Earlier this week, my older brother and I hiked to a water fall. It was a truly beautiful hike, through rhododendron thickets in a moist hollow. All the smells were fresh and sweet, and the air was continually filled with the sound of water gurgling through a rocky bed. It was an easy hike too, no steep inclines or even rocks to scramble over, but one did have to ford the stream fourteen times, one way. After the first ten crossings, I became convinced that whoever had designed the trail had taken an unhealthy delight in the thought of getting other people’s feet wet, but then my brother pointed out some places were the traces of an old bridge were rotting away.
As we hiked, a thought came to me which has been growing for the last three years, ever since we moved from the relatively, flat, farming country, of my childhood, to the mountains. The thought began when I noticed, about a year after we moved, that I no longer saw beauty in the mountains. This realization surprised me, for it had always been a given in my mind that the mountains are beautiful. Our family loves camping, and often, we would escape to the mountains twice a year. I can still feel the excitement that would take hold of me when we would weigh our back packs the night before we left. My excitement would grow as the faint outline of the distant mountains grew the next day, and would have its fulfillment with the first breath of mountain air, which is like no other air, with wading in a rocky stream until my feet were numb with cold, and finally, lying in my sleeping bag listening to the long fluid variations of the wood thrush’s song.
The thought of moving to the mountains was like a dream come true. What had happened? How had this land of breathtaking beauty, the very air of which smelled of adventure, become less remarkable, less enjoyable, than my childhood home had ever been? For the mountains to have lost the aura that surrounded them as our favorite vacation spot, was understandable, but I had enjoyed the beauty of my childhood home, why could I not enjoy this? It was a dream gone bad.
Thinking about this change, two things came to mind. First, when we had lived at our old home I had been a child with lots of time, and I spent most of that time in our woods. I noticed, daily, the smallest changes. I watched deer, squirrels, birds, skunks. I smelled flowers and dreamed. Now, I have grown up and my time is often spent inside. Second, everything had a name. I knew the names of most of the plants and animals but more importantly, I and my siblings had given particular names to special trees, groves,or clearings. We never simply walked through the woods, we walked from one important place, with its own unique character, to another.
Names do something intriguing for us, they allow us to notice things differently. If we are simply gazing out at the world without interest we may see a red bird and hardly notice it. But if we know that the bird is a scarlet tanager that name will come to mind as we see it and draw our attention. I do not see the beauty in my new home, not because there is none, but because I do not take the time to look; I have become spoiled by living for eighteen years in one place where everything had a name to grab my attention. I forgot their importance.
I realized on the way back from the falls, that despite having seen multiple signs and hearing my brother say the name once, I could not remember what the place we had just visited was called. This habit of learning names is not going to be easy, but I am convinced, now, that it will be well worth the trouble. The old bridges are gone, but the stream is still worth crossing, there is beauty on the other side. Do you also live in a beautiful world which you have forgotten to see?