Autumn is a rare occasion when the loveliness and grace of death is appreciated. The leaves fade from vibrant green to rich ocher as the chemical chlorophyll inside the multiple cells breaks down and stops the food-making process. The tree sheds leaves as days get shorter and the temperature plummets, withdrawing into itself to brace for the oncoming ruthlessness of winter. Even as summer fades and the petunias we planted last spring begin their final stages, these woods and this path have never seemed more alive. The fall breeze caresses my face, a gentle nudge with only a hint of the ice to come. I fill my lungs with the earthen scent of cool, compacted dirt; sweet maple trees and damp, decomposing leaves scattered all around my boots. This path I’ve huffed along on my bike a million times is scampering with life as I casually walk down it now. The animals are preparing their lives for the difficult months ahead; they don’t need a clock or a schedule to tell them what the air and trees already have. They are connected to this wood in constant interaction. The veins in the leaves resemble the ones on my arms and I can’t imagine a picture or words ever capturing this.
Flipping through pictures of walking paths and woods on an IPod, a tablet, a laptop does not capture the enormity of a thirty foot tree as you stand at the base looking up, or the pleasant surprise as a tiny chipmunk darts across the path right before your feet. You don’t get the intense and emotional duality of feeling your own insignificance, and importance, in a place like this; a place devoid of wires and buttons as hard as that might be for my generation to imagine. The enormity of life going about its business regardless of my existence opens me up to the possibility that, regardless of what I’ve been lead to believe from my American background, the world does not revolve around me. I can take all the snapchats I want and still this caterpillar will continue its slow and steady crawl across the wooden board beside my thigh not ever knowing of my existence and I can post as many statuses and pictures of cats and still this tree, that has been growing since before I was born, will continue to do so long after I am buried next to his brethren. I am insignificant, but what I do does matter whether for good or for ill in the environment.
Once, I was at dinner with my best friend. I set aside my phone, turning it on silent. She spent the entire time tweeting, snapchatting, Facebooking, instagraming, vining, and texting people miles away. I had to remind her several times that she was having dinner with me, not the internet. New parents are paying less and less attention to their kids, focusing more on their phones than playing and interacting with the life they created. Partners are less responsive to each other’s emotions and have less meaningful interactions due to increase in attention directed to electronic devices. A million stories telling a million different negative effects this addiction has on the relationships in our lives. I have four hundred and fifty-one friends on Facebook and only see one on a regular basis. This ability to reach those far away from us or getting in touch with anyone at any time has isolated us as humans, classified as one of the most social species along with the dolphins, orcas, and wolves. The only “real world” experience most people receive is from a screen.
It is easy to understand why not only environmental issues, but relationships with anything are difficult for a majority of Americans to care about. When most are staring at a screen, cloaked in headphones and seclusion the world can seem a foreign place, no more real than the T.V shows and movies seen on Netflix. On this path that I could ride in the dark, there are no filters between me and a cardinal sitting on a branch not 2 feet from my bench, no layers between me and the rough bark under my fingertips, no wires needed to connect to this place and these images. Face to face, a healthy dose of pure unadulterated interaction.