By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star
Have you ever wondered why so many of our experiences in the outdoors abide as some of the most treasured of life’s events in our memories? Just what is there about outdoor happenings that impresses them so indelibly into our hearts and minds? What magic does nature cast on us so effectively?
I’m sure I may never know the complete answer, given that there is surely more beyond the fact that we all are nature’s progeny, endowed with at least a modicum of understanding nature. But it occurs to me that the little, almost overlooked things may have a lot to do with it. The background music if you will. The salt and pepper on nature’s table.
Consider with me what some of our most cherished outdoor pursuits would be like if just one seemingly minor aspect didn’t exist.
What if fish didn’t flop around on the bank or in the boat when we land them? What if they just lay there passively in defeat? What if squirrels didn’t bark in the fall as you tiptoe along in the leaves with your .22 rifle? What else would provide that tiny electric chill that runs through the hair on the back of your neck and stimulates hope and caution and concentration?
What if mist didn’t rise off warm water, drawn by the certain pull of the cooled air of dawn? What if wild turkey gobblers didn’t have that iridescent sheen on their body feathers that stun our eyes as it enhances the dark feather colors?
What if ducks and geese flew randomly in their migration flights instead of in those orderly Vs that point to their undisclosed destinations?
What if the oaks and hickories and maples held fast to their leaves in the fall, denying their stunning colors to the ground beneath where we walk and stir them like weightless jewels underfoot? What if owls and coyotes called only in daytime instead of at night when their cries make us snuggle deeper into our sleeping bags?
What if frost came at midday instead of early morning when it makes the grass and weeds glisten like Christmas tinsel and quickens our step towards a day of adventures and makes us button the top button of our jacket? What if all the gold had been found in the little streams we visit in distant mountains and there was never a chance of spotting a glistening nugget as we wash up from dressing an elk?
What if the dry lower limbs of pines and oaks and aspens were worthless for building a campfire once they had died? What if deer didn’t shed their antlers, leaving us no chance of finding a shed one in the spring, holding it in our hand and letting our imagination seek out its stories? What if the seeds of maples and pines and other trees simply fell to the ground instead of being carried with the wind like miniature helicopters to delight our eyes and spread their kind to new settings?
What if the berries on holly trees were blue instead of red? What if woodpeckers drilled their holes in silence? What if bears and cougars never wandered from their birthplaces to appear now and then in new locations, giving us glimpses and leaving their sign? What if bullfrogs were all tenors?
What if beggar lice seed didn’t stick to your pants, desperate to find a new home? What if ancient pine knots didn’t make good fire kindling, fizzling out when we apply a match? What if the wind didn’t make that mournful sound passing through pine tree limbs and that rustling sound passing through aspen and cottonwood leaves?
What if the constellations in the night sky changed around all the time instead of connecting us to our ancestors and being dependable guides when we have lost our way? What if all hickory nuts were thin shelled and squirrels didn’t have to chew the wood away for 20 minutes to get to the meat, exciting us with the sounds of their gnawing?
What if there were no muddy spots in the woods after rains onto which animals and birds could write their stories to us with their tracks? What if a wandering possum shuffling around camp at night didn’t sound like a hungry bear or some bloodthirsty monster?
Nature sure knows how to dress, make an entrance, grab our attention, speak to our souls and leave us with fine memories. What would our outdoor world be like were it not for the adornments that nature uses to groom its gifts for our eyes and ears and fingertips?