On a cool morning in April, two worn-out mattresses and a midden of shoes make an attractive landing spot for spring azure butterflies. Behind them, woods are reclaiming a lot that was once part of a small airport.
Every year at about this time I find myself drawn to such tableaus. Though I had no input in the choice of the current “Nature in the Cracks” theme at qarrtsiluni, it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time of the year as far as I’m concerned. The regenerative power of nature is always at its most striking in the vicinity of crumbling, rusting, or decaying human artifacts — especially when those artifacts were mass-produced garbage from their inception, designed to wear out and be replaced in an ever-quickening cycle of frenetic consumption. Going back to nature is really the only way they can attain a measure of dignity and beauty.
Consider by contrast the durable, reusable milk bottle, occasionally found in dumps, but more often on collectors’ shelves. Finding such a bottle resting in a bed of leaves out in the woods invites the kind of admiration otherwise reserved for empty turtle shells or shed antlers. As a miniature reservoir for rainwater, it might even serve a useful ecological function, providing habitat for the gnats, midges, and other assorted organisms that are probably scarcer than they should be in this upland forest too young — as most of our forests are now — for the profusion of water-trapping cavities natural to a hardwood forest ecosystem.
Inside the foundations of an old cabin, someone has fashioned a couple of stone seats. These are ruins of the classic type, appreciation for which has become so widespread that no one thinks twice about routing a popular hiking trail right past them. What better place to sit and listen to black-throated green warblers calling from the hemlocks on a cool April afternoon? It’s fun to imagine living in a space too small for any of our junk. Just the bare essentials, we say to ourselves: somewhere to take off our shoes and put our feet up. Somewhere to rest.