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Nature Girl

My grandmother Gypsy (about whom you’ve heard a great deal in these blogs, I know) loved nature – being outdoors, gardening, growing things, bird-watching, the whole she-bang. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when her great-granddaughter is the same way.

Maddie’s always loved being outside, and walks were a big part of her day from the very beginning. We’d stop and look at flowers growing in front of apartments and talk about what type they were, smell the blooms, stroke the soft petals. And Maddie has a serious thing about rocks: she can’t resist picking them up. In New York, we had a collection underneath our shoe bench of tiny rocks –sometimes just cement chips – that she’d pick up on all our walks. She’d keep the bigger ones in the back yard and exclaim over them periodically, pointing out their interesting aspects. Since we moved to Texas she’s been an even bigger fan of the outdoors, and revels in the birdfeeders we’ve got hanging by our breakfast window. Just yesterday she heard a bird cry and said, “I think that’s a morning dove! I bet he’s saying good morning to me!” (She was right, by the way!) And of course, gardening with Daddy is one of her favorite things to do. Which means I can see her great-grandmother in her on almost a daily basis.

But this article isn’t about Maddie – it’s about Cora. And if I thought I saw Gypsy in Maddie, she’s doubly magnified in Cora.

My Li’l Bit is simply not happy unless she’s outdoors, and considering she wasn’t really on a first-name basis with grass before we moved to Texas, I’m astonished at how quickly she’s become addicted to the open fields. Every morning in her breakfast chair she’ll babble and point to the door leading to our side garden until I say, “Do you want me to open the door?” She’ll nod emphatically and bounce up and down as I open the side door so she can watch through the screen. For the rest of breakfast, she’ll periodically point out the door and say, “Gah!” as a robin or cardinal stops in front of us to eat, or a rabbit comes by to nibble on the leftovers.

april_08_134.jpgOnce breakfast is over Cora crawls around the floor as I clean up, and she’ll usually make a beeline for that side door. She’d stand with her whole body pressed so longingly against the screen that we finally had to put a child gate across it; fortunately, the gate’s clear so her view is unimpeded. Sometimes she’ll simply sit on the door mat and stare dreamily outside, content to listen to the wind chimes and watch the flowers grow.

But once her appetite for outside is awakened, I’ve got a finite amount of time to get us into the back yard or out to the park before Cora gets demanding. If I’ve taken too long she’ll simply walk to the back door, bang on the window to the yard, crash the blinds against the glass door, and when she’s finally got my attention, she’ll simply point out the window and sign, “Please! Please!”

dallas_zoo_001.jpgAnd heaven help me if I open that door and don’t let her out. Maddie’s permitted to play in the back yard by herself while I cook, but Cora needs me there with her, and you can see the sting of unfairness in Cora’s face – the naked longing – as she plasters herself against the window and watches Maddie frolicking OUTSIDE while she languishes indoors. Even opening the door for a quick chore – say, to fill that bird feeder – is best done without Cora around.

The other day we went to an arts festival by a local creek, and the adults took turns browsing and watching the girls on the playground. As I played with Cora on the creekside equipment, she began fidgeting and pointing to the other side of the playground. “What do you want? Do you want to go over there?” I asked.

In answer, she stood up and started marching. I followed, thinking she wanted to get on the swings, but she kept going, stepping right off the play space and continuing across the field. The closer to the creek we got the happier she became, until Cora was nearly crowing with delight, running as fast as her chubby legs would take her, tripping over herself in her eagerness.

april_08_087.jpgWhen we arrived within a few feet of the creek bed, Cora looked around, drinking in the big shady cottonwood trees, the ducks and geese, the wild poppies and buttercups. And she plopped down on her hiney, bounced her head in vigorous approval, and sighed happily.

And there she stayed for the rest of play time, my nature girl happy in nature’s playground, drinking it in.


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