Grandmother Nature

Grandmother Nature

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

Grandmother Nature

You don’t need to be a super grandma for your grandkids to cherish you. One treasured memory can last a lifetime.

Janet Lanese

When I was a small child, I was one of nine first cousins who spent summer vacations together at my grandparents’ cottage on Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. My older cousins would be sailing and water-skiing, and the younger boys would play trucks in the sand near the water.

That’s when my grandmother would find me sitting alone on the screened-in porch feeling left out and out of place. She would take my little hand and talk me into a nature walk. It was a pretty easy sell.

Nature walks with my grandmother were always an adventure. We would visit patches of bubble-gum pink mini-mushrooms floating atop mounds of lime-green moss edged by matchstick moss that looked like toy soldiers with reed hats.

One time we found a fairy ring—a natural circle of mushrooms about four feet across. Other times we would find lady slippers or black-eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s lace, Dutchman’s-breeches or wild blueberries.

Deeper into the woods there were rotting tree stumps, home to spiders, salamanders and Indian peace pipes. Everywhere we went we found interesting bugs, stones and plants.

In the spring, I would visit her in Ohio, and we would head out for the woods to find wildflowers—trout lilies, trillium, rattlesnake plant. We would trudge through forest floor softened by spring rains. Onward through the fiddlebacks, past the skunk cabbage and over the partridge berry until we found her mark. I would hold the newspaper open as she shoveled in twenty or more jack-in-the-pulpits. They were destined for small paper cups to be delivered to an inner-city Head Start program.

No matter what time of year it was, we always found adventure, and we always found some wonderful prize to bring home—a used hornets’ nets, monarch larvae to raise, large pinecones or different-shaped acorns. Each new discovery was a reminder to me that God was with me in this wonder-filled world, and I was not alone on this planet.

Twenty years later I found myself as a single mother with two young girls. Remembering the peaceful joy of my walks with my grandmother, I would take their little hands and start off for the woods. It was on those walks with my own children that I finally understood the joy of sharing the secrets of nature with small children. The honor of introducing a child to her first tree toad or garden snake, or watching her face as a monarch butterfly pumped its wings for the first time on the end of one of my children’s fingers. It helped put things in perspective.

I found solitude in those long, quiet walks where the simple pleasures of finding a praying mantis or listening to the rustling of the trees would stir my heart and renew my peace. And again, as in the days of my own childhood, it was as if I knew that at the end of my long walk there would be at least one small miracle of God to remind me that I was not alone on this planet.

As I write this, it has been forty years since those walks with my grandmother. My daughters have graduated college and live in their own homes. It was on a recent visit to see my grandmother, who is now ninety-eight, that I was reminded of those rich and wonderful walks in the woods.

As I sat across from her, holding her frail hand, I was eager to talk about our walks. I wanted to tell her at long last what children often forget to say. I wanted to say “thank you” for giving me a wonderful tradition and a legacy that I will pass down to my own grandchildren. I wanted to say thank you for noticing me sitting on the screened-in porch all alone when I was so small. And I wanted to share the delight of discovering God’s world together one more time.

Sorrow and frustration grew in my heart as I realized that she could not really understand me. Her blue eyes had become cloudy with blindness, and her hearing was all but gone. I knew she was feeling all alone, trapped in a body that had given up way before her spirit was ready. As alone as I had felt as a child at the summer cottage.

How could I tell her what it had meant to me when she reached out when I was all alone? How could I reach her in her time of loneliness? How could I bring back the joy of our adventures and discoveries? I was overwhelmed by the obvious odds. I could not make her see or hear or walk. I was powerless.

When she took her afternoon nap, I slipped out for a walk. It was a clear, crisp October day, and I started to pray. First I asked God to forgive me for never letting her know the gift she was to me. Then I begged that he would show me how to reach her. As I was walking I had absentmindedly started picking up acorns and autumn leaves. I looked down and there in my hands I saw God’s answer.

I spent the next hour gathering together a basket full of nature’s treasures as full of texture as I could. There were nubbly wart-covered gourds and spiny pinecones, smooth acorns and crunchy fall leaves. I even found a farmer’s stand that sold me a very bumpy small pumpkin with folds so deep it looked like an orange accordion. It was topped with a coarse stem all twisted and turned like driftwood.

I returned to the house. When my grandmother got up for dinner, I put the basket in her lap. She reached in and took out each treasure one at a time. She identified each one correctly, describing from memory the color—maple leaves of scarlet, green and yellow gourds, tan acorns, an orange pumpkin, silvery milkweed pods, brown oak leaves. She held each one up to catch the pungent smells and laughed until her eyes filled with tears.

After forty years, I was showing my grandma the wonders of nature a whole new way. By concentrating on what she could do instead of focusing on what she couldn’t do, she went on a nature walk using her fingers and nose.

It must be true what they say, that when you lose one sense the remaining ones become stronger. Because touching and smelling those goodies in the basket was so powerful that it brought back Grandma’s memory of all the other senses. For a moment she was my strong and sturdy “partner in crime” discovering the mysteries of the deep woods.

God had given us a nature walk in a basket. And as always, the peace of God filled my heart as I was experiencing another little miracle to let me know that I was not alone on this planet after all.

Sally Franz

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