A few years ago my son, daughter-in-law and their two daughters treated my husband and me to a spring walking tour in the forest on the banks of the Eno River. They had earlier arranged for a botany professor from Duke to guide our tour and show us the wildflowers native to the area.
We became friends with the understory and the forest floor that day, watching closely as the professor pointed out the wildflowers that were too numerous to count, some of them diminutive yet strong enough to have survived the spring storms.
Any time I need to, I can relive that spring day in my mind’s eye, recalling the professor’s gentle voice as he pronounced the names of the wildflowers. I can recall the way his hands held back leaves and branches so that we could get a clear view of the flowers. I can still hear the voices of my five family members as well as my own voice as we reacted to what we saw and as we tried to pronounce the Latin and common names of the flowers.
We were in a little world that day, removed from our usual lives as city dwellers.
The English poet Thomas Gray wrote this line in his fine poem, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife...”
I take this one line somewhat out of context, yet it is a famous line that has something to do with being away from the usual, crowded, city environment as we were on our walking tour.
We were away from the madding crowd that day, out in the country, together with family and our botanist friend, enjoying the wonder of wildflowers that we could not find in town.
So here is what I want to do.
I want to gather another group of family or friends, find a forest way out in the country and explore once again nature’s wonders that are just waiting to show themselves off to us.
We will take little with us: sensible protective clothing, a bottle of water, a pen and little pad for taking notes, one of those magnifying glasses that you hang around your neck, a bag for collecting trash and a camera.
I expect that we will examine the many species of wildflowers once again and enjoy their beauty. I hope that we will find lichens living on rocks and logs and understand that they are a combination of algae and fungi that live in a symbiotic relationship. Our magnifying glasses will help us get a close look at details of these wonders.
Maybe we will see a few fallen trees in varying states of decay, ecosystems that have become a habitat to other life forms.
With the use of our magnifying glasses, surely we will get on our hands and knees and examine closely a variety of mosses and see a whole universe open up to us right there on the forest floor. We must remember to scribble notes and take photographs from time to time, lest we forget the images.
And if we see a spring or creek, we will listen to its moving-water sound and imagine all the forest creatures that find a habitat within its boundaries.
Will we have the discipline to pick up trash and leave everything else there, resisting the temptation to steal souvenirs such as flowers, rocks, leaves and little creatures from our friend, the forest? We must!
Some of us will know what birds are singing and try to imitate their sound; others of us will hear music in the rustling foliage as the breeze finds its playthings.
All of us will be charmed and amazed at what we experience on our little tour.
For a little while, we will be far, far from that madding crowd, storing up forest images that will refresh us from time to time.
At the end of our walk, maybe we will sit in a circle on the edge of the forest and compare notes, share photographs, talk about what we liked most and see who has picked up the most trash.
When we get back to town, we will be different people, since every experience changes us in some way. Maybe we will be better people.
And we will be proud of ourselves, knowing that our Earth needs a goodly number of people like us who love the forest.
Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her weekly column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life.