The sensory stimuli of traveling in Africa and Europe intoxicated me with the intense aliveness that comes with experiencing new places and meeting different people. When my six-year-old son and I arrived home, I felt let down that the big trip had ended.
Now was the time to roll up my sleeves to catch up on work and reestablish routines. My son, who had complained about feeling homesick while we traveled, was delighted to go to his favorite swimming holes, lakes, trail rides and waterfalls. He knew the ropes he wanted to swing and the rocks he wanted to climb.
I challenged myself to approach the familiar with the mindset of foreign travel. I vowed to pay attention while in the outdoors to what was right around me. When my brain began a mental scroll of my to-do list, I reminded myself to look up or to look down, to notice a cloud or a puddle with the same attention I notice my son’s face. I can close my eyes and see the galaxy of freckles that orbit his nose. Or study his eyes to know his mood, sometimes grey and moody, sometimes blueberry and exuberant. The more I look at my son, the more I notice, and the deeper in love I fall. The same happened outside.
My son and I went to the local rope swing. At first, the water looked muddled and mysterious in the shadows of the pines. We took turns swinging out over the cold mountain water, pulling our legs up and then dramatically flinging the rope away once we were right above the creek. The sun made her appearance, transforming the water into jewels, beautiful liquid amber, and greenstone.
On days when the trails dried enough to venture out on our mountain bikes, my son and I started a game of spying mushrooms. We made up stories about gnomes and woodland fairies living in the biggest ones. After jotting down their shapes, sizes, and coloring in a journal, we’d tried to identify the species once we were home. We found Chicken of the woods, Lion’s mane, Chanterelles and oyster mushrooms.
The moon became our calendar. My son chased fireflies at night waiting to spot the moon, and I’d sit still. Steading my eyes on a patch of black forest, I became memorized by the blink of light in the darkness. No matter how many times I saw those iridescent flicks, I felt joy. It brought back all my childhood years of chasing them like my son was doing now, and I thought how much my six-year-old self would enjoy the company of my son.
Experiencing the outdoors with curiosity reminded me that what’s right around me is amazing. I don’t have to get on a plane to experience the exotic–I just have to open my front door and pay attention.