Today I stepped away from my desk for a walk in the woods at Decorah's own Malanaphy Springs, just a short drive from town, then a half-hour hike into the woods. Amazingly, I'd never been here despite living in Decorah for eleven years now. And shamefully – given all my research on screens and official disapproval of the way they mediate our lives – I found out about it from a friend's Facebook post that featured some beautiful pictures of little white flowers: trillium, which grow in profusion all over the sunny slope of the hill and cluster in sheltered places near the water. The lee of a rock. A damp place near a fallen log. A tuft of moss, and the soil that's accumulated around it, on the side of a boulder. They're a gentle presence but easy to miss, as the tallest ones aren't much taller than your thumb.
Something so small directs your attention, and directs it, too, to bigger things. Clambering down to the foot of the giant mossy boulders at the base of the bluff, where the stream falls spectacularly into the Upper Iowa River, I could see a whole water-borne world: thick carpets of moss, long strings of which swayed in the stream as it fell. Cold mist flew around me, reminding me that not so long ago this water had been ice, and, deep inside the talus slope above, it still was. Up at the top, where the spring gushes forth, I craned out over the crack in the limestone to listen to the unique sound the water made: a furious gurgle underlaid with an intermittent thrumming boom, like a musician knuckling a double bass to make that hollow body yield a new and startling noise.
Water of life, coming from inside that rock, deep inside the earth. How careless of it we are, and of the whole marvelous quiet world it supports out here, below and beyond our notice. How unseeing, how taking-for-granted. Wildflower, leaf-mould, woodpecker, chipmunk, discarded snail-shell that will crumble back to calcium in our soil. And trillium, also known by the evocative folk name "wake-robin" – waking up along with, and waking us up to, spring. How quietly and thoroughly these signs of seasons can tune up our vision of the world and place us in right relationship – meaning humility – to it, if we will only learn to see.
Amy Weldon, native Alabamian, is associate professor of English at Luther College. Her essays, short fiction and reviews have appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, Best Travel Writing 2012 (Solas Press), Cornbread Nation 2: The Best of Southern Food Writing (UNC Press), Shenandoah, New Haven Review, Keats-Shelley Journal, The Millions, Bloom, and Southern Cultures, among others. She regularly blogs on sustainability, spirit and self-reliance at http://cheapskateintellectual.wordpress.com.