Given my druthers, I would spend the vast majority of my time in remote faraway places. I have often dreamed of a modern Thoreau-like existence, a latter-day Walden Pond lifestyle where my contact with civilization depends solely on the great books on a hand-hewn shelf in some rustic deep-woods dwelling.
I am even fortunate enough to lead such a blessed life from time to time, though it is never for more than a few days or a few hours. Despite its brevity, I always cherish my limited time “away from it all”, ever thankful there are still a few places out there human intrusion has not permanently ruined. It is rare and beautiful respite, this time spent in equally rare and beautiful retreats.
But it’s never enough. Not even close. The brief rat-race pit stops, wonderful as they are, do little more than whet my appetite for “deliberate” living. I often return home brooding and fretting, counting the days or weeks that must pass before I may visit those favored locales again.
I have found, however, a method of coping, a way of somehow keeping in touch with the unspoiled vastness I miss so much. It is a ritual I simply must perform at least a few moments every day I’m home.
Behind my house, composing roughly half of my small-town suburban “estate,” is a tiny woodlot. Stepping out my back door and walking a few dozen paces south, I am there. If I do not look back from whence I came, I can forget for a time the house, the mowed lawn, the accursed for-years-unused swimming pool I have always despised.
Here in the pines, broomsedge, and varied hardwood scrub is a little piece of coastal plain wildness. I keep it that way, unkempt and as primitive as possible. The wildlife inhabitants appreciate it, though I’m uncertain I can say the same for neighbors and rubbernecking passersby. I stand here in the middle of this thumbnail plot of habitat and view on a miniscule scale what I might see elsewhere, in vast places far removed.
Just over there, for instance, an eastern box turtle plucks newly opening blossoms from a blackberry cane, too impatient, or perhaps merely too hungry, to wait on ripened fruits. He is undisturbed by the Northern cardinals, the pine siskins, and the house finches picking up grass seeds and chattering a few feet away. At the same time, in a brushpile, a pair of Carolina wrens is busy fledging a trio of youngsters reluctant to try their wings and leave the nest.
The big gray rat snake that lives on the property begins to prowl, leaving a distinct serpentine trail behind as he moves silently over the dew-washed pine needles. Last week, the mockingbird parents would have attacked. Today, though, they pay him little mind. Their babies can fly now and the snake poses little threat. It is now the nesting Eastern bluebirds that must beware.
At my feet, the broad-headed skinks wriggle through the carpet of dead leaves and naturally composted topsoil. Their stubby legs carry them in search of insects and other creepy-crawly prey. Likewise, the fence swifts and Carolina anoles dart around tree trunks and hide in green vegetation, performing their own “lizardly” rituals.
I move a bit too suddenly and spook the cottontail rabbit that sat watching me from a few feet away. He still thinks I haven’t yet seen him. The gray squirrel in the sweet gum boughs above my head knows I see him and doesn’t care. He scolds me incessantly.
Reluctantly, I turn and retrace my steps. In seconds, I’m back in “civilization.” But I can handle it now, the writing deadlines and all the other aggravating chores of day-to-day living. Ten minutes in my backyard “wilderness” and everything seems somehow better.
Nope, it’s not the Chattahoochee National Forest, Saint Vincent Island, or some remote palmetto hammock. Not by a long shot.
It’ll do, though. For now.