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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Miracles, every day

The first morning of the new year, the big dog and I took our usual morning ramble.

In honor of the new year, we took our time — an extra long walk, spending extra time noticing what was around us.

There was new snow, more than a foot of it, and with it new smells and new tracks.

On the side of the road, where the woods come down a steep hill to meet the macadam, there were deep and sliding hoof prints. It looked like two or three deer had tumbled out of their beds to take a morning jog down the road.

Past the beach we saw evidence of the beaver family’s continuing renovation project — fresh teeth marks on far too many trees. We stopped at the water and looked for the eagles’ nest and watched some ducks for a while. The dog stopped and stared at the sky when a dozen geese flew overhead, honking.

I’m not big on new year’s resolutions. If I make any, I generally keep them to myself. But this year I knew early there would be one I would be writing down in the front of the new sketchbook my in-laws got me for Christmas: Watch for the miracles.

And by miracles, I’m thinking of the ones that are around us every day — the way the snow hangs on to a drooping hemlock branch in the woods, the croaking of frogs in the early spring, the swoop of an eagle grabbing a fish from the lake, a yellow sunset after a stormy day.

I’m thinking of Walt Whitman’s “Miracles,” the poem where he talks about walking and watching and taking notice of everything around him: a cityscape or a stranger, the shore or the forests.

“Or watch honey-bees busy around the hives of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles. . .”

It’s easy to overlook these miracles. We are busy, modern humans, living complicated lives that take a lot of energy — physical and fossil-fuel driven — to run. Sometimes we are just too busy to step outside, even for a minute, to take a deep breath and open our eyes.

To me, there are lots of reasons that taking notice is so important. It is reinvigorating and renewing. And it is real.

We can sit slumped in front of computer screens all day, rage at the traffic before and after work from inside our cars, try to keep up with acquaintances via screens and keyboards, and watch nature on TV.

But getting outside and feeling the cold air on your face, or watching a bud turn into a flower or a hummingbird gather nectar, growing a carrot and eating it — these are things that connect us with the world. Things that have the capacity to remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, part of something that deserves our attention and our protection.

And if we are connected to the physical, beautiful and miraculous world around us, maybe we will be reminded, every day, not to destroy it, and to do our best to restore it.

Those who take daily walks, noticing the trees that line the road or the weeds that come up in the cracks of a sidewalk, are unlikely to throw their refuse out a car window. And they are more likely to pick up the garbage that they pass on the side of the road.

Those who notice the birds are more likely to be outraged by an oil spill that kills so many birds, and so many turtles, seals, fish. Those who watch the rain and snow are more likely to think about whether the water that falls from the sky is clean or contaminated, and to take action to ensure there is clean water in our world, for the humans, the beasts and the plants to drink.

I think the only hope for our planet is for us — the same ones working so hard to destroy it with our smokestacks and oil slicks and wasteful habits — to be aware, to reconnect, to love our Earth, and resolve to restore it. To look with wonder at the miracle of every new morning, and to work to make sure there always are new mornings, with clear air and fresh water, for our children and grandchildren, and our fellow creatures at home and far, far away.

“As to me I know nothing else but miracles.”

That’s what Whitman said. This year, I’m trying to remember that.


Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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