When I was in 7th grade my biology teacher gave us an assignment to provide leaves we found outside and to identify these leaves with their common name and Latin name. This was the best assignment a girl with a tree-loving father could get. My spent every weekend planting trees, sometimes obtained illegally from the side of the highway on trips from our mother’s house, where he’d collect my sisters and me to visit his house for the weekend. Other dads might watch television, but not my dad. He had trees to plant and water.
“Look at the crepe myrtles, my daughters,” he’d say. “Look at the dogwoods. All in bloom.” Springtime in Georgia.
Meanwhile Simon and Garfunkel would play on the tape player of my father’s navy blue Buick Cutlass, windows rolled down, while I tried not to get carsick in the backseat, sitting next to my concerned older sister. My oldest sister sat in front next to him, and probably none of us wore seat belts because that’s how it was in the 80’s.
With the help of my father, I got an A on my leaf project, with my photo album full of pressed leaves: black walnut, red maple, sycamore, tulip poplar. My favorite was the magnolia, which filled up an entire page by itself.
I wish I could say that I can identify all the different kinds of trees today, but I’m beginning only now to fully appreciate nature. It’s not so much that I haven’t always loved nature, but it’s different now—no doubt because of my mother’s recent unexpected death. Now, time stands still in the moments of solace I find in the woods, much like in the days of my childhood, when I roamed the trails in the forest of tall pines behind our house. Time was not a concern then. All the errands to run, checklists to mark off, goals to reach—all that stuff did not exist for me then, and now, as an adult I’m learning that all of that stuff, all that busyness, does not really matter. I say that not because that’s how my mother spent her life, but because until recently that was how I spent my life.
It’s not that I don’t believe in goals, because my life in the past few years has in many ways been one big self-improvement project after another, but I am learning that striving for an outcome is futile. Life is really about living in the moment.
It’s the moments that we remember. When I think of my mother, I think of joy, expressed in moments: how she snickered with laughter at the musical we saw just before she passed, how she teared up at the prospect of a female President, how she pumped her fist in the air in a fighter pose for a photo with her siblings. I think of the image of locust shells on pine trees, and how, as children, my sisters and I would take those shells and surreptitiously place them onto her shoulder, delighted with ourselves for this practical joke that left us all in hysterical laughter.
Now I spend time walking in the woods, taking pictures of trees, leaves, mushrooms, anything that strikes me, some of which I’ve included in this post. It’s in these moments that I think of how quickly life has passed in my 40 years, yet how timeless it all feels in the woods. On the path I find feathers and butterflies, reminders that my mother is with me, and always will be, that love is eternal.