the familiar wilderness

Nestled among the well-mown grass and chickweed, it could have been easily overlooked – a forgotten baseball, a crumpled memo carried off by the wind. I looked again. And squatted to get closer. I often do.

A stout, creamy pillar shouldered aside the grass blades, capped by a large, toasted-marshmallow dome. Shreds of the outermost tissue had browned and lifted, revealing shaggy white cracks lacing the cap. It was neat and tidy and self-contained in the way mushrooms are only briefly.

“Excuse me?” a lady called from the sidewalk.

“Excuse me!” Her voice had an edge this time, that urgency shared by all the busybodies in the world. Was walking on the grass forbidden? Was she alarmed by my scrutiny of the dirt? Was I unintentionally mooning all the passers-by? I stood and casually adjusted my slacks.

“You do know about ticks, don’t you? We have a lot of them here,” she said, wringing her hands.

Here, at my feet, was a surprise, a gift for the curious. Here, four feet from the sidewalk, I found something that didn’t belong. How did it grow here? What could I learn about it? And why hadn’t anyone else stopped to admire it?

Nature often inserts something unexpected into the human landscape, maybe to test whether we’re still paying attention. Something like a lawn mushroom whose perfection might only last for hours. A little wilderness where we only look for the tamed. I’m discovering that the wilderness isn’t confined to national parks. It hasn’t been exiled from the neighborhood. The beetles and birds and bushes and fungi have been carrying on, right under my nose, all along.

So I’m going to find out what happens when I pay attention.

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