Saturday, September 5, 2009

Back to Nature

I've been spending the last couple of days lounging, eating, shopping, taking in the lovely Bay Area weather and reading, which is exactly how I was hoping to spend my long weekend away. I'm grateful not only for the beautiful setting and the time with family, but also for the time to properly read Eric Weiner's book The Geography of Bliss, which is both thoughtful and hilarious in equal measures.

I have to admit that the the unrestrained buoyancy of the image on the front cover made me a bit wary. Happiness, although pleasurable to experience, is not the most interesting thing to read about for the length of a book. However, I should not have worried. The discussion of happiness is dotted with mirth, self-deprecation, and much more wise introspection and contemplation than I would have imagined. One of the quotes of praise on the book jacket reads "Laugh. Think. Repeat", and I would agree that that is the pattern I have so far adopted.

I particularly enjoyed Weiner's account of his visit to Switzerland. He hypothesized that the main source of happiness for the citizens of this very wealthy, beautiful, orderly, restrained and functional country is their extraordinarily deep connection to nature. Having just spent a few days hiking in the Alps this summer, I can attest that this connection does exist on a much broader basis than I've seen elsewhere. I was consistently passed on hiking trails by Swiss citizens both much younger and much older than I. And from what I understand from a friend who lives there, true blue city dwellers make it out of town to climb the mountains just as much as the granola set (if that exists in Swizerland) does.

The author mused, worriedly, about the fact that he was more comfortable with the idea of walking down an alley at night than with walking outside a remote cabin at night. How could he be truly happy and be so disconnected from nature?

I can relate. Walking through the tiny Alpine town of Murren at 10:30 pm (after everyone had gone to bed and the lights were out) made me considerably more nervous than walking around questionable New York City neighborhoods much later at night does. Why I don't know. The scariest thing in Murren is a herd of cows. The scariest thing in New York? Well, you've seen Law & Order. It's much worse than cows. Have I, the girl who spent her childhood camping all over the western United States with nature loving bird watching parents, become scared of nature?

In response to this somewhat disturbing idea, I'm spending some time outside. In my parents' backyard.

I know, I know. But baby steps.

Sitting under the apple trees...

which for years were overshadowed by a larger apple tree, which my sister and I spent countless hours climbing when we were young. But now that it has gone to a better place, the younger ones have blossomed...

to the point that they are now bending under the weight of their own fruited boughs.

Hanging out by the begonias, which my mother swears save the garden at this time of year when everything else has bloomed and faded.

Walking through the rose garden, admiring the once colorful but now muted blossoms.

This one reminds me of a very sweet woman who is beginning to droop a bit around the edges but still lives her life richly.

And this sultry yet vaguely macabre flower brings to mind a woman who was once extraordinarily beautiful but has succumbed to the decay of a bitter old age.

And perhaps counter to my mission, I'm also wandering around admiring my dad's anti-squirrel devices.

After many different designs, he settled on this plastic awning to keep the beasts from stealing the nuts and seeds meant for the small birds that frequent the garden.

Prior to this installation, squirrels would catapult themselves from trees, grasp on to the cage with all four feet for dear life, and start swinging it in an effort to dislodge the seeds from the central column. I must admit that it was quite a feat to watch.

The persimmon tree also has its share of intruders...the squirrels love the sweet orange fruit just as much as my family does.

So, taking a pointer from the tin man, my dad fashioned a squirrel thwarter.

My dad holds patents on several items from his working years and although I always found the concept cool, I could never understand what devices he had invented. Now that he is retired and his efforts are being redirected to the house and garden, his inventive nature is on full display. And these things I understand.

They allow Nature and my dad to live in (almost) perfect harmony. He's fine with the critters as long as they don't steal his fruit or bother the birds. We should all be so tolerant.


Jane said...

A squirrel thwarter. I love that. We need that here for the possums. Beautiful garden and v interesting theory about nature. Must get that book!

A World in a PAN said...

The Alps are magic, whether is Italy, France, or Switzerland! And they are magic in all seasons!

Laura [What I Like] said...

Jane - I really can't recommend it enough. Although it is quite funny, it makes me think quite a lot. Much more than I do when I read other books. As for possums, my dad did go through a phase where he was setting out a trap for raccoons and possums (they were tearing up our hammock) and then re-releasing them miles away. It was too much trouble, especially given that news just kept coming back.

A World in a Pan - I couldn't agree more! I have only been there the one time but I was absolutely blown away. And the train system is so wonderful that there really is no excuse whatsoever not to get up there when visiting the country.

My Farmhouse Kitchen said...

Laura...your squirrel story reminded me of the days and days I cried when we left Cambria for San Luis Obispo. But it wasn't Cambria I was crying for, it was leaving my squirrels. I would make the treck over the hill to Paso Robles once a week to stock up on Squirrel Food. My last night at the house, I wrote a note to the new owner explaining my relationship with the squirrels, how we had become buddies, and left a big bag of the squirrel food asking her to take care of him. My hopes were not that high, and I was right, she took down all the feeders,my picket fence,all my roses and herbs and pumpkins and covered the whole thing in concrete and a fire pit. I knew I didn't like her the moment I met her. Ya know? I sure miss that squirrel.

Laura [What I Like] said...

My Farmhouse Kitchen - How tragic! Now that is a woman with no connection to nature whatsoever. She must be very unhappy.

My Farmhouse Kitchen said...

Laura, I was so excited to tell you that I just came back from Barnes and Noble and got "The Geography Of Bliss".

What REALLY cinched it (besides you loving it and it seems we like the same things)was that it reads a la David Sedaris. My favorite.

Starting it tomorrow. It's sitting by my bed waiting for Fall.

More later,

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