The fall colors this year were among the most beautiful and long lasting I remember.
Michael and I made numerous trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway for walks, hawk watching and even to say farewell to a forest slated for logging.
As we sit down to a Thanksgiving Day meal tomorrow, the gifts of nature, family, friends and good health will be those I am most grateful for.
On a recent country road walk, we counted 25 species of birds in a one-mile stretch. Woodpeckers, yellow-rumped warblers, sparrows, robins and many usual suspects were joined by a Cooper’s hawk that scattered the birds.
Nearby, Michael saw one of two immature red-headed woodpeckers we spotted earlier this fall. We had spent several happy hours watching their parents feed them in the spring and were glad they had made it out on their own.
Red-headed woodpeckers, meadowlarks and bobwhite were among my favorite birds growing up.
My parents taught my three brothers and me to develop a deep appreciation for wildflowers, towering trees, tiny insects and dark skies.
We learned the ways of crawfish and birds, of rabbits and foxes. We learned that life is a complex web that depends on every life form to function in a healthy way.
We grew vegetables, handpicking squash and potato beetles to avoid poisoning our food. We gathered wild mint and blackberries for jelly.
I am eternally grateful for growing up on a 100-acre farm, where I literally rolled in the clover and dandelions, careful to avoid the many small, native bees gathering nectar.
Wherever I went, I carried “wild” with me, a gift I carry still.
What better way to spend a fall day than tromping through a multi-colored forest, where juncos flit about the underbrush and spider webs float in the breeze?
In winter, we hope for snow, any snow, to silence human sounds so we hear nothing but the crunch under our boots and see crystals sparkling in the sun.
In spring, we search out wildflowers pushing up through leaf litter or scan the woods for tiny warblers heading north.
In summer, the katydids and crickets provide an evening serenade while lightning bugs signal each other under whatever dark skies they can find, and they are increasingly hard to find.
While I am grateful for nature, I also mourn the loss of biodiversity I knew in my childhood.
Today, there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet, 5 billion more than when I was born. In “developed” countries, far too many of us have lost connection to the natural world.
We have to change that. We can only fight to preserve what we love, and it’s hard to love a thing we don’t know.
So as you push away from the table tomorrow, take a walk outside, and give thanks for the natural beauty around us. Teach children and grandchildren the wonders that await outdoors.
They will be the ones who have to fight to preserve what we have left.
Shannon Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.