We were sitting on a riverbank in the Tahoe National Forest. Sand and pebbles. Cold, green water swirling in corners, pooling behind glacial boulders, flowing beneath pine trees. We were drinking rosé, eating cheese, olives, salami, and Marcona almonds in the shade, while the seven-year-old floated in an idle pool, relaxed as a leaf on the water.
“Biophilia,” she said. “I had a moment, looking at the sky and wind blowing through the trees.”
I’d never heard that word before, and I should have. How could I not have heard such a perfect word?
You can hear the wind and the water flowing through it: biophilia.
There’s a lot of darkness in the world. A lot of hate. A lot of ignorance and cruelty.
But the world will go on, with or without us.
There will be quiet days in quiet forests, with garter snakes slicing through the water, stalking dragonflies sunning themselves on stones (don’t worry, it got away).
There will be fish darting out from beneath riverbanks at sunset, hunting bugs.
Did you know that water skeeters eat ladybugs? Apparently they do, at least if the ladybugs fall into the water.
Warm sand sifting through fingers, sharp cold as you step off the rocks, making you shudder and then relax.
Dragonflies resting on twigs. Stones hot to the touch.
More than half a century ago, Sallie Brutto left behind a life in war-torn Italy in which she parked a car inside a villa, as one does, and relocated with her family and her husband Frank’s career as an AP journalist, moving from Rome to Rio de Janeiro to Hamilton, Montana (because obviously).
Her family had roots in the Bitterroot Valley. The Maclays had settled there at the northern bottleneck, what’s now Lolo, and established a ranch. At the University in Missoula, she met Frank, whose journalistic excellence in Rio would be remembered by the husband of my wife’s previous boss at at cocktail party in San Francisco, 60+ years later (so don’t tell me life never resembles the neat coincidences of a novel).
Growing up, I was never particularly close to Grandmother. I wouldn’t say she was like ice, but there was definitely an element of slightly-softened marble about her. Kids bemused her. And yet, there’s something that makes me want to learn more about her, even now.
She picked the ranch they would buy, overlooking the river and at the base of Downey Mountain. There was something about the land that called to her, the meadows, the ridge, the canyon, the creek. Something that called to me too as I grew up.
Souls need space. Whether you believe in God, whether you believe in spirits, whether you think we’re all just a collection of sparks and impulses and processes trapped in a vessel of skin and bone, we all need air and sun and water and grass.
Grandmother rode horses in Montana until a fall. I walk into rivers and the ocean and sit beside streams. She loved the same grass and sky and water that I do. And while she seemed cold and quiet, the fact that she cared for two young girls in wartime Italy while her husband was gallivanting around doing his job? That cold must have come from a core of iron.
I kinda think my grandmother would enjoy the fact that my daughter loves looking at bugs and dirt. I don’t know why I think that, but I do.
My daughter saw a praying mantis injured on our driveway. She let me know, and we offered it a ride on a leaf.
We placed him lightly at the foot of our rose bush. I have no idea if he’ll live, but it seemed right.
Life goes on. No matter what we do. And the wise ones learn to love the quiet moments, the small investigations, engaging with the world not as an entitled homeowner or rich plebian, but just another set of eyes on nature.
If you can’t sit still and look at the small things if life, you’re doing it wrong. Start now. Get out of town. Find a bench overlooking a valley. Walk on a foggy beach and step in the iron-green surf. Recognize the elements for which we must fight.
Be who you are and love life, no matter the form it takes.