Things Are Looking Up

By Anita Sanchez

Tree canopy
Tree canopy

– Ani­ta Sanchez

Long ago I worked at a nature cen­ter, lead­ing walks for groups of school chil­dren on field trips. Bus­es would arrive, unload­ing hordes of kids who would stand on the park­ing lot black­top look­ing a tri­fle uneasy. And when­ev­er I start­ed a for­est walk, I’d gath­er the stu­dents before we hit the trail. Now, there are two words I always say to any­one who goes into the for­est,” I’d tell them. Two very impor­tant words.” And they’d all look at me, solemn and ner­vous­ly atten­tive. Not just stu­dents, teach­ers too. 

Because they fig­ured that the for­est is not a place where you go light­ly, where you just wan­der around care­less­ly. There have to be rules, warn­ings, and safe­guards. They were expect­ing that the impor­tant two words would be Don’t Touch!” or Be Care­ful” or Stay Close,” or per­haps Poi­son Ivy.”

So they were always aston­ished when I revealed that the two cru­cial words were: LOOK UP. The idea that we were going to wan­der around in the woods hav­ing fun and look­ing for stuff took a while to sink in, but after a while they loved it. We’d stop in a grove of tall young pines, and watch them danc­ing and sway­ing back and forth in the breeze. That first look up always evoked a one-word response: Wow!” After a while, all I’d have to do was hold up two fin­gers, and every­one would look up.

Wild black cherry
Wild black cherry

Now I don’t do nature walks very often, and I tend to for­get my own advice. As I walk through the day, I’m con­stant­ly look­ing at my feet, my watch, my phone. I for­get to look up, to look up at the ceil­ing of green leaves woven into blue sky. What’s over­head? What shape are the clouds? Is there a wind high above, revealed by the tips of the pines toss­ing and wav­ing? Or a vul­ture soar­ing and tilt­ing, wings in a shal­low V?

One spring day I remem­bered to glance up, and over­head there were drag­on­flies, all fly­ing in a nar­row path stretch­ing across the sky. They must have been migrat­ing, thou­sands of them. Their flight was utter­ly silent, so that I nev­er would have noticed it if I hadn’t looked up. How many times have they flown over­head with­out my see­ing them?

One of the most fas­ci­nat­ing things about look­ing up at the trees of Lan­dis is to observe how they relate to each oth­er. If you look up through the branch­es towards the sky, you’ll see that trees are con­stant­ly striv­ing to avoid hav­ing their branch­es shad­ed out by their neigh­bors. Since each leaf depends on light to jump­start the process of food-mak­ing known as pho­to­syn­the­sis, it’s essen­tial that every leaf get the max­i­mum amount of sun. Over­head the trees are push­ing and shov­ing each oth­er in a slow-motion strug­gle to steal the sunlight. 

For me, look­ing up is a hard habit to cre­ate. Bird­ers do it all the time: they’re used to star­ing up into the branch­es, end­less­ly seek­ing that lit­tle flash of col­or or bit of move­ment. But for those of us who are more into wild­flow­ers, ferns, and moss, it’s good to occa­sion­al­ly get our noses off the ground and into the sky.

So the next time you stroll around the Lan­dis grounds, remem­ber to look up every now and then. Take a look at that wide, bright world over­head you’ve been missing.

Just don’t trip.

Spring 2023

Volume 41 , Number 1

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