As an arguably too thought-full neurodiverse adult I do wonder how much of our current crises are the direct results of children not having enough time in nature to develop a true love of it.
By Jill MacCormack
Being of a neurodiverse mind my perception of time is admittedly different.
I fall easily into the vast absorption of the present moment as it extends to measured minutes, hours, and eventually into a confusion of days, weeks, months and years.
In my late thirties my dear family doctor looked at me one visit and stated to me point blank—Jill—you are not young anymore — to which I answered agog — what do you mean? — the thought of which I haven’t gotten over yet. In other words, I can quite easily get so taken by something that I’ve no regard for the passage of time nor do I have any common awareness of self in these rather expansive moments.
A first example: The Case of the Butterfly in the Creeping Thyme
Two or three years ago – it might have been four – I found myself alone at home for a rare few hours. Unsure of what to do with myself I wandered out front to the ditch (ditches were a favourite place to explore when I was a child) to gaze upon the newly bloomed Creeping Thyme patch.
It was late in the afternoon on a hot and sunny midsummer day when I crouched down to examine the buzzing coming from the living purple wash of vine and flowers. There were honeybees aplenty humming busily from flower to flower.
Squatting there something else caught my eye. A lone, delicate little brown butterfly had alighted on some thyme and I became so transfixed by watching it move from flower to flower that I did not notice the sweltering heat or the cars passing by or the passage of time.
Nor did I notice that a little neighbor had stopped by for a visit and was watching me watch the butterfly. She startled me when she said hello Jill, what are you doing?
At once I became very self-aware and somewhat embarrassed by what I thought must be my obvious strangeness.
I paused to gather my response. She accepted my honest answer of well, I am watching the bees and this butterfly in the thyme. Happily, she joined me.
Thankfully children are very similar in their ability to become taken by wonder and have yet to be socialized out of this wonder taking and so she was only genuinely curious and not at all bewildered by my curious position in my yard.
An adult, yet neurodiverse, I too have thankfully not been socialized out of wonder seeking and therefore still fall easily into awe. This happens to me anytime I grant myself the space to fall out of routine and into otherness, albeit not nearly often enough for my liking or quite possibly, well-being.
It did happen again just the other evening. This second example I will call:
The Call of a Woodland Trail at Night
Wildflowers and Reptilian Delights—You Pick. (wink, wink)
I was out for a neighbourhood walk with our youngest and when we got back to our street she decided to head home while I felt the call of the almost night, summertime air and I kept on alone.
Up the hill to where houses and yards and roads leave off to forest and field, onto the gravel access road I walked along the woodland trail lined with grayed and fallen trees surrounded by patches of Bunchberry with their orange/red cluster of edible berries. The soft scent of forest ferns and wildflowers permeated the air around me luring me onward like the pied piper calling out mice.
A short distance in the road I spied an opening in the woods down to a sloping trail we frequent (and much more obvious) in winter time when the evergreens there provide a lux canopy of snow and quiet.
I peered down into the forested pathway and it looked at first like a gaping mouth which soon swallowed the rest of the trail whole. Fifteen or twenty feet in and I felt the darkness calling me further forward – go deeper, Jill, go deeper. Like a battle between desire and propriety I knew what I wanted to do (just give yourself over to being swallowed whole Jill) but talked myself out of it which as a passionate mid- forties’ woman, I am so practiced at that I sometimes wonder if I still exist.
The obvious impracticality of forest trail walking in darkness in an area which has had coy-wolf sightings won over. I do wonder what it is in particular that calls out to me on summer nights. A raccoon inner nature? Or skunk? Maybe snowshoe hare as they are so lovely but beautiful as they are, they’re certainly fox food if not coyote.
The hum of mosquitoes and me without even a hood or my natural insect repellent should have been enough to push me back before I entered the trail even that short way. Oh well, it was worth just a moments’ embrace and still that dark trail’s call lingers like a lover’s voice, calling somewhere deep inside. Come back to me, come back…
Back on the gravel road lined with remnants of Daisy, new growth of Pearly Everlasting, nodding and stately Queen Anne’s Lace, and here and there some Daisy Fleabane, Yarrow, Vetch, I started back to the paved road admonishing myself for not being either better prepared or more adventurous or both when in the dwindling light a dark flash of something caught my eye.
