The previous two blogs have featured my favorite part of the Barton Creek Greenbelt, below the trailhead in the Scottish Woods neighborhood off of Loop 360. I spent time in this area on multiple occasions this month, once to fish and several other times to hike around with my dog. These outings were rewarding and enjoyable as always, and I could certainly write another blog on my experiences with the natural environment of the Greenbelt. However, I have decided on an alternative focus for March’s blog–my backyard.
For the past two years now, I have lived with a couple of buddies in the neighborhood behind all of the car dealerships on I-35 just south of Ben White. The house is nothing special, but my backyard is awesome. There are several large trees on the either side of the yard and an open area in between them that stretches all the way to a pocket of small trees on the back fence. The yard’s carpet has always been encouraged to grow without restriction, so by this time of year the mixture of grass and natural sprouts exceeds two feet in some areas. The oaks and smaller trees offer ideal hangouts for a healthy population of squirrels, as well as a number of different bird species. With such a lush natural environment, my backyard provides a perfect place to relax and enjoy the Spring in Central Texas.
Since the weather’s been so nice over the past several weeks, I’ve left my hammock set up in the pocket of trees along the back fence. The trees provide a perfect canopy and their drooping branches almost surround the hammock, creating a perfect little hideout in the backyard. This past Sunday, March 30th, I stretched out in the hammock and enjoyed the mid 70s weather on a perfect afternoon. I laid back there for a while with my eyes closed and listened to the different sounds in the surrounding environment, natural and otherwise. It’s surprising how serene and natural the environment in my backyard seemed considering our location in a major US city and my house’s proximity to the highway.
The constant hum of traffic on I-35 and the noises of my neighborhood were by far the least prominent sounds in my backyard on Sunday. Our dogs, Lucy and Elwood, made most of the noise for a while, but eventually tired themselves out and laid on the ground below the hammock. Once they were quiet, I heard the wind rushing through the leaves above me and the calls of various birds high up in the bigger trees. I heard squirrels leaping through the bigger trees and rustling their branches as they would land. During a lull in the wind gusts, I could even hear birds maneuveringon the branches of the small trees surrounding me.
I opened my eyes and watched the leaves above me as I continued to listen. I looked around at the different types of birds calling out to one another; I saw dove, blue jays, cardinals, mockingbirds, and grackle in just the few minutes that I kept track. I laid out there for about an hour relaxing before I experienced something that I enjoy very much. One of my favorite things about nature is that it inspires these transcendent moments in which I have a thought that is both profound and very dumb. This is exactly what happened as I was staring at the leaves. I was looking at the intricate veins and textures of a leaf when I realized that these visible features were nothing compared to the biological complexities involved in the tree. Thats when I thought to myself, trees are crazy, they start as seeds.
This thought reminded me of an excerpt from Leopold: “Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”
I’m well aware that trees grow from seeds, but I had never really thought about how incredible that is. The quote above seems to describe the whole thought process that I experienced on Sunday, sparked while appreciating the beauty and intricacy of the leaf. Leopold offers rationale behind my profoundly dumb realization about trees, suggesting that it may be impossible to articulate the understanding or appreciation behind my thoughts. Although this could also just be an incredibly convenient cop-out, I believe there is truth to what Leopold says and that it applies here. We have scientific understanding and nomenclature to explain the natural world, but it is entirely different to articulate the intrinsic quality or value of nature.