It's that time of year, or perhaps it's just that time, when it seems best to measure life in moments rather than minutes or days or hours. Our measures of time are mundane, ordinary, unremarkable. Moments take your breath away, tattoo themselves on your mind, or connect you deeply to a place, person, or event. As the summer season wanes, we feel this urge to collect, to savor, to enjoy everything more. Maybe it stems from some inborn sense that a colder, bleaker season is coming. Not only must we cache food and firewood, we must cache memories of moments to combat the restlessness and uncertainty of winter.
Summer belongs to the children, and we grown ups (hmm, I don't think I'm grown up yet, but regardless ) tend to forget the wildness that accompanies these sultry days. But we would all do well to rediscover the child inside and seek adventure and freedom. School and work allow us to grow in the ways that structure and routine do, but wildness lets us grow in a completely different, and more holistic manner. To put it another way, goofing around in the summertime makes us well-rounded. So get out there and play, and measure life in moments.
For example, I am fascinated with fungi this summer (well, not just this summer, but this summer it approaches an obsession). Every hike, when a fungus enters my field of vision, there is a little side-trek to look at and feel it. Sometimes I compare it to something else in my world a couch, a marshmallow, slug slime. Other times the fungus defies categorization. A handful I have looked up in field guides, but once given a proper name and read about, it loses something thus most of the fungi I find remain named things like the silver spray-painted mushroom, the Mario mushroom, the peanut butter cup fungus. The name creates a connection to place, and I remember the moment. As I write my own field guide to fungi in my head, I rediscover the world.
Children are shown enjoying nature, solving mysteries and getting a little dirty in the process.
Rediscovery has been a theme this summer. It never gets old, this incredible world we live in. Scads of newts may cross my path during a hike, but they are all truly seen their fire-orange spots and the variation of color, their sizes and that they are always still, as if they heard me coming. A fossil rock. A hickory nut. A not-quite-ripe crabapple. Blueberries so sweet they even taste blue. These are fabulous discoveries made again and again with each trek into the woods.
The goldenrod blooms such an incredible yellow it almost hurts. I love the color, I love the role the plant plays in hosting hundreds of critters, but it tugs on my heart a little for it is the harbinger of autumn, shorter days, and the end of the summer. It is not out en force yet, just merely highlighting the fields and roadsides, like a nagging thought that wants to be heard, but I'm just not ready to listen yet.
This has been a great summer to relearn the art of living in the moment. A planner by habit and necessity, this summer I just rolled a little more with the daily crests and swells life sent. There is something liberating about hiking without a clear destination, picking blackberries, raspberries and blueberries along the way, the only concern being where I put my hand while climbing a rocky slope. Immersing myself in the moments, rather than the minutes, allowed me to re-center myself and notice the world in more clarity.
All the students know this all too well, and grown-ups should we are in the last few weeks of summer. So I propose a toast: Here's to countless moments between now and when you crack open the textbooks. Here's to memories of waterfalls and basking on rocks that will soothe our minds in February. Here's to bonfires and beaches, camping and corn on the cob. Here's to summer, in its wildness, that allows us to truly play and grow.
Act on the urge to live life a little more fully right now. Make some memories. Touch some fungus. As the world changes, in its complicated and mysterious ways, we can carry with us the sights and sounds of summer. D. H. Lawrence, in a poem entitled "Self-Pity," stated well the art of living: "I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A bird will fall frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself." Live in the moment, the moment you're in, for that's all we really know we have. Why waste that moment with worry or stress or self-pity? Get up, get out, and waste not a moment that could be taking your breath away with beauty, awe, or wonder.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon and will never pass up an opportunity to get outside and play. This article was first printed in August 2008.