1. Today’s Forecast – The one you can only receive out in the backyard, in your bare feet (or maybe in those old garden shoes by the back door), your first cup of coffee in hand: a daily open air assessment of shifting winds, damp promises of rain in the air, and clear notes of running meltwater announcing winter’s end.
Once installed in your climate-controlled city high-rise with its tall, unyielding windows, your weather report will be confined to aerial views of umbrellas or dog sweaters. You will realize too late, after taking the elevator down and emerging onto the street, that the people you chose as your barometers were not properly dressed.
You will miss being in the weather rather than watching it. You will miss January’s crunching snow and April’s damp patio stones. You will long for August’s heat carrying the scent of dry grass and mid-October’s brisk tannin-laced mornings. Most of all, you will miss that first deep breath of outdoor air, drawn before the daily mind-chatter begins, the moment when you know just what today has in store and realize it will have nothing to do with the weather.
2. The Song of the Robin – You don’t know you will miss these simple notes until you realize that spring has arrived unannounced. In your new home, well above neighboring rooftops, no birdsong will reach you from distant parks and back yards. Until now you couldn’t know that the robin’s spring proclamation of territory and fitness had anchored you in this critical change of seasons; in its absence you will recognize that it has become a part of you, unlocking elusive memories not of back yard birds, but of beds and mornings and those with whom you shared those vernal predawn hours.
3. Uneven Ground – To remind your feet and yourself that not all irregularities are marked by orange cones or warning signs; to remember that there are places where algae-covered rocks present a tempting but hazardous crossing; where mud pulls insistently on the soles of boots; where a crumbling ascent requires the precise placement of feet—and even hands; where your whole body must engage in the steady work of balance and progress.
4. A Swath of Night Sky – You will miss the night firmament and its cycle of activities; Venus preceding the morning sun; Leonids and Perseids slicing through space; even the moon phases that you will, for the first time in your life, lose track of. But most, you will miss those familiar circumpolar characters whose starry lives have enthralled you since childhood—Ursa Major, the great bear pointing the way to Polaris; Orion the hunter, belt across his chest, Betelgeuse on his shoulder; and Cassiopeia, the great W(oman), ever-chained to the heavens for the crime of speaking her mind.
5. A Bit of Untrammeled Earth – Preferably rich loamy forest floor. This to sink your hands into, get under your nails, press to your nose, inhale deeply. This for its primal pungency built of life and death, emergence and decay; to remind you that even as you walk the pavement and pick your way carefully across the defecated dog park, the earth contains multitudes, all breaking down and building up the components of fertile soil, one sand grain, one cell at a time.
6. An Unjaded Eye – To recognize and confirm the value of the creatures that have chosen to share our built environment. To remind yourself to appreciate the sparrows competing for castoffs outside McDonalds; to recall the lessons of Tinbergen—that gulls are complex social creatures—and share that with executives who spit contempt at the “garbage eagles” eyeing their takeout lunches; and to revel with the pigeons flying victory laps around your high-rise, realizing they thrive here and so will you.
Photographs (top to bottom): bad brother, “crossing,” Creative Commons license 2.0; Gavin Van Horn, “Robin Industry”; Shawn Brandow, “Green!” Creative Commons license 2.0; John Flannery, “Perseid Meteor in Cassiopeia,” Creative Commons license 2.0; Pat Dumas, “a handful,” Creative Commons license 2.0; Gavin Van Horn, “The Gulls are Watching.”