Feeling Green in the US Botanical Gardens
Be still my heart!
What a find! The US Botanical Gardens are an absolute must-see for DC visitors and locals alike. Because I live on Capitol Hill, it’s right down Pennsylvania Avenue from my house.
Home to thousands of diverse and vibrant plant species, this living plant museum educates and mesmerizes visitors from all over the world, “demonstrating the aesthetic, cultural, economic, therapeutic and ecological importance of plants to the well-being of humankind.” This is a pretty cool tidbit from the gardens’ website:
“More than 200 years ago, George Washington had a vision for the capital city of the United States that included a botanic garden that would demonstrate and promote the importance of plants to the young nation. Established by the U.S. Congress in 1820, the U.S. Botanic Garden is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America.”
These gardens have reignited my childlike wonder for the natural world - one that you have to work a little bit harder to find when you live in the heart of a city.
As a kid, my favorite thing to do was play outside. The houses I grew up in were nestled in the best spots for exploring, so as a little tomboy living in the woods, I went looking for whatever critters I could find in my backyard: toads, frogs, moles, worms, mice, foxes, snakes, and on a walk one day with friends, I saw my first buck sprinting through the trees. One memory from that house I’ll never forget happened when I was a little young thing, maybe five years old, when my dad and I were peering out the back porch window, searching vigilantly for the source of a rather ominous and booming hoot-hooting.
Dad found him before I did. Scooping me up so I could see, he pointed up and out toward a thick branch a bit beyond our yard’s tree line. It took some time to spot him, because as a predator who hid very well in plain sight, he melded right into the earthy tones of the trees’ browning foliage. I squinted, cocking my small head left, then right…then finally caught sight it, of the hulkish figure perched high up in the trees: peering down at us was the largest owl - and maybe the first - I’d ever seen. Even from the distance were he sat, I could see the striking features he carried: his stocky body supported by sturdy and heavily feathered legs, with frighteningly clawed feet. Dad still swears that bird was bigger than I was!
I’ll never forget the size of his massive head - swiveling left and right - and those big round eyes that watched and saw everything - from the twitