By Troy Headrick
I had a strange upbringing. Up until the age of, say, five or six, I lived in urban areas being raised by a father and mother who didn’t get along very well. Then, suddenly, a year or so before starting first grade, my parents found that they no longer wanted to be married, so they divorced and I was sent to live with my maternal grandparents who were country folks. In fact, my grandfather was a real-life cowboy and my grandmother was a Jill-of-all-trades, the type who could assist her husband wrangle cows in the pasture and then come inside and fix the clothes washer or television or whatever household machine might be ailing and in need of a bit of repair.
As soon as I moved in with my mother’s father and mother, I became something of a cowboy-in-training. I got woken up early, about the time the sun was about to peek over the horizon in the east, and would be fed a hearty breakfast. After that, I’d slip into my clothes and then head outside to help my grandfather (I called him “Pawpaw”) do the chores. In the fall and winter, the air was crisp and frosty and I’d bundle up. During the spring and summer, the conditions, even at that early hour, were humid and warm—a warning of much harsher temperatures to come a bit later in the day—and I’d dress in jeans, boots, a hat, and a short-sleeved shirt.
I learned to milk cows, feed animals, carry bales of hay, herd sheep, saddles horses, and repair downed fences—all these things done in the great outdoors under a big, blue Texas sky. I learned to watch for snakes and to study the clouds so that I might become skilled at meteorology—people in Texas understand the value of rainfall and such. I learned what plants bloomed and when and whether or not, based upon how the winter and fall had gone, there’d be a good crop of pecans. (Texas certainly has to be the pecan capital of the world.)
Eventually, my parents reconciled, remarried, and started homesteading just up the road from my grandparents’ ranch. So, as a result, for years and years, I lived outside, in open spaces, until my skin grew perpetually tanned and I felt more “at home” outside the home than I did inside its four walls.
Looking back on my life, I’d say that I grew up alternating between being at one with nature and then somewhat estranged from it. After my youth, I went off to the city and studied at universities. During that period, I spent my time inside—in classrooms, in libraries, in books, in quiet, well-lit places suited for studying. Then, years later, when I left the United States and lived a life without automobiles, I reconnected with the outside as I moved through time and space entirely on foot.
I’m writing about all this because I’ve decided—you can call this a New Year’s Resolution if you’d like—to become a bit of a boy again by taking steps to reconnect with the natural world. I’ve already started by spending more time out of doors. I’ve even noticed that my face has begun to tan a bit though it’s winter in Texas. (Winters, here, are never really harsh enough to drive a person indoors for any extended length of time, so I should be able to hang on to this color until springtime arrives.)
Here are some of the things I’ve learned about myself having lived a life more connected with nature during some periods and less during others:
- My thoughts expand under an open sky and are apt to contract when there’s a ceiling just overhead;
- I can eat like a horse when I’ve been outside and engaged in some physical activity; the physical act of eating is also much more enjoyable when I have “earned” the right to eat;
- I breathe more easily and more deeply when I’ve been outside for an extended period of time and more tentatively and shallowly while inside;
- Worries dissipate outdoors and then reconstitute themselves when I come inside;
- I am more apt to notice things around me and am able to really concentrate on my surroundings while walking in a lovely, natural setting; while inside, there are many things that distract and irritate me;
- I forget my age when I am out of doors; I feel older when I come inside and sit in a chair.
Is there some thing or some activity you’d like to reconnect with? If so, I’d love to hear what this thing or activity is and how this reconnecting can take you back in time when you were a different (and maybe better?) person.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.