Back to Nature (Published on - Feb. 2, 2005)
Natural gifts help to find the road home
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Barred owl in a morning fog.
Gulf winds blow in a thick fog that enfolds the branches of the trees, softens the edges of the road and lamp posts and holds the night sky close and uncomfortably damp.

Landmarks, houses and street signs disappear in a dreamlike shroud. A golden glow from the street lamps powder puff the mist, impressionistic: Monet’s “London,” Lacroix’s “Effect of Fog.” Everything looks unfamiliar. Which way is home? Am I hopelessly lost? Which way is north? Take a deep breath, follow the movement from the sea, listen, smell, close my eyes, “feel” my way back home.

I met Gretta while living out on the flat horizon of the prairies in Canada. She was a stout woman with long, silver gray hair which she wore twisted up in a bun with a few curls that always managed to escape, gently framing her face. Her porcelain skin glowed health, sun, fresh air and peaceful nature. She approached each day as if it was new. She remembered the stories of the past as lessons for the future but did not live in the past. She dreamed of garden’s blooming and a stone fireplace to be built against the north wall of her cabin but she did not live in the future.

As I watched her from my back porch across the fields going about her everyday chores I became enamored with her passion for life, whether it was snapping green beans or hanging out a load of laundry in the winter sun. She glowed, fulfilled with each day’s little mysteries and possibilities.

“We never know what’s gonna happen from one minute to the next,” she explained to me over thick coffee, chocolate and hot bread. “Life’s full of mysteries. Some good … some not so good. We think life’s all about the unexpected, the unfamiliar, but if we don’t stop to appreciate these everyday moments, these little things that bring smiles to our hearts and lead us back home, we can become lost forever in the mystery.”

She put down her cup to dip her crust of bread into the coffee. “I’ve lived through two wars and buried three of my young children, but the northern lights at this time of year still bring me to my knees in awe and tears. Do you know what will happen tomorrow?”

As I looked over the prairies I reflected upon the changing weather of this unique landscape. I remembered the pelting hail, the fragrant warm winds, the footprints in the snow. I remembered the bright, color yellow reflecting upon the bellies of the white land gulls soaring overhead in last summer’s turquoise sky. I remembered the sudden change from a sunny day to a deep snowfall that left me stranded for two days along the deserted Kananaskis highway in the Canadian Rockies. I thought of my own lost child and wished I could hold her “just one more time.”

My dreams, my past and my future, a motion picture blinking on and off in my mind.

Gretta placed a small piece of broken chocolate between two slices of steaming hot bread and smiled. “Have you ever tried this before?” I looked up at her clear blue eyes and smiled. Watching the morsel of chocolate melt as if butter I heard her say, “Life’s gonna change. There’s nothing we can do about that. It’s unfamiliar at times. All the same it’s all right to be sad, angry and afraid. You’ve a right to feel. We all feel lost sometimes.

“I’ve learned that money isn’t the true wealth for me. It’s the sun on my shoulders as I work in the garden. It’s the smell of the fresh prairie air caught up in the clean linen. It’s my friends, my children’s laughter and of course never, never forget chocolate.” She winked and smiled.

The fog penetrated every empty space. I watched the thick mist move from west to east in organdy sheets across the golden lamp lights. It’s these everyday natural gifts and moments that teach us how to feel the hidden road safely back home … back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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