Bird tracks cross our Southwest Journey

The best year of our lives we roamed a huge area—the six Southwest states—but we traveled it in pieces, a rather haphazard approach if we are talking about patches of the natural quilt I mentioned in my last Blog. I compared the western landscape to my homemade story quilt with embroidered quilt pieces, reminders of our adventures.

Traveling with a naturalist is definitely a stop-start activity. We stopped to look at everything. If we didn’t recognize a plant or animal, we took out field guides and looked it up. As we roamed the Southwest we named individual species and gained a new vocabulary. That’s not all. We began to recognize a pattern, a plan. Certain species grouped in one area could be found in other areas, given the same type of location and similar growing conditions. The plants formed a community, a plant community. The old saying, “it takes a village” seemed to hold true in the outdoors.

The basic plan for my quilt started with my choice of colors. I chose a brilliantly hued Hawaiian print that recurred throughout the quilt—shades of green, blue, yellow, red, purple, orange. When I laid out the many-colored blocks, the placement was somewhat random. However, the abstract nature fit our wandering style across the mountains and deserts. What holds the design together, however, are repeated colors in a certain rhythm.

Forty-five years later I marvel about how lucky we were to see the abundant life we saw and heard, the abundant life that surrounded us as we camped. We experienced verdant forests and pristine meadows, healthy deserts with wildlife at hand, springs of pure water, creeks and rivers with native fish, skies of pure blue. The original wilderness was gone, of course, but we traveled the area  before the bark beetle, gypsy moth, severe droughts, lost prairies, overgrazing, and overdevelopment devastated so many areas; climate change was not yet a crisis.

Today we grieve the losses; we confess our unsustainable lifestyles; we lament. We want to make changes. The big question is the old question: how then shall we live?

I pondered this question as I stitched all the quilt strips together to make the queen size quilt top. It took shape as a colorful map with highlighted adventures, but it needed something to depict our movements. How about bird tracks? Great idea. It’s always fun to follow bird tracks. I embroidered  a trail of bird tracks that traversed the blocks from top to bottom. So much joy in the work!

How shall we live? We already know the drill: recycle, restore, remake, rebuild, replant, reuse, refurbish, heal the land—all outward actions, commendable, and sorely needed. What about personal changes? Cultural expectations? What would truly change habits, wasteful traditions, inner motivations? What would make this change in lifestyle enduring, sustainable?

We opened the Book of Nature, and that changed our viewpoint, refocused our inner lens. We forged lasting bonds with the natural world. We solved our disconnect by stepping outdoors and getting acquainted. We learned plant names, observed animal behaviors, identified rocks and land forms, explored waterways. We grew comfortable in the outdoors and felt like we belonged. We learned nature’s ways. Our understanding widened beyond particular plant communities to include appreciation for whole ecosystems. We gained empathy for the life around us. We acknowledged our part in it. We discovered the most basic truth: we are here because they are here.

Our journey resulted in another unexpected benefit. Exploring the natural world drew us closer to “something more”, the spiritual depths that come with attentive moments outdoors. Surprised by epiphanies, “holy moments”, and at times surrounded by “otherness,” we re-connected with a higher Being. When we returned to daily life at home, we renewed our Christian faith, and adopted the Gospel Lifestyle.

How then shall we live? We opened the Book of Nature. We adopted the Gospel Lifestyle. We wanted to Cherish the Earth. Link. Sounds like a plan.

For more quilt stories check back next month: Travel Bug blog coming up!

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***To assemble a Nature quilt, identify “patches” (plant communities) where you live: Oak woodland? Tallgrass prairie? Ponderosa parkland? Low desert? Savannah? Deciduous forest? Wetlands? Can’t travel? Start with your own backyard. Gardens count too!

Local/regional plant communities provide your life support systems. Get acquainted! Enjoy!

***To begin the Gospel Lifestyle: “. . . Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others.” (1 Tim 6:18 CEB) 

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