I quickly stopped and saw what was a gorgeous Common Garter Snake about sixteen inches in length but difficult to estimate as it had seven—and yes– I counted them–little “C” curves in its slender, leathery body. Had I paused to think, I would have been in a conundrum — stay and watch or go home before full darkness? – but this was not a time for such analysis.
It had been eons since I’d last seen a garter snake and this one was posing with its tiny fingertip sized head erect and its golden underbelly just visible, the stunning patterning on its long back demonstrating that glorious perfection which nature has repeated of its own accord throughout the millennia. It was so still I wondered if it was okay. Interesting how we are conditioned to equate stillness with dis-ease or mal-adaption or injury.
Crouched I watched its tiny forked tongue pulse in and out in exploration of my presence. Penetrating, a seed of a dark eye unblinking in the twilight, it watched me as I was adjusting my sight to try to take this magnificent creature in before darkness robbed me of our encounter.
And then something in me made me stand and I realized that night was nearly complete in falling. My family, had they noticed, were likely wondering what happened to me on the last leg of my journey around the block. Still off-road and caught in the spell of the woods in midsummer, I bid farewell to the graceful snake and headed back down the trail to the singular, raspy cranking call of a glorious Great Blue Heron heading northwest in the last light.
Upon my return in full darkness, my sweet husband laughed at me—jokingly calling me out for walking in the dark in all black with no flashlight. Ha indeed! Not that I have ever called any of my kids out for that—I always have them bring their phones or flashlights for night walking. Oh well. Passion over practicality had won out after all.
I personally have a long standing interest in the flora and fauna of this fair little isle in the sea and especially so of reptiles and amphibians thanks to my always curious mother whom I have many fond memories of catching the snakes that lived under our front doorstep when I was little and sharing them with a yard full of wondering neighbourhood kids.
Same too with frogs and toads. Interestingly I also had a long standing fear of them along with my fascination which strangely morphed into a phobia when I was seven about the seeds in my beloved raspberry jam being snake eyes (from a nightmare I had in early childhood) which put me off raspberry jam on my biscuits for quite some time but strangely not off snakes.
And as an addendum to this too long second example of my neurodiverse sense of time, I add that PEI’s Common Garter snakes are venomous although the venom they inject is not harmful to humans. I found this out the hard way.
When walking on an eastern PEI woodland trail with my parents and three kids about seven or eight years ago my mother spotted a garter snake and true to form had it in her grasp within moments.
Eager to share her delight she offered it to our then young son who was promptly bitten by the startled snake. I recall wondering if he could be allergic to snake bites (as he is to venomous insect stings like wasps) and watching as the tiny teeth marks left on his little finger began to swell and tingle. He was fine although I wonder if the magic in his artist/musician fingers might not be thanks to his young infusion of venom. (Not)
In conclusion, as an arguably too thought-full neurodiverse adult I do wonder how much of our current crises are the direct results of children not having enough time in nature to develop a true love of it.
I can’t help but think this is largely due to the systemic socialization of our children out of their natural inclination to wonder (and their rightful connection to nature) through the forced institutionalization of their young lives, so deeply embedded in our cultural norms.
Mightn’t now be a wonderful time to imagine re-wilding the next generation away from institutional education and over-scheduling? Besides the opportunity the pandemic presents for this–there’s no time like the present!
Jill MacCormack, nature lover, writer and mother of three, is heart bound to her fair little isle in the sea, Prince Edward Island.
As a mother of three highly sensitive children and neurodiverse herself, Jill knows firsthand the joys and challenges of being neurodiverse.
Feeling so deeply it hurts is how Jill describes the depth of feeling she experiences in everyday life.
Despite the challenges being neurodiverse presents, Jill knows that her deep way of engaging with the life has led her to her passion for writing and her love of the natural world.