Wonder, My Journey Through Nature

May 30, 2024 Wonder, My book

Chapter One

An Unplanned Adventure

The pandemic was declared on the day the “For Sale” signs were placed outside my house. I was naive, like everyone else, in thinking that the quarantine would be a passing event. I assumed this virus would be contained and eliminated, but it didn’t turn out that way. To my surprise, the house sold in less than a week, and while it was good news, I found myself without a place to live as the world shut down around me. Any plans I made before the quarantine started suddenly disappeared, and I knew I only had a couple of weeks to leave and make sense of my few options.

The life I knew slipped away in an instant. With helplessness, I realized I couldn’t change or stop the events dragging me into an unknown and uncertain future. Suddenly, and when I least expected it, in only three years, my parents passed away, my children grew up and pursued their dreams, and at the beginning of 2020, my husband chose his own path.

I never thought I would end up living alone, or maybe I did, but at the end of my days, not when I felt I still had many years left and many dreams to live and enjoy. My house, always filled with children, laughter, and music, became lifeless, and its empty rooms only reminded me that I had to go.

I realized this wasn’t the time to make long-term plans. I needed to take it one step at a time, so I organized an endless routine of trips to the dumpster and the recycling and donation centers. I changed locks, lamps, and floors, and painted walls, doors, and ceilings in a frenzy to save some money but mainly to elude thinking and avoid crying. The only thing  that was clear at that moment was that, wherever I was going, I had to travel light.

As I went through my belongings, I was sure that the objects I had cherished had lost their value. This gave me the strength to let go of them. In an endless procession, furniture, toys, photographs, trophies, diplomas, dinosaurs, and dolls were taken away amid my tears, the remnants of a life that had already vanished. My future was so uncertain that I couldn’t envision it; a white veil covered my eyes when I tried to find answers, and I couldn’t make sense of this crumbling world.

In the end, the empty house filled me with peace. It was an unexpected feeling, both strange and wonderful. I only had a mat on the floor, a blooming orchid, and two books next to my pillow. That day, I realized there was no turning back. Up until that moment, the changes had been coming to my life one by one, and I had tried to go with the flow, but from then on, I would fall into a whirlwind that would lead me to live in a way I had never imagined.

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Chapter Two

As a child, I spent many hours hidden in a large bamboo thicket, playing with my dolls, drawing, or daydreaming. It was my enchanted palace, which only I could access because only someone my size could slip between its tightly woven canes. The ground was covered with dry leaves that crackled beneath my feet, and the green, shiny stems sprouted high, reaching up for the light. The dense canopy of long, slender leaves filtered the sun’s rays while the breeze cradled them, producing a gentle, rhythmic murmur. Many birds lived inside my bamboo haven; their songs, the wind, and the strident noises of the insects were so loud that I couldn’t hear the outside world. At that time, I never knew how fortunate I was to have this marvelous place to play. Years later, I was surprised when I realized that many of those so ordinary birds didn’t exist in other places.

My precious green palace was in a valley in the Andean mountains of Colombia. I remember how my mom lovingly cultivated her flower garden, where many species of hummingbirds came to flutter and feed, and the twice-yearly blossoming of the guayacan trees (handroanthus chrysanthus) called migratory birds to sip nectar from their bright, fragrant yellow flowers.

In those early years, I had many experiences that nurtured my love for nature. My mom created a surprising museum of jam and mayonnaise jars for my brothers and me. We used them to germinate beans on a moist cotton layer and wait for the roots to break the seed, after which the stem began to grow and the magical tendrils coiled like little springs; the leaves sprouted individually, followed by the tiny flowers and the plump green pods. Other jars served as temporary homes for ants; through the glass, we could watch in amazement as they carried their eggs and food through the tunnels they built. We also fed a collection of caterpillars with their favorite leaves until they formed their chrysalises; we watched them excitedly every day, waiting for the moment when the fragile butterflies with still-damp wings emerged from their tiny sacs. We went fishing to a nearby lake with a big net to collect frog and toad eggs and observed as the little tadpoles developed their legs and lost their tails; when they completed their metamorphosis, we returned them to the lake.

If I close my eyes, I can still feel the wet grass under my bare feet as I chase the glowing fireflies before they disappear into the darkness. I can see them shining between my fingers as I carefully place them in a jar covered with a piece of cloth and a rubber band. I ran with that fantastic lantern that flickered with its blazing light until I reached my grandfather’s arms. He paid me one cent for each firefly before releasing them back into the garden.

These early experiences left a profound mark on my life, and I never thought that many years later, they would rescue me from the chaos, urge me to devote my life to living in close contact with nature and provide a balm for my broken heart. Some relationships end because love runs out, and these are easier to overcome, but in my case, it was different. My loss was deep and painful, and sadness overwhelmed me, creating a wound that wouldn’t heal and I couldn’t erase from my mind. I had to experience my grief alone. I couldn’t talk about it because the loss of a romantic relationship implies failure, guilt, and shame; it must be hidden, with no outward grieving like when someone dies. Instead, it’s something I had to carry secretly, an embarrassing pain I couldn’t talk about.

The departure from my previous life was marked by a wild blend of emotions, with the loss of my marriage as the most painful and the one that triggered all the others. It was aggravated by losing my friends, the neighborhood where I had lived for over twenty years and especially my home. It contained all the memories stored within its walls: my art studio, the mural I painted for my son, the holidays and birthday parties, and the kitchen where we shared recipes and laughter. I also had to leave my backyard, where I watched deer, birds, turtles, squirrels, and rabbits strolling as they feasted on my flowers and vegetables. And finally, it deeply shattered my heart to lose my two kittens. They were my companions for over ten years and always slept purring by my side.

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