I am incredibly fortunate to have a mom who reads my blog, likes it and, from time to time, comments on it. So mom, I know you are reading and this one’s for you.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Mom sent me an email after reading my March 19, 2010 post: Spring Equinox Musings with a Touch of Mystery. In it, she wrote: “Always enjoy witnessing your awareness of all nature. Reminds me very much of my mother. “
I got a chuckle from that. It’s true, Grandma was a nature lover. She sent me books about animals and birds. My favorite (and it still sits on my shelf) was a big picture book of birds that included a small record of their songs. I also received from her plastic models of birds (one was a red-headed woodpecker) which I assembled (no warships for me). I can still smell the paint I used to color them. Whenever grandma came to visit, we’d go to places like the zoo, the aquarium, the hummingbird exhibit, or, if it was spring, to the desert to see the flowers in bloom.
Yet, as much influence as my grandmother had on my love for nature, my mother’s impact was even more profound. Here are some of my memories.
I remember (at about 8 years of age) standing on the front lawn of our suburban home staring up at the night sky. We were stargazing. With a little book in her hands, mom pointed out Orion’s Belt, the Big and Little Dippers and other constellations. In those days you could still see the night sky in most parts of San Diego. Not so true now. That book was Seeing Stars by W.B.White, published in 1935 and I have it right in front of me now. The binding is held together with scotch tape. The title page bears the inscription:
“To [my mom’s name] from Aunt Leah Dec 10, 1940.”
It also has my own name scrawled in pencil by my 8-year-old hand. To this day, I am an avid stargazer and opponent of light pollution.
Two other books that have traveled with me all these years are: Golden Nature Guides to Birds and Golden Nature Guides to Insects. Everywhere we went, mom would point out the birds. She knew their names and if we could not identify them, we would go to the bookshelf and pull out one of the guides, either the Peterson Field Guide to Birds or one of several amazing books of Audubon drawings. I used to trace them with pencil and tracing paper and then color the birds appropriately, much as I painted my little models.
Our family did a lot of camping together. We’d pack up the yellow Mercury wagon with tent, cots, sleeping bags, a big cooler, boxes of food and camping equipment and our suitcases. Most of the time, we stayed at CA state or national parks. A visit to the nature center at each park was a must and it wasn’t so that we could buy trinkets. It was to get educated about the local flora and fauna. Then we’d hit the nature trails with the little brochure in hand and stop at every numbered sign. Mom would read the brochure notes out loud to us. Dad would get impatient. It wasn’t that he wasn’t interested, but he liked to keep moving. He was an active guy. Even if there was a large sign we could all read, mom would read it out loud. It’s no wonder I became an audio learner (or perhaps it’s lucky that I was born that way) because I got so much of my nature education listening to mom’s voice.
Mom was the leader of my Girl Scout troop for a while. Though some of the badges were for rather domestic things (like how to make a bed – can you imagine?) her support of me in scouts also led me to camp where I encountered lots of new and interesting wildlife, like the raccoon that was staring nose to nose with me when I awoke one morning. In scouts we also went into a canyon in Torrey Pines, located wild animal tracks indented in dried mud and made plaster casts of them. I learned to call squirrels with a clicking between tongue and cheek. We watched jays eat our picnic lunch, encountered giant ant hills under our sleeping bags and hiked to the tops of mountains. I was a little chubby as a kid and those hikes were not my favorite time, but I got to see lots of different kinds of plants and animals that live at higher elevations.
I grew a deep appreciation for the magical springtime appearance of wildflowers that were only on display a short while. We caught fireflies and put them in jars or paper bags in my bedroom at night. I learned to always be on the lookout for wildlife, for a splash of color hidden in the grasses, for some movement or shadow that gave away the presence of a bird or butterfly overhead. I learned that every creature and every plant had a name and if I wanted to know what it was I could “look it up.” Those words will ring forever in my ears.
There was a time when I rebelled against knowing the names of things. My rational was that a tree is no less beautiful if I know it to be a tree or an oak. In my wisdom now, I know that it is powerful to speak names. It is powerful to speak our names and it is powerful to speak the name of a tree, a flower, a bird. There may be spirit names for them that we don’t know (unless we listen and the tree reveals it), but we all can feel that an oak and a redwood are not the same. Their energies, wisdom and medicine are uniquely their own, not only from genus to genus, family to family, but from tree to tree. So to call it by its name, even the one humans have supplied, is to honor the tree. And if I have to take the time and go to the effort to identify that tree, insect, flower, constellation using my guides or on the internet, then I will, eagerly.
I used to gather flowers and leaves and press them between sheets of wax paper with an iron. I still gather feathers, shells, rocks, leaves, and wildflowers that I press between pages in my guidebooks. I take photographs of every flower, butterfly, insect, bird, tree, moss, mushroom, rock that calls to me when I am hiking and I even record the calls of birds by day and hooting of owls at night. On my hikes, I say “hello beautiful” to the amazing creatures I come across and I let melodies drift from the wind, into my consciousness and out my vocal chords as I go. I observe the changing of seasons and the cycles of growth, of moons, the way everything changes. I marvel at the many shapes of clouds and catch as many sunsets as I can. For me, the world is alive and magical. I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is traveling with delight and being truly enchanted by the Great Mystery
Thank you, mom, for teaching me to love and honor the world around me and to find delight and wonder in the beauty of nature. There’s something about that love that I have for nature that cycles back and I always feel loved by the nature in return. This is how I know, in my being, that I truly belong.
Thanks for teaching me to slow down long enough to observe; that there is a time to be getting one’s exercise and a time to be present to our surroundings.
Thanks for teaching me to “look it up.” I know you probably never thought you’d hear me thank you for that, considering all the times I complained about it, but I am a master researcher as a result.
And mom, while I may remind you of your mother, my grandmother, I am truly my mother’s daughter. It has taken me many years to be OK with that. Most of us don’t want to hear those words “You’re just like your mother.” Now I am not just OK with it, I am thrilled and extremely grateful. I could not have been any more fortunate and I know, truly know, why my soul picked you. And I didn’t even get to mention the ballet and music lessons, money management, writing skills, gardening, pruning roses or my ability to cook from scratch. Yes, Dad was influential too and there are many memories I have that come from that side of the parental team. I’ll write about him next month.
So here it is, from my heart to yours , mom.
Happy Mothers Day!
And yes, I did interrupt writing this post several times to take photos of creatures that sailed by my window while I was writing; one Turkey Vulture,a Variable Checkerspot and Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, a Red-tailed Hawk and a Carpenter Bee.
Note to readers: thank you for indulging me this personal thank you letter to my mother. It is my hope that you will be inspired to write your own love letter to your mother as well as to know the treasure you are to your daughters and sons.
copyright(c) May 2010, Kathy J Loh, All Rights Reserved