I sat on the ground, leaned against a tree trunk, and watched my bobber float on the glassy surface of the water. The fishing was slow. I hadn’t had a bite all morning. A blue jay landed on a branch in a tree a few feet away. He stared at me a moment and flew off. In the distance, a crow cawed. Other than that, there wasn’t a sound. I closed my eyes and let rising sun wash away the chill of the early morning.
I sighed contentedly. An osprey, silhouetted by a turquoise sky, flew few a hundred feet above my head. Obviously a better fisherman than I, it clutched a fresh trout in its talons.
It didn’t bother me. I wasn’t there for the fish. It was time alone in the outdoors I craved. Every so often, I rose, checked my bait and cast it back into the lake. In the beaver hut at my side, I heard the squeaking of baby beavers. A few minutes later, one of the adult beavers swam around the point, saw me, and disappeared in a splash of water, as it slapped its tail. A moment later, the squeaking in the hut grew louder as mom or dad arrived.
I sat and let my thoughts wander—content to sit and think. By noon, without one bite from a trout, I rose from my spot by the shore, collected my stuff, and headed for home. Along the path through the brush, I spotted a cluster of May flowers and picked a bouquet for my wife. We were both fans of their heavenly scent.
It was a mile walk to the highway and my car. Half way there, I breasted a small hill. Four deer flashed their white tails, leaped through the shrub and disappeared into the thicket.
My car sat in the clearing, fifty feet from the highway. A few feet behind it, a groundhog stuck his head from a hole and cautiously watched my approach. As I drew near, its courage left. It whistled a signal of danger and disappeared under the ground.
Twenty-five years later, I exited my office building in midtown Manhattan and was greeted with a rush of heat, the blare of horns and sirens, and a sea of humanity. It had been many years since I last fished. My little lake in the woods of Nova Scotia was a distant memory.
I followed the herd of commuters who, like the groundhog, disappeared under the ground. We shuffled beneath the concrete and into the stifling humidity of the subway station. People growled in protest, as others pushed past them to reach their train. Somewhere up ahead, a guitar was played by someone collecting donations. Trains screeched to a stop, unloaded and loaded passengers and in minutes, rumbled out of sight into the tunnels that hollowed the underbelly of the city. There was no sun to enjoy. There was no peace, no quiet, and no nature.
Ginny and I had enough of the rush and expense of New Jersey and New York. We moved to Idaho, with its mountains, rivers, and a slower pace. One early July morning, we stood at the edge of crystal clear mountain stream and tossed our lines. The trees were alive with the yellow, red, and black of the Western Tanager, a small mountain bird. Towering over all, were the snowcapped peaks of the Stanley Mountains.
The sound of the rushing water and the singing birds took me back to the peace of my little lake in Nova Scotia, so many years behind me. In the back country, a person’s body changes. Unlike the city, where I drowned in the noise and rush and eventually retreated inside myself; here with nature, my mind soaks and softens. The world becomes clear. My thoughts are free to roam. I begin to see, hear, smell and feel again.
This is where I belong—with nature.
Michael T. Smith