The Great Outdoors by James Murray

Column: Looking for shapes in the clouds as they drift by

Great Outdoors by James Murray

By James Murray


Most of us, at some point in our lives, have looked up at clouds and thought we recognized some sort of outline or shape – a cloud that looked like the silhouette of a face, or perhaps a white turtle swimming by in a sea of blue.

Some of those times we may have had to use our imaginations a bit, but it was a way to let our minds drift. I have always been pretty good at letting my mind drift.

As a young kid I remember laying in the tall grass that grew not far from my grandmother’s house. I would just lay there and watch the clouds go by. Sometimes I’d squint my eyes and try to see shapes in the clouds, but mostly I would just watch them drift by. I guess I wasn’t a very imaginative kid.

The summers of my youth, however, were mostly spent goofing off and having fun. I remember I couldn’t wait for school to be over for the summer. The first day of summer holidays, for me, meant freedom to go fishing whenever I wanted. I could go once in the morning and again in the afternoon, if I felt like it. It meant being able to ride my bike like a crazy person, all the while not giving a rat’s behind as to when I had to be home – just as long as I was there for supper.

At the same time it also meant being able to spend the morning in my grandmother’s garden, eating raw peas off the vine, and then being able to spend the whole of a lazy summer’s afternoon catching grasshoppers in a jar – if that was what I felt like doing. It meant taking a walk by Mr. Humphrey’s house and watching him scrape the paint off the sides of his house. It seemed like he was always scraping paint off some part of that house, or his fence, every year of my childhood.

It also meant spending time watching great blue herons fishing in the slews, and garter snakes sunning themselves on the trail leading down to the creek where I loved to cast my line to little 10-inch trout hiding in the shadows of overhanging branches.

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I remember one time when my cousin Charlie and I were fishing up at First Falls. We were laying on our stomachs, hanging our fishing rods out over a big flat rock. I looked over to my side to see a snake with its tongue in the air. I can still see it’s tongue flickering back and forth. I didn’t realize it at the time but the snake was sensing something – me. It was ‘tasting’ the air for my smell. I lay there for the longest time just watching it. Not afraid, just simply fascinated.

I learned a lot about nature when I was a kid, just by being outside in the great outdoors. I know I learned a fair amount about insects by going fishing – at least which insects worked best as bait to catch fish.

Looking back, I didn’t have a care in the world. Back then it also seemed like I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Time was, indeed, on my side, especially during those wonderful warm, lazy summer days when I was free as a bird.

Like a bird, time also flies. Nowadays, I often find myself outdoors sitting in one of the wooden chairs in the backyard watching the clouds go by, mostly just to take a load off my feet. In the past few years even the seasons seem to have come and gone by faster and faster. All the while I seem to be getting slower and slower.

What I have learned though, in the 60 or more years that have passed since those early summer days of my youth, is that in nature everything has its season. What I don’t quite understand is how the spring and summer of my life have managed to go by so quickly, and how it is the autumn of my life that now appears before me.

The best part of getting older is that it affords you more time to just sit, relax and watch clouds go by – even the ones that don’t look like anything in particular. I guess I’m still not very imaginative.

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