A warm winter day almost always sounds like a nicer idea than the reality. In reality, a warm day after snow just means slush on the sidewalks that nobody wanted to shovel anymore, or on the bike path that ordinarily provided a pleasant way to get to Target from my house. Unlike the urban roads, the bike path was lined with birch trees, and on one memorable occasion I startled a hawk perched on a bench. Still, I didn’t love stomping through half-melted snow and stepping into concealed puddles to buy baking supplies.
Dripping sounds caught my attention, and I eagerly looked around for the source of water. Snow doesn’t melt off of trees with sufficient force or in sufficient quantity to make that much noise. I followed my ear and my curiosity to the left side of the path, where I found a building, but no visible dripping. Heavy puddles showed water droplets were falling, but I honestly couldn’t see where from. I stared up and squinted, and eventually saw that the flat roof had some sort of drainage, and that the water wasn’t falling from the top of the roof, but from tiny holes in the bottom. Droplets gathered and merged into puddles on the gravel below.
I returned to the path and continued on towards Target, but I kept thinking about the falling water that I’d found.. Most people I know would have been disappointed that the cause was man made, and not natural. Nobody seems to want to find the natural beauty in our urban environment, as if they are somehow separate, and not two worlds intermingled. Outside my door, I find plants blooming out of concrete, streets punctuated by parks, and roads following rivers, because they are part of the same setting.
If you choose to look, water, wind, and plants are everywhere around us. Not just in wilderness that we visit on what amounts to pilgrimage, but in our very own yards and cities. London Planetrees thrive in the the questionable air quality of our cities, but are splendid to look at. Their gray bark peels away to reveal warm brown splotches that fade with time, giving them a striking tricolored appearance. Their seeds are distributed in white puffs like giant dandelions, and drift along the ground under their parent trees like fluffy snow drifts. Isn’t that worth noting? They may not be native to the original ecosystem in the area, but they aren’t worthless.
Animals live in cities, too. Not just much maligned creatures like possums and pigeons, but animals that appear in picture books. Are rabbits less adorable, less sweet, less worthy of our affection, when surrounded by concrete? How about robins? I watch the juvenile robins learning to fly every spring from my Boston window. At first, they can’t get very far and so you see them desperately fluttering from one perch to another, never fully entering the sky that is their (eventual) birthright. It’s every bit as ridiculous and adorable as you think, and no less wonderful for happening in a city.
I want to make a study of the world that I actually live in, I want to throw myself in whole-hearted love with my environment. Does it need healing? Certainly. But why can’t I love, commune with, and adore it at the same time? Why do I have to connect only to the pain of the city, to it’s bleakness and despairing gray asphalt, when there is so much beauty there, as well? Here’s my answer: I don’t. I can love the trees outside my window for who and what they are, without blaming them for what they are not.