Backyard Mindfulness

Naturalist John Bates shares his ever-growing appreciation of the phenology of the Manitowish River, where he lives. Love of the natural world isn’t just a one-way street, he says. It’s also the path to understanding yourself. 

Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. Photo © gesika22

My wife Mary and I live on the Manitowish River in northern Wisconsin, so we pay attention to its phenology—“the dates of arrivals and departures, the births, the flourishings, the decays and deaths of wild things, their successions, synchronicities, dependencies, reciprocities, and cycles—the lived life of the earth,” (Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild.) We paddle and play, botanize and bird, ski and snowshoe, exploring the river every way we can, every moment we can. And the longer we live here, the richer the river grows in our hearts and minds, a backyard mindfulness indeed.

We journalize our experiences, my wife weaves some of the river’s life into her artwork, and I use sightings of this and that as jumping-off points for my writing and naturalist work. We are truly fortunate—this is our work and our play.

We’ve chosen this path in part for the sheer joy of it, the pure pleasure, for how good the beauty makes us feel. That may sound selfish, but it’s like the pleasure one gets from being around old friends who make you laugh, who are fully themselves around you, and who grant you the space to be fully yourself. We’re connected to friends, as…