Walking the shoreline of a lake or ocean is an activity done with my head down. With great expansive views of the water, I find myself more interested in the treasures at my feet. Rocks, seashells, driftwood and other shore treasures are calling out to me. Their form and texture shaped by the water waiting to be discovered.
This search and discover mission is addicting. I found that out on the Lake Superior shoreline this fall. On vacation, with all day to walk, sit, read, sleep and wander on the beach in the late fall sunshine, I picked up rocks. There were white, black and pink speckled granite, red and tan sandstone that glittered in the sun, smooth, black rocks with a shock of red, round shale rocks with a line of quartz circling around.
As I collected, it occurred to me that these rocks are a lot like people. Of the millions of rocks on that beach there are no two exactly alike. But many were similar enough that I could segregate them according to their appearance- their color, size and shape. The large flat rocks, the small odd shaped rocks, the ones that almost looked like and egg but didn’t when you examined all sides.
One reason I kept at the search was to find the perfect rock. One would catch my eye and, dodging a wave, I would pick it up only to find out it wasn’t the same on the other side – indented where I wanted it to be smooth, red where I wanted it to be black, a white line of quartz incomplete.
How often do we want people to be what they are not? How often do we want to mold people – our children, partners, friends, parents, coworkers – to feel a certain way, agree with us, to look and act like us? Isn’t it more difficult to accept a person for who they are rather than wishing they were something else? And what about ourselves? How often do we focus on our faults, mistakes and weaknesses rather than our beauty, successes, and strengths?
This seems a bit esoteric for a nature article but the fall is a retrospective time. I don’t know why our culture reserves the dead of winter to make resolutions in our lives. The fall seems more apt. It is the time when trees and other perennial plants pull energy away from their outer edges to store in their roots. Like plants, I find myself drawing energy and resources inward. I take stock and hold close those things that are important against the approaching cold.
One of the things I’ve taken stock of is the purpose of my work. Audubon’s mission is to “connect people to nature and promote environmentally responsible practices through education at its center and sanctuary and throughout the community.” I do believe conservation of our natural resources is important and we can all adopt more sustainable behaviors. However, what inspires me more is the idea that as we strengthen our connection to nature we improve our quality of life. It may be that we have cleaner air and water, leading to better health. More so, I think that we can learn about ourselves, how to interact with others and the world we are a part of by spending time outside.
There are lessons about nature – the endurance of migrant birds, the fragileness of new plant growth, and the power of water. There are also the lessons about us to be learned when we spend time in the natural world. We test our physical and mental limits in the wilderness, on mountains and oceans. We find peace and solace in the outside world when there is chaos and worry elsewhere in our lives. We are inspired by workings of plants and animals and mimic them in our art and inventions.
When we spend time outside we grow. So make time to go out and explore. Go to a rocky stream bank or lake shore. I dare you to find the perfect rock. It’s hard, perhaps impossible. But rather than looking for perfection, accept the beauty of what is. For in finding beauty – or strength, endurance or creativity in nature – we may find those things in ourselves.
Jamestown Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, a quarter-mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren, Pa. For more information call 569-2345 or visit jamestownaudubon.org/. Trails are open from dawn to dusk daily. The center is now on winter hours, open Mondays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1-4:30 p.m.
Katie Finch is a naturalist at Audubon.