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Living and Writing in the Natural World

What the Grass Revealed

A helpful label in the grass

I had just returned from my "short spin" around the park on my mountain bike today, and it was time to do some yardwork. I cut back the summer's growth of mint in the back yard and put water on it, to encourage sweet new growth. (You have a mint patch also, don't you? How else can one have mojitos at home throughout the summer? It's one of the basic necessities of life, just like having a mountain bike for spins and a large family tent for camping. Basic.) Then mowed the backyard (with my electric mower, probably the last one in Chico, maybe on the continent). As I was gathering up the cord and admiring the elegant way it snaked through the grass, I saw something else in the grass, somethingjust beyond the door to the porch. I leaned down, and there it was. An olive-green oval, rubber, maybe 1.5 inches long, with the word "earth" in white, a white slash underlining it.
And I laughed. It was for all the world as if we moderns had become so distant from the earth, so alienated from our home, that we now required a label to identfy it, conveniently placed upon the earth just outside the door. How funny. How appropriate, alas. "Earth."
I picked it up. Indeed, it's rubber, with dried-up glue on the back, evidently dropped off of a shoe or some such by one of my son Louie's friends coming into the house.
This labeling of the earth reminded me of a statistic I had seen, that today's teenager knows 25 different brands of tennis shoes, but not a single native tree of the habitat in which they live. Or Richard Louv ("Last Child in the Woods") citing the 2002 British study that the average 8-year-old knew more Pokemon characters than native species of plants and animals where they lived. And it's not just our kids, either. All of us have dozens of websites, blogs, and TV shows we regularly check, but do we ever check the oak tree in our back yard or nearest park to see if a hawk has its nest there? How often do we check the shrubs in our front yard or park to see if the migrating cedar waxwings and goldfinches are passing through? These brilliant, fascinating birds literally fly "below our radar" and their heart-lifting beauty flows by us unnoticed all too often. If we sleep with our window shut we also shut out the haunting calls of the sandhill cranes that will soon be returning to these temperate zones from Alaska and Siberia.
So yeah--perhaps we do lamentably need a label to point out "earth" to us. Maybe a couple of things would help the situation. First, an effort by all to learn half a dozen native trees and half a dozen native birds in our neighborhood, and be on the lookout to spot at least a couple of them every day. How much more interesting the day would be if we added "tree" eyes and "bird" eyes to our daily checking of websites. And second, read a bit about people who have been keenly attuned to the earth and its wonders. Ever since a college roommate asked me to write an article on John Muir (see www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/3/2/266), I've been fascinated by the fellow.

And of course, for years I've delved into the Chinese philsophy/religion/way of life known as Taoism (a brief, popular introduction to which is my "Relax, You're Already Home: everyday Taoist habits for a richer life; see my website). Indeed, so intrigued have I become by the surprising parallels between Muir and Taoism that as soon as I finish my current book project (Sherlock Holmes and the Death of King Tut. Really) I'm going to start in on a book tracing these seemingly disparate phenomena that have so much in common. Working title: "Celebrating the Earth, East and West: John Muir and the Taoist Lords of Mt. Hua-kai."
All this from a little rubber label kindly pointing out where "earth" is for me!

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