Glancing around to ensure that am alone, I back to an invasive honeysuckle bush, drop my pants and crouch to pee. Before I can, a turkey explodes from the brush behind me, startling me to standing, no doubt my white rump as shocking to her as she to me. I laugh and finish my business, then poke around to see if she was on a nest. I find nothing and so continue.
This day, April 10, in this place, the Allegheny Plateau, is a remedy, a retreat, a relief. After the winter, harsh yet beautiful in its own right, I feel faded and tattered around the edges, as an old quilt long loved. On this day of spring I feel my seams pulled taut and my edges mended by birdsong.
Freezing my movement I catch a rustling of both motion and sound in the hedgerow. Scanning the leaf litter of cherry, oak and hickory, I find the source. Dressed sensibly yet smartly, the Brown Thrasher picks through the leaves, the soft arc of its beak elegantly designed for such a menial yet vital task. The straw-golden eye sees me and so much more, seemingly caring not but perhaps caring about all. We continue on our own paths, meandering both with purpose and simply with pleasure because we both belong here, to this landscape.
Nature always restores balance, repairs the damage of the day, week, or year. I have found healing in Australian rainforest nights, the scent of a South Carolina salt marsh, and the sun rising over California scrub. None compares to the effect of home, of Appalacian deciduous woodlands, rolling hills worn smooth by time, the remedy, reliably, to whatever ails me.
Aspen flowers fall like caterpillars and I am serenaded by frogs. Calling across miles the peepers emphatically advertise their virility and prowess for the females. A lone green frog thrums randomly into the symphony but the underlying roar of the leopard frogs claims the lead. Together they emit a soundtrack unique to time and place and memory.
This day in this place I am as much a spectator as participant. As I watch, inhale, listen, and feel the world awakening, I too come alive and am the season arriving. Return, reproduce, remain, retreat. Occasionally bask in the beauty, a gleaming painted turtle in the sunshine on a hummock of grass in a shallow pond. Tree Swallows chatter and crows holler and I understand the grackles’ envy of the raspy, deep timbre of their voices.
If there was a purpose to my walk, I have forgotten it. At this point there is only what my senses perceive, that is the singular reality. Picking my way down on a sodden path, the mud gets stickier, sucks at my shoes and face the grimness of knowing I did not come prepared. But wait… by stripping off socks and shoes, I now have waterproof footwear, or more accurately, feet.
Squishing between my toes the mud is warmer than expected, soft and slippery. Rolling my feet from ball to heel, I feel the sharper bits before my weight comes down and avoid pain, while heightening to my surroundings. A muskrat preens on a mudflat, rich golden brown fur shimmering, mirroring the glitter of ripples in the midst of which he sits.
Brown is a sumptuous color, manifesting itself in last year’s oak leaves now on the forest floor, the Song Sparrow scratching among them, the rotting log that serves as my bridge, the inundated soil clinging to my ankles. Paired with hints of awakening, greens blush and reds flush, the backdrop is mesmerizing, getting more intense the deeper I look.
The light changes, dips lower and whispers to me that there is a different world to which it is time to return. Wading back through my mud puddle prints, I don my more conventional footwear, head into the field and back down a well-trodden trail.
My frayed edges, dull colors, and complacency established by winter are gently repaired. I am woven together by this day, the celebrations, conversations, residents and routine.
ACNC builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. Hike the trails at ACNC from dawn to dusk to heighten and deepen your own senses and appreciation. The Nature Center building is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. The physical address is 1600 Riverside Road, just east off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown, and the web address is auduboncnc.org. Call or visit for more information, (716) 569-2345.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at ACNC.