday in January, I hope you can spot something awe-provoking today. May you take a walk along a leafy (or leafless!) lane and breathe in the wonders of our world. And even if you are not a dog-lover, I hope you can be inspired by their unconditional love for humans, and their ability to link people of very different cultural and political backgrounds.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!