NEIGHBORHOOD NATURALIST

WORDS & IMAGES: ALISON ZNAMIERWOSKI

Kate recently introduced me to the phrase “grow where you are planted.” I think an important part of growing where you are planted is becoming acquainted with different forms of life with which we share our corners of the universe; becoming naturalists of our own backyards. Our landscapes are constantly in flux, dynamic and alive, and endlessly explorable.

 

I scraped away at the hardened sugar with a pewter spoon. Each scrape sounded like a heavy step breaking into a layer of frozen snow. I swirled the sugar into my coffee and cradled my mug with two hands, feeling the warmth seep into my red mittens.

 

Outside our window, the snow surged into a blustering whip.

 

“Should we even go out?” Julie hesitated.

 

With one look into the persuasive eyes of Riley and Stella, her black labs, she knew the answer.

“All right girls, let’s go!”

 

As we opened the door, the frigid air billowed into the mud room, and we stepped outside, marshmallowed into puffy jackets and snowpants. The layer of clouds was filtering the sunlight into bright but soft white light.

 

Walking toward the forest, I found myself perseverating over all of the tabs that were open on my computer, how much work I had to do. I stopped myself at the edge of the forest, willed my shoulders down, and took a deep breath, letting the cold air spill down my throat to settle and warm in my lungs. I accidentally inhaled a couple of snowflakes and laughed, imagining my stomach as a snowglobe. I began to gently succumb to the silence of the forest.

 

As I trudged through the woods, I realized that I had learned what a tree was a long time ago, but had stopped really looking at them.

 

In this monochromatic terrain, the trees distinguished themselves as striking vertical landscapes vibrating with life, and I began to reconsider what I have always thought a tree to be.

 

Upon approaching one of the trees, my eyes became fixed on and mesmerized by the stunning intricacies of mushroom gills, leafy lichens expanding into mandalic forms, tiny spheres of spiked moss spores. I took off my mittens to run my fingertips through the weather-worn grooves of the bark.

 

The bark of the oak tree was rough, like a piece of seaglass before the ocean has tumbled it smooth. The silver skin of the birch tree was peeling and curling like the paint of a neglected building, and the yonic puckers of the maple trees stood with the sturdiness, intricacy, and grandeur of a gothic cathedral.

 

I craned my head skyward, catching snowflakes on my freckles and eyelids. I let my bare hands bloom towards the sky and basked in the renewal of curiosity and wonder.

 

Turning to face my footsteps in the snow, I noticed how different they looked from my earlier tracks. They wound about the trees and drifted to and fro—the tracks of someone examining the tiny worlds all around her.


Dusk dimmed the forest into muddled watercolors, and I began to walk home, smiling like someone who had just discovered a collection of hidden worlds; like someone growing where she was planted.