by Katharine P. Eastvold
We could tell he was looking at us from across the meadow. As my four children began clambering down the large tree near the Redbud Trail, he moved to the path but stayed on the far side of it, watching and waiting. My kids hit the ground and ran down the trail to the lake at breakneck speed. Only then did the younger boy cross the wood-chipped path and begin to climb the tree we’d just left.
At any other time, it would be highly unusual to see kids politely taking turns climbing a perfectly spacious tree. Even childhood hijinks must yield to public health precautions these days. But as we plunged down to the lake and then up into the cool woods again, the familiar and comforting overwhelmed the new and jarring.
A deer paused to evaluate our intentions and then, satisfied, resumed her munching.
Geese flew overhead.
We reached the stream trickling down to the lake, and my kids jumped over it in turn, the littlest one falling short and splattering mud on herself. They walked back over on rocks, arms out for balance. I snapped a picture and then closed my eyes and listened to the sounds around me, felt the welcome warmth of the returning sun.
Spring is my favorite season at Lincoln Memorial Garden. The sap begins to flow, new birds appear, and finally nature makes good on all its promises as the trees leaf, wildflowers bloom and temperatures rise. Ironically, as if to spite the virus wreaking havoc in our human lives, this year’s spring was perhaps the most beautiful, the most utterly luxuriant I’ve ever seen. Or maybe I was just paying more attention.
Either way, being able to hit the trails in the Garden – even with the Nature Center closed and in-person programs canceled – has soothed my and children’s anxiety like nothing else. Our routines have been upended, our plans canceled, our support systems set at a distance and made subject to the whims of an internet connection. As a society in crisis, we’ve been thrust into fight-or-flight mode, performing triage on our own or our neighbors’ short-term needs, with no time or space or capacity to gather, even to mourn our dead. That nature calmly exists in this beautiful place a few miles from the city — caring little for the microscopic invader that has changed our lives, but simply responding as always to the lengthening days — is a powerful balm to the human soul.
Of course, we miss being able to congregate with other families at the Garden or hike with my kids’ Scout troops. My children will definitely miss Ecology Camp. It’s disappointing not to be able to pop by the Nature Center to buy a gift at the Split Rail Shop or ask a volunteer what kind of birds those are out on the water. But the majesty of the trails, the trees and the great stone council rings endures. Generations from its founding, this place still offers respite and grace to a world greatly altered in the past 80 years and changing with cruel rapidity over the past four months. It only goes to show that when you plant a garden, you never know what good purpose it may serve.