Finding Paradise

We take things for granted, believe the grass is always greener, and are seldom present in the moment. I was guilty of all three one recent day—bored with my current locale, longing for my paradise, and dreaming of the day when I could be there.

As I heard myself lamenting this sad state of affairs to a friend it triggered a memory from a recent trip. A teenage girl was our guide at a reindeer farm located in a rich, verdant valley surrounded by dazzling, snow-capped mountains against a brilliant bluebird sky—the stuff postcards are made of. My husband and I, swooning from sensory overload, gushed words of awe. Our young guide nonchalantly remarked, “I hadn’t noticed.”

Valley born and raised, the girl had grown up in the midst of striking, natural beauty, but seemed unmoved and untouched. Seeing it every day, the view was neither spectacular nor special. I remembered our shock at her remark, and it was an epiphany. Could the same be true of me? Might I be sitting in the middle of paradise, immune to its beauty and longing to be elsewhere?

My friend encouraged me to reassess my surroundings, looking at it all as though through the eyes of a stranger to the area.

I stashed my worn, jaded glasses and headed out the door on a mission. Engaging all senses I was alert to the sights, sounds, smells and feels of this “new” place. Whether driving or walking I looked beyond the asphalt and the concrete that usually capture my attention. This day I wanted to see those things that typically pass as so much visual white noise.

Far removed from mountains and valleys, I live in a small community just a couple of miles from the largest, urban nature preserve in the country. The preserve is a mix of wetlands forest, prairie and marsh land. There is an abundance of wildlife, especially birds including waterfowl; deer wander there and sometimes stray into surrounding wooded areas. Alligators can be found in the bayou, if one looks close enough, and the usual menageries of smaller animals also exist.

The day’s attentiveness transported me deep within this world. The humid sultriness enveloped me like a body suit as I wandered about. Overhead, a hawk perched on a power line, its chest puffed out military style, sized me up. Two beady and penetrating eyes quickly categorized me as neither food nor foe, and summarily dismissed me.

Beside the meandering bayou, which I pass daily, stood a huge, majestic blue heron on stilted legs, its riveted stare fully focused on its next meal. Giant live oaks graced the area, with long, wiry gray strands of thick Spanish moss hanging down from hidden branches. The moss swayed slightly at the touch of a soft breeze—a gentle wind that brushed my cheek and stirred my hair as well.

It is amazing how just the tiniest shift in perspective can swing the doors of perception wide open. That day I came to realize that I didn’t live in a community near a wetlands marsh preserve; I lived in a community built in a wetlands marsh. Nature doesn’t begin “out there” somewhere beyond; it begins right here with us. We are as much a part of it as the hawk and the heron, if we bother to recognize it.

We live our lives in boxes—confined within the walls of our houses, the interiors of our cars, but mainly within the trappings of our minds. We design little, mental compartments and get lost within their walls, dwelling too much in the past or on the future, or worring about that greener grass across the road. Only when we step “outside,” can we appreciate the moment.

In the end, I did find the unique beauty of my surroundings. True, there are no stunning snow-capped mountains or verdant valleys here in my little marshy community, but I did find paradise—for paradise is appreciating what you have, and where you are at the moment.

Author’s Note: This appeared in the Almanac of Arlington Heights.