Nature in the Neighborhood

By the time Memorial Day arrives most years, many of us would be plotting our summer getaways, if not already leaving on one. We’d be dreaming of adventure and/or beautiful destinations. This year, with apologies to Dr. Seuss: Oh, The Places You Won’t Go! 

This year, adventures may be on hold, but places of great beauty are not.  They are all around us. We just need to look. I have always liked walking and biking through the winding streets of our Falls Church neighborhood. During these walks, I’ve also always enjoyed viewing nature along the way, whether residential landscaping or flora and fauna within nearby county parks. The walks have become much more frequent since mid-March, as they provide the safest way to get away from home during the pandemic. I’ve also become more intentional in my observations, and I’ve learned to better appreciate the landscaping, plantings, and even lawn ornaments I pass.  I hope that’s been true for you, as well. If not, it’s not too late to develop the habit of closely observing your surroundings: to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

It’s spring! Blooms are all around us:  daffodils and azaleas are past, but now iris and peonies are on glorious display. When they’re done, mimosa trees, day lilies, and annuals will be on the way. And so on through the summer. Maybe your own yard or balcony provides these joys, but if not, you’ll find examples nearby. Look not only for cultivated trees, shrubs, or flowers, but also delight in everyday trees with lovely shapes, colorful wildflowers, or patterns.  Maybe you won’t know what everything is – a chance to learn! I need to look up a favorite tree I found.

In addition to the neighborhood walks that offer variety (as well as welcome exercise), I’m also spending more time in our yard. Becoming accustomed to the slower rhythm of the days, I’m savoring opportunities to sit, relax, and watch what’s happening around me. If you have a yard, it is bursting with wildlife: birds, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, and maybe even the occasional fox or deer.

Whether you have a yard or a balcony, put out a birdfeeder or two and enjoy the show. With nearby trees, you don’t even need feeders to see who shows up. This past week I was lucky enough to witness a gorgeous scarlet tanager fly into a tree overhanging our deck—a first ever sighting of this songbird for me! 

An essential tool to my own intentional observation is a camera. “Don’t leave home without it” is my motto. I find that actively looking for images I want to capture helps me look more carefully. I eagerly seek out not only an appealing scene or object but also work at analyzing and composing the image in my mind. Do I want a general view or a closeup? Deciding whether it is a pattern, color, emotional reaction, or something else that moved me to want a picture informs my composition of the photo.

I always carry at least a pocket digital camera, in my case a Canon Powershot SX720 HS; but whenever it’s convenient, I prefer my more sophisticated full-sized one, a Canon Powershot SX60 HS. Both provide great flexibility in allowing me to shoot with the settings totally on automatic, totally on manual, or picking and choosing which settings I adjust to my liking. And both allow focal lengths ranging from wide-angle to zoom without changing lenses. 

While our worlds have shrunk during the coronavirus, there is still an abundance of beauty to be found — be it with the naked eye or camera in hand! Enjoy!

— Beth Boland, May 2020

NOTE: Photos from top to bottom: evergreen tree, garden planter, peony, rose peony, blue iris, red bellied woodpecker, chipmunk, rabbit, cardinal, and scarlet tanager.

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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