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Take a moment (05/20/2007)
By Janet Lewis Burns
"There were times when I could not sacrifice the bloom of the moment to any work, whether of the head or hand." "I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been." -Thoreau, "Walden"

One primary reason I relish and respect the writings of naturalists is the hope they impart that earth's ecosystems aren't going down the tube (or sizzling out of existence by mysterious global warming). The natural world thrives despite humankind's rude interference, neglect, and careless alterations. Most importantly, well-informed and conscientious people can restore our planet and strive to undo damage already done to other life forms.

There are nature facts that can be learned by keen observation. Other things, the scientific properties, are found in experts' reference books and journals. Nature viewed on a large scale can appear disorderly. Reduced to fragmental detail, nature's order becomes apparent.

As my grandchildren accompany me on forest paths and amidst fields of wildflowers, we are forever "treasure hunting." Catching Grandma studying a wabi sabi piece of wood, bending to retrieve a perfect specimen, and expressing awe at a cluster of Maidenhair Fern or Black-eyed Susans, the children begin to perceive all natural offerings as gifts to respect.

When our kids implore us for technical feedback, books like Ted William's "Wild Moments," c 2004, are priceless. "Why do woodpeckers rap on tree trunks with their beaks?" As we look up the answer together, we find that sapsuckers tap horizontal lines of holes pointed slightly downward. It leaves to work on another trunk, then returns to lick the oozing sap with its brush-like tongue.

If you're lucky enough to spot fox pups, don't be alarmed if they stick around to play or wrestle. Not yet afraid of humans, they may even waddle over and sniff you. When you hear a continuous "chip, chip" 80 to 180 chips per minute, you are invading a chipmunk's territory.

With each blink of the eye, intimate features of miracles within miracles reveal themselves in the vast out-of-doors. Did you ever wonder how thousands of starlings suddenly rise into the air, coalesce into precise formation, and pivot methodically as if directed by a single impulse? Their spontaneous patterns give the illusion of conscious cooperation. Is it as it looks to the naked eye - a phenomenon?

We were bumping along on crowded benches of a horse-drawn cart, between towering cliffs, when a narrowing gorge passage spooked the bulky horses. The agitated team backed the carriage of sightseers into the weeping, moss-covered wall. The metal wheels crunched to a rude stop.

As we finally moved forward, the riders at the ends of the open wagon had to duck to avoid sharp protruding rock. Daylight became a distant speck of blue sky, nearly extinguished by foreboding enclosures.

The Lost Canyon at the Wisconsin Dells, near the shore of Lake Delton, cuts through sheer rock and sandstone walls, some of which have not felt the touch of the sun in more than 50,000 years. Each layer is said to represent 10,000 years of glacial formation. In configurations of eroded rock, imagination creates an eagle in flight, or perhaps a turtle, or a baboon's face. Exposed roots, tangled and cascading down rocky terrain, speak of centuries laid to rest, chiseled in stone.

Our annual spring stay at the Dells, the weekend of April 20, is now a fragment of our treasured family memoirs.

Time can be a negligently wasted commodity. It's a matter of opinion, what is time squandered and what is constructive. Thoreau advocated guilt-free woolgathering, and I'm with him! Scientists and environmentalists don't tell us everything. The journey is the most exciting part of the discovery.

Seconds ramble on as words in a long novel, or drop away like mournful notes of a sad song. Spend them well.

Janet Burns has been a lifelong resident of Winona County. She can be reached at patandjanburns@earthlink.net 


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