Maybe because I was outside so much as a child, part of me becomes a kid again when I am out under the sky. I breathe deeply, and the smells of water and earth and plants have so many variations that they tell a new story every time. To be perfectly honest, there are less appealing smells on the farm now and then, but even they have special information for us about work we need to do or a system we need to tweak. I respect those smells too.
I pay special attention to the movement of the leaves in the wind. I have never lived in such a windy place, and it took years for me to adjust to the torrents that sometimes pour through our trees. The sound kept me up at night during my first year, but I have come to expect it. Now it just feels like home, and I listen without fear.
Most of the time when I am outside, I am not taking it easy and observing the world around me. I am carrying buckets of animal feed or eggs. I am fiddling around with a hose that won’t work or wondering if I’ve given our baby chicks the perfect balance of fresh air and warmth. Sometimes I am wondering when the bitter cold will become pain in my hands or whether there’s anything I can possibly do to keep the mosquitoes off my face and neck.
Sometimes I make myself look up at the sky in the middle of my chores. Sometimes, the beauty of the world is living thing that wants my attention, so it interrupts my work like my lovely dog who pushes her nose under my hand and tosses it onto her soft neck. Of course I have to stop for a while when that happens. Ignoring something like that would make my heart ache, and it would also hurt something amazing and wonderful that seems to love me.
This summer, I’ve been stopped like that in two places over and over again. Each of them is near the line of maple trees that keeps the west wind from slamming our house in the winter. I walk south of this windbreak to care for the meat birds. As I pass the trees, they stand protectively to my side, but my line of sight opens up and I see fields rising up to the west with the wide sky above them. The neighbors’ barn, about a mile to the south, looks like a child’s toy, set on a horizon that is lifted high towards the wide blue. I don’t know if I should raise my hands up in joy or sink down in wonder. I have done both.
I pass through the same line of maples when I am on my way to the hens, north of our house. I walk down our driveway, and just before I pass out of the shelter of those trees, they flank me on both sides. I stand in the shade with egg baskets in my hands, looking up at rustling leaves or thin and reaching winter branches. This place doesn’t sweep me into such a deep awe. Instead it feels sociable and nurturing, like it would chat with me and make me laugh. I pause and I smile, and let my shoulders relax a little bit, and I keep walking.
I walk on and gather the eggs. I worry about getting them all cleaned and candled. My belly tightens as I worry that I won’t be able to finish the chores and make dinner and do farm work on the computer and clean up after dinner and help the kids with whatever they need help with and hack back a little of the chaos in our house and …
I go back and forth like that, between fear and joy. We all do to some degree, I expect. In the midst of being swept away by one of those feelings, it’s hard to picture how I was ever consumed by the other. All my life though, I have known that whatever happens, the soil and the water and the plants will keep telling their amazing stories. Just breathing makes me a part of their ancient and radiant adventure. And the beauty of the world will find me now and then, whether I am watching for it or not. It will force itself under my hands and demand that I give it a piece of my heart.