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Living with nature

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I feel like such a geek sometimes – a complete nerd – when it comes to nature. I spend my time on my property kneeling down to get eye to eye with tortoises and slugs and caterpillars.

When I am wandering around, binoculars in hand, scanning the tree tops in search of some elusive bird that I hear but can’t quite see, it often makes me chuckle, thinking of what the teenage me would have thought about what a nerd the adult me has turned out to be.

I am a birdwatcher, for Heaven’s sake. I have become the strange neighbor that used to live down the road telling neighbors to keep their cat out of her yard to give the wildlife a fighting chance. I am the crazy lady who stands in the middle of a heavily trafficked road playing crossing guard to a mother duck and her young. I am the one that lets a large section of my lawn grow full of weeds and calls it a native landscape and the one that calls code enforcement when someone cuts down their 100 year old, protected trees. I am everything that the teenage me would have ridiculed and shunned.

I think of all the time I spent as a super cool teenager whining about how bored I was. About how I had nothing to do. My parents would say, “Well, why don’t you just go outside.” But I was way too cool to want to go out and look at the beautiful full moon my mother wanted to show me. I was too cool to want to just pull up a lawn chair and stare at the ocean with my dad. And now, I would love to be able to do nothing but spend time in nature with either one of them. It’s where I find my solace and my peace.

But all of that beautiful nature that was around when I was a child is getting harder and harder to find. The woods are few and far between. The beach is dirty and crowded. The full moon is blocked by rows and rows of multi-story buildings.

I’ve got my own little piece of Paradise. A two acre piece of land that my husband and I bought as much to protect the trees from someone else’s bulldozing as to build our own little retreat. There’s a part of me that would like to just stay at home on our property, wandering around communing with the critters like a modern-day Elly Mae Clampett. I’ve got squirrels and rabbits and birds and all sorts of other wild creatures that share this space with me. I’d never be at a loss for something new to see.

But there is something inside me that won’t let me stay outside. It’s an urgency. A feeling of dread. A sense that I have to hurry up and convince other people to stop and look at all of this nature before it’s too late.

I’m not the type of person to chain myself to a tree or storm city hall or throw paint on the furs of the fashionably chic. I’m a little too meek for that. My words are my ammunition in this fight for nature, and so I use my opposable thumbs sitting at a computer, firing off missives and essays and petitions. I create websites about the virtues of the land and how to protect it. I set up habitat help-lines to answer people’s questions.

And it’s hard work. Not the actual writing and web-page coding and research and correspondence. What’s hard is staying inside.

I have a corner office with windows on two sides. There are hummingbirds and butterflies out front and warblers and hawks and rabbits and snakes out the side and I sit here with my chin resting on the window sill thinking “I just want to go outside”.

© Betsy S. Franz. Essay previously published in Florida Wildlife Magazine as a photo essay.

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