Recently my soul was aching from the events in Paris and the sad state of our world, and guided by Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” I turned to nature for some solace. I set off in the morning cold, half-heartedly plodding along my chosen route, hands bunched in my pockets. Autumn’s flash of brilliance has faded and there’s a dull patina of ash brown across the land. Even with a blue sky above, everything looked and felt muted.

My mind wandered as I walked and initially the scenery unfolded around me unseen. I was lost in thought, weighted with sadness, ignoring my surroundings. Suddenly, red flashed and a cardinal darted to the tip-top branches of a leaf-stripped tree. He postured a bit and then flitted away, a splash of brilliance in the morning sky. His quick visit jarred me from my reverie, shifted my focus, redirecting it outward, back to the world that surrounded me. I began to pay attention.

I continued walking, now taking note of frost-rimed leaves, the rustle of skittering squirrels and chipmunks and the colorful skirts of windfall apples spread at the base of trees. Farther down the road, laden branches bent and their bounty of plump crimson berries dangled before a white building glowing in the early morning sunlight. I stopped briefly by a pond to admire the sheer perfection of autumnal reflections in the still waters. Serene. Tranquil.

Farther along, adjacent to the road, lay burst milkweed pods with tumbling gossamer strands. A few valiant seeds still rested, poised for flight, their silky filaments awaiting a timely breeze to waft them toward fresh soil. And in a nearby field, frost winked in the sunlight, setting the field dancing with vivid, sparkling flashes.

Approaching home, yet another flicker of movement caught my eye. I stopped. A solitary bird had flown to a simple birdhouse, silhouetted against autumnal leaves. She pushed her way in and moments later, poked her head out of the house, clasping debris in her beak, and tossing it away so that it scattered to the ground. She did this over and over again.

Such an industrious little bird, cleaning house on a brisk fall day. I was transfixed. Somehow that purposeful little bird, diligently putting its world into order, soothed me. Who knew such delight could be found watching a nuthatch busily cleaning out a birdhouse? I stood and watched and watched. When I finally pulled away, the birdhouse must have been almost empty and my steps toward home were just a bit lighter.

Nature does offer sweet rewards when I pay attention. There is always beauty to see in our world and heading out into the woods or down a country road can serve as a balm when one is steeped in despair. Though my soul still weeps for this torn and tattered world, to paraphrase Berry, “for a short time that morning I rested in the grace of the world, and was free.”

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