Noticing nature’s beauty

  • Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo

  • A section of trail near where the bear was foraging. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/1/2020 9:16:12 AM

Yesterday, I spent the entire morning and afternoon outside in nature — it was beautiful medicine. My wife, Brianna, and I took Juneau, my family’s playful and spunky border collie, to a nearby state park. He’s about 2 ½ years old and the absolute sweetest — a friend to everyone, young and old, stranger and family.

After leaving our car at a small parking lot, we found a trailhead across the street that we’d never hiked before. With nowhere else to be, we followed Juneau wherever he led until the trail ran out — without a care for our destination nor about whether or not we’d become lost.

The path led through a young growth section of forest, along a bubbling river that was watched over by a juvenile red-tailed hawk, to an older section of the woods. Branchless black trunks stretched up to a bright sky. Below, ferns caught the evening sunlight.

It was a magical escape from reality.

If I’ve experienced one positive development from this pandemic, it’s that I’ve begun more intentionally immersing myself into nature on a regular basis and, more than that, noticing the beauty around me. Last week, for example, I witnessed a pileated woodpecker foraging for dinner on a rotting log. I was struck by how gracefully the bird, with its recognizable red head, soared through the woods, weaving in between the trees without effort after noticing my attention. 

The following day, while jogging on the same trail with Juneau, I noticed the woodpecker again on the same log still hammering for food. And, not 20 feet down the path and about 50 feet into the woods, I saw a black bear trundling through the underbrush. I was surprised that such a large creature could move so silently. (Comparatively, have you ever noticed that one chipmunk sounds like at least a dozen squirrels?)

It’s not just the extraordinary wildlife sightings that seem to be standing out more than usual. These days, I stop to watch squirrels scamper up trees and marvel at their sure-footedness; I wish that I could fly like the swallows overhead; I revel in the song of frogs and watch fish dart through the shallows.

By slowing down, I’m discovering that, in nature, the mundane becomes profound if you take enough time to investigate what’s really going on. Peel back the bark on a fallen log, for example, and you’ll find intricate and beautiful carvings inadvertently made by beetles — perhaps the same kind that’s a favorite meal of the pileated woodpecker. If you’re quiet, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see a juvenile red-tailed hawk hunting for dinner. And, if you’re observant enough, you can find the bare wood of a trunk where a deer has shed its velvet. 

Andy Castillo is the features editor at the Greenfield Recorder. He can be reached at

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