One day, when my boy was quite little and in Kindergarten, we were down by the road waiting for the school bus to arrive. We had a little raised garden there with strawberries and other plants and my son’s inquisitiveness about nature was quite piqued at that time. I had been teaching him the basics about birds and other animals and plants and he suddenly noticed a little yellowish white butterfly dancing about the broccoli plants. I told him that this butterfly, though beautiful, was not a good insect for us. Then I explained about insects and their stages and told him the larvae of this butterfly eat the broccoli and cabbage leaves and those plants then may die. My son then said astutely, “Daddy, we need something to eat those caterpillars and butterflies so that our plants live and we have food to eat.” At that very moment, a House Wren swooped down with his incessant singing (we had nicknamed him, The Singer) and took the butterfly in his beak and paused for a moment as if to show off for my boy, then flew off to feed his young’uns (or himself). That was a wonderful teaching moment and it so enriched my life to see my son taking all this beauty of nature in, indeed, just as I had done throughout my life.
It was my Father who first instilled in me a love for Nature. Sure we hunted and fished and there are plenty who would object to that, but more than pointing a gun and pulling a trigger, he taught me respect for the animal and for the land and water. We learned everything we could about the life history of the animal down to its droppings. One sunny winter day, a Saturday about 10 below, Dad and I were tracking a fox through the snow across the frozen prairie. As we followed the tracks, another set of tracks appeared alongside those we were following. As we continued, Dad showed me how the tracks would merge close to one another and then back off, though still side by side. He explained that this was a pair of fox, a mom and a dad in love with one another, and the merging tracks were the two nudging each other at the shoulder as they trotted along. We tracked them another five miles or so before turning and heading back to the car and the two fox kept up this “loving” behavior throughout what was apparently their nighttime patrol.
As I began my science career in academia, there were two others who became mentors and friends and deeply instilled in me a love and appreciation for Nature on a whole new level. Throughout my time pursuing my Bachelor of Science (Biology) and Masters (Zoology, Botany) degrees, these two, Dr. Keith Killingbeck and Dr. Blanchard Krogstad were the very epitome of educators and during these years I was in heaven as I learned more and more on so many different levels. I was completely sure I was on the right career track, one that would last a lifetime and bring immeasurable joy.
Looking back now, though, is the realization that there came a time in my life, when, despite my lifelong dedication to learning about nature, I truly lost the appreciation and love I once had for her that was instilled in me from Dad, Keith and Blanchard. At this point in my life, the butterflies and birds merely became biology and chemistry and parenchyma, sclerenchyma and collenchyma and I felt as if I didn’t know everything, then I knew nothing and that would be a sign I had become a complete and utter failure as a scientist. So I became a biochem lab rat during my time as a Plant Biochemistry PhD candidate and then to venture outdoors meant only that I might see something I didn’t know or comprehend and this intellectual inability would set me up for anxiety. I developed a nature-phobia.
Long ago and far away
I ran away from You
Thinking I had found a better way
I ran away from You
And my heart emptied out
And my life grew so cold
While the weight of this ol’ world
Tied me down
Once upon a time I had a love so fine
Her sunsets and her mirror lakes
Really pulled me in
But there came a time when I went too far
And I learned too much and I lost the star
It was her crown shining bright
And the sun refused to dance
And the moon held back her face
And that long lost memory
Tied me down
From the song “Tie Me Down” written by Robert B. Kjonaas
All Rights Reserved © 2007
Well some years later, I, now in a new and non-scientific career, along with my wife and our pre-school son had moved to our country home and, indeed, this should have been a paradise for me, except it wasn’t really. Even with a son to teach and expound on the joys of God’s creation, I myself didn’t really feel it like I used to when I was young. I no longer hunted or fished, nor camped or explored or cared a whit about all the attractions of Nature that Wisconsinites bragged about. I’m sure the death of my beloved Brittany Spaniel was tied to all of this, for we had explored and hunted and shared together on a level I didn’t know was even possible, but nonetheless, yes, the “thrill was gone”.
Until many years later on a beautiful spring day, with my son now on his own at the University, I was playing guitar in my room with the window open. Suddenly a House Wren flew up into the sill and perched and sang and sang and sang! After a fashion, he flew off as they are always so busy and I went out to listen some more. As I sat there the sun warmed me and the comfort was something I hadn’t allowed myself to experience in years. In that moment all of the past nine months of tedium and bitter cold, snow and rain and the endless cloudy days that are the hallmark of Madison just melted away.
Later that evening, as I sat down to the guitar again, the song, Tie Me Down, began pouring out:
When the birds return in the spring
My heart is glad
Like a long lost melody returned
My heart is glad
And the warmth of the sun
Ties me down
Suddenly a new yet familiar vista had opened up. The birds and their songs were not an open page on a textbook any longer but a source and well spring of joy. With renewed passion each day, I began whistling along with the birds and listening intently to the frog calls even if I didn’t know a peeper from a tree frog. It made no difference. What mattered was the simple beauty and blessing of hearing them. Now I needed to make my journey back to my first true love complete.
Lord I know yes I believe it’s true
If I get down on my knees
And I pray to You
The sun is going to shine
Until that day my heart will wait
My life on hold yet I anticipate
The sun is going to shine
Yeah the warmth of her rays
And the glow of her eyes
And the Love of her outstretched arms
Will tie me down
So, indeed, I gradually became a Nature boy again, a grown up Christopher Robin. And once again the Lord blessed me with visions and sights that no one else has ever seen and sounds that have yet to be heard and my heart was truly happy again, I’d found my way back home.
Oh I’ve got a lot more baggage and my dwelling abode is a far more cluttered place than in those days of my youth, but it is home. And now there may be text books out at night and mushroom identification guides and Google searches on bird calls but they don’t vex me or beckon me to my former sterile place. Yes there is turmoil, but at the center of my universe is my first, and now I can say, lasting one true love.
Now I’ve gone too far
To ever return
I’m into the Love
And the Fire that burns
Inside my soul
And I will climb up
Every mountain top
Let every field of thorns
And every raging storm reveal
The tempest of my soul
As a final note of interest, we have a local fox which we have only occasionally seen. But in the winter mornings after a snowfall, we see his tracks running up or across my road and around my house. This has gone on for twenty years or more, probably a number of generations. I wonder if he ever tells his little ones about the man in the house and his loved ones…
To listen to an impromptu unplugged version of this song, please visit this link at my YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/6dBdMIN6frU