This week I found myself on my hands and knees crawling around a thick patch of Milkweed on my quest to find some Monarch caterpillars. My eyes, not nearly what they use to be, now find it much harder to find the insects, birds and other critters that I once found so easily not that very long ago.
Observing the natural world on all fours at 60-plus years old may not be a pretty sight for the casual observer, especially on my repeated attempts to get back on my feet, but I felt like I was 10-years old again. I could almost hear my father whistling for me to come home for dinner. I was just about ready to brush the mud from my knees and run home before I got myself into trouble…again.
One of the most wonderful things about nature is that it allows us to remain children despite what the date on our birth certificate may read. We can play in the mud, chase butterflies and become mesmerized by a Hummingbird the same as any 10-year-old.
Sure, we can make excuses by calling it birding or Butterflying and pretend it is some grown-up activity, but if we are honest with ourselves it is really our way of keeping in touch with our youth. As long as we can add a new bird to our life list, do another Christmas bird count or visit a new wild place we can hold on to our youth and keep it all going for a little while longer .
Some of my fondest memories of friends and family members that have moved on or are no longer with us always seem to drift back to times we spent outdoors as kids. Summers when we stayed out from dawn till dusk wandering the Meadowlands, so long that our parents had to send other kids out to track us down and tell us it was time to come home .
One of the nice things about getting old after you have grown up in the outdoors is that you have countless memories, ones I think nature was kind enough to give to us for the days when we can no longer walk the long forest trails or climb the hills to watch the Broad-Winged Hawks in fall, memories that makes us smile when no one is looking, ones that remind us despite our age that the child that always loved nature it still in us and lets us know it has really never left.
But the most wonderful thing about keeping the love of nature in your heart is you never really have to get old. Sure, my knees didn’t feel so great after crawling around and now it is impossible to see my field guide without my glasses, but I can still sit on a bench and wonder about what a little Sandpiper experienced on its long migration to the Meadowlands and imagine that I just might get a good look at a Barred Owl in that old Oak tree if I just look hard enough.
My legs may not carry me the same way they did when I was 20, but the same legs that once allowed me to backpack along the Appalachian Trail can still take me places that are just as wonderful. Maybe they are not as steep or remote, maybe the trails are a little flatter and slightly shorter, but the same wonder and exhilaration I felt when I saw my first Marsh Hawk in the Meadowlands or watched a Black Bear meandering through a Sussex meadow is still there, no different, for we are all still very much that child .
One of my favorite songs is Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” the last verse goes like this:
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
Bob just forgot to add “ May you always keep the love of nature, it keeps you forever young”