On the trip home from dismantling my mother’s house in Idaho last week, I stopped for a walk along the shores of Willard Bay. I was seeking comfort, and it was there in the golden grass and gnarled sage brush, the distinctive scent of juniper and the architectural elegance of cottonwood. I heard the sound of birds on the wing—that beautiful rustle of feather as they fly up. When I got to the shoreline, I listened for the lap lap of water meeting earth. The sun made the bay’s surface shimmer, blue reflected on grey-blue.
I noticed the wonderful interactions on the trail: a grouse scooting out of the way, mourning doves cooing and bobbling along not far from me, a squirrel whipping up a tree with a nut. I bent to study a touch of red. I thought it was the last of October leaves caught in brush. It turned out to be a plant in its fall transition—half turned red, half still green. It looked like Oregon grape but with a maple leaf.
I’d been walking in grass an hour earlier—the flat, regular grass of a park. It didn’t do one thing for me. I suppose I know why we started cultivating, clearing, cutting back, but why did we go so far? If I’d wanted to measure just how far we’ve gone, I could have driven across the causeway to Antelope Island, not ten miles away as the seagull flies, and seen Utah as it was a hundred years ago. There bison still roam, bighorn sheep watch you from the mountain crags, redtail hawks cry overhead, pronghorn antelope browse out in the meadows.
The natural world—its variety, its spontaneity, its surprise. We’ve mowed the restorative powers out of an awfully lot of it. We have to go out of our way now to see a grebe drink from the lake—that quick action, no throwing the head back like other birds.
I was lucky enough to see one at Willard Bay and to let it remind me, despite my sorrows, how good life can be.