"Wait! Pull over! It's a blue bird!"
"You're the one driving...?"
We didn't find any rocks that day. Meandering throughout the panhandle of north Idaho, but we did see a mountain blue bird fluttering about the gravel road leading us out from the National Forest access. When out rockhounding, I often use throw the phrase, "You never know what you'll find, but we always find something!" Which is ironic, as newbies always have the benefit of beginner's luck when it comes to the Find of the Day. That day, snow was still packed in dense, foot-high lumps huddled in the shade of Pondersoa pines and spruce trees, this year.
The sun, unable to warm the earth for the sentinel plants, dappled the highway as my love directed AJ and I to three different rockhounding locales. All were snowed over still, the fresh tracks of snowmobiles carving up the trails beyond our ability to follow. That day, we spent more than five hours humping and bumping the back roads of the Gem State to no avail.
But ho! Above the snow, there were two blue birds! Swooping, diving, and generally making a fool of my camera skills, I remembered who was driving and parked along the soggy side of a farm(ish) road to bother the birds with the incessant shuttering of my Canon Rebel. A few dope pics came from it, but the disappointment of not having found a single sample of the rocks promised by my stack of rock guide books lingered in the undertones of our drive home. A tired sun dipping low in the sky, we ran out of fruit and trail mix, electing to forage for ancient snackage in the crannies of my former-field Jeep while winding down Highway 2, dodging Trump flags waving at us over the shanty towns of the impoverished panhandle. More than once, an adventure has ended with a handful of something that explicitly was not listed in the rock guide, but it was usually still a stone of one sort or another. This time there were no stones. In fact, off the highways, there was hardly any cleared ground to speak of. Reminds me of that time I went backpacking* and we made it half way up Mount Timpanagos just to stand stark at the edge of a still-frozen glacier bleeding a stream of silt-laden water from underneath its blue ice blockade. You never know what sort of treasure you will walk off with. That's most of the fun.
This article is not about that, though. It's about the vibe we get when we don't even have to crane our necks to taste the sweet surprises of our natural world. Truth be told, I was forest bathing just the other day when a thought struck me so hard in my lizard brain that I nearly scuttled up the side of a tree to sun myself.
There is no time in which I would prefer to live than this, right now.
Sure, there's thousands of people dying of a virus, the political system is out-dated and rotten, and we as a species are treading on thin ice. This is all old news, though. Those in the conservation profession lament the loss of pristine habitat. Some variation of, "You can no longer walk for a week in one direction and avoid coming across a road," is a paraphrased grievance I see in every acclaimed conservation book I've read. But when else could I, a female, have enjoyed these natural wonders?
I'm sick of reading words about how well-off white folks miss the old days. If the sensitive men in my life (which is all of them because who has time for anything less than the truest and bluest bits of the people you love?) lived in those "pristine days of old" they would have been trodden on by the hardened, cruel men for their introspection and delight in the gentle caress of beauty around them. I would probably have been stoned by the time I was nine, for my incomplete frontal lobe and the rampant opinions it failed to keep safely within the confides of my head. Non-whites would be starving for education and those inalienable rights readily quoted from some old farts' calligraphic print on yellowing parchment. Lynching would still be the way to handle social discord. And let's not forget that blood-letting was one of those staples that just seemed like a really sound cure... in its time.
The natural world will never be the same, this is unavoidably true; almost as if we are sentient critters mulling through a universe of inexorable natural forces. We are, but that's no reason to get down on ourselves about it. Walking through an urban trail, overlooked by what I can only assume are homes in the range of several million dollars, we spotted a slew of Northern Flickers. Happily hammering away for noms, they slid deftly into their holey homes at the crunching approach of sticks under our boots. A pair of ravens could be heard in discussion with a Great Horned owl high in the foliage. The knocking, mocking sounds of their debate like a wood block being thunked on with a hollow toilet paper tube. Why bother with the lost dream promised by an Indian Peace Treaty? Everyone knew those things weren't worth the paper they were printed on. Progress can only be halted by...actually, I guess it can't be halted. That's just the nature of the thing (pun intended).
Underpinning the dashed hopes of rockhounding are the expectations that just being outside is a treasure to hold tight to the breast. Underneath the sturdy ferns and crabgrass of a metro park is the promise of adaptation by those species who are able to tolerate a certain level of disturbance. Under the nails of every biologist and wholesome educator are the soils of a brighter future, further fertilizing the crap we have to slug through to make something less-than-ideal become a manifestation of the holy, unifying heartbeat of the unknowable shadow cast by our collective conscientiousness.
When we walk, and talk, and breathe in the smog of a semi hauling goods glued together by prison labor in another country, or close our eyes and listen to the airplanes over head, we can just as easily (or maybe not easily, given that it took half a dozen paragraphs to get to my point) listen for the tuning of bird song integrating its notes in with these innovations. Even if they be travesties of innovation -I'm looking at you, urban sprawl!- they are things that are present and as such must be dealt with. To grow together, given the state of things, is evolution. To grow better because of it is adaptation. Adaptation is the undertone of thriving in the modern age. Just as the true mountain blue bird you didn't expect to capture mid-dive on the way out of a still snowy forest, the undercurrent of restoration exhales life into every encounter we make meaningful with our shared goodness in the world.
With love & nothing else,
*Ok, the only time I have truly gone backpacking.