My little son and I go on walks most afternoons, out the back door and around the perimeter of the big field behind our house. We chose our house largely because of this open green space. We don’t even have a back fence–just walk out the back door and it feels like we live on an acre of land.
I bundle him into his puffy, blue snowsuit and beanie–the one that covers his ears–or sometimes just wrap him up in a big blanket. He sits on my hip as I walk, his hand on my chest, ears perked for what the field is saying today. We are quiet together and just listen to the voices. The leaves crunch. A dog barks as we pass his fence and another dog answers back from around the block. What are they telling each other?
We check on the pond–is it frozen today? We say hello to the sleeping fire pit surrounded by stumps, resting from campfires and dinner roasts for now. We go up the little hill and back down again, kicking a hedge apple or two along the way. We stop to look up into the oak branches and follow the bouncing birds and scampering squirrels with our eyes.
When the leaves all finally fell at the end of November, we could spot 10, 11, 12 birds all at once, singing into the sunshine and visiting each of their favorite branches for a moment before moving on. Without the leaves, you can plainly count the bundles of twigs and fluff the birds have made into nests. It’s a bit like that time in the evening, before neighbors have drawn their curtains for the night, and you can see the lamps on and the family eating dinner through the window.
The curtains of our backyard wilderness remain open during Kansas winters. They are open, welcoming us to softly sit and stare. To notice how the maple trees are bold enough to reach their arms out wide and take up space. To notice how the evergreen sits politely with her hands clasped, dozens of pine-cone earrings adorning her branches. To notice how bare branches look like arteries hanging upside down or seem to be poking the white cottony sky with their fingers. To notice how squirrels know their purpose, running here and there, burying acorns and then digging them up again to nibble. To notice the soft sway of the mother tree as she smiles hello, welcoming my gaze and reminding me that she too is alive.
I come back to myself as my boy shifts on my hip, and we turn back toward home. The windows of our home glow golden, beckoning us back for a bowl of stew together at the dinner table.
We head toward the glow, our minds clear and still from another afternoon of walking and noticing together. Until tomorrow, wide wilderness.