My Father and the Wonders of Nature
 

Mary McIntosh
 

© 2009 by Mary McIntosh

 

Photo of a wood violet.

As a young child, I first learned a love of nature from my father.

Wherever we lived he always had a garden. Because he believed grass was for parks, each spare piece of earth was covered with flowers. In winter, anticipating the spring to come, he planted bulbs – tulips, snowdrops, and crocuses. When summer arrived, roses, sunflowers, cornflowers and carnations abounded, and when the leaves began to fall, chrysanthemums and asters filled his garden.  He tended them all with loving care, so there would always be flowers for Mother to enjoy.

“You know, don’t you,” he would say to me, “that during the seasons, winds have their own moods? Haven’t you noticed the difference in the strong winds of March and the gentle breezes of April?” I nodded my head afraid if I said anything it would break his train of thought. “And,” he continued, “May brings the first zephyrs of the year which help the June winds to spread the fragrance of a thousand perfumed flowers. The hot winds of July and August make us want to stay in the shade, and the October winds scatter the vivid colors from the trees. The cold November winds shake the tree’s naked arms, making them sway and creak helplessly.”

I believed everything he said, for the winds did perform just as he told me they would.

My father was fun to be with.  Wearing knee high socks, a pair of shorts, hat upon his head, and a stout English oak walking stick in his hand, he and I climbed mountains together.  We didn’t always reach the summit, but that didn’t matter.

When I was twelve, Dad and I attempted Bear Mountain in New York State. With a pack over his back, a cloth hat covering his head, and carrying his oak walking cane, I skipped alongside of him.  We climbed the gentle slope, sometimes talking, sometimes silent.  Often no one else was around. Sometimes It was so quiet all we could hear was the scurrying noise of a squirrel scampering through fallen acorns, or the chirping of a bird I didn’t recognize.  I knew Dad would soon tell me which bird it was. We seldom passed a tree or a wild flower without his explaining something about it to me – how the leaves of the tree ahead of us pointed upward, reaching toward the sun, while the leaves of another, like the weeping willow next to the stream, drooped toward the earth.

“Look at this tiny wild violet nestled underneath a clump of ferns. See how even this delicate flower has found is own shelter from the elements.  Isn’t nature wonderful?” he exclaimed.

My father showed me how the petals on one flower resembled the opening of a fan, or he’d point out the unique markings on a certain leaf.  He’d also explain how I could take the flower of the snapdragon, gently squeeze it, and watch it open and close like the mouth of an animal. And, when he picked a pansy, he noted that the markings on the petals resembled a face.  His interest in, and knowledge of, nature fascinated me.

As a family we often took Sunday afternoon walks. With his cane he’d gently pull down a branch from a tree in the woods, on which there might be an unusual blossom he wanted us to see more closely. And during the winter, when he was in a playful mood, he’d shake snow off a bush onto my shoulders, some of which always slid down my neck. When I squealed, his booming laugh resounded in the stillness of the forest.

As my father grew older, I noticed he pushed the wheelbarrow more slowly down the garden path. It was often filled with a mixture of decaying leaves, and dregs from the family teapot. This he spread over his flowers, for he was convinced this compost helped enrich their growth.  On his white thinning hair he always wore an old floppy straw hat, which kept the sun off his naturally florid face.

Even in his declining years, when it was more difficult for him to walk, he could be seen strolling quietly in his garden where he often bent over to nip off the head of a dead pansy, or he’d cut a few roses to take into the house. Then, once again, he’d crush the leaves of a sage or mint plant and reverently bring them up to his nose to smell.

And, if you happened to be watching him you would know, for that one instant in time, my father was transported back eighty years and many thousand miles to that small farm cottage in England where, at his mother’s knee, he first learned to love the beauties of nature.

And through him I, too, learned to love these beauties. .
 
 

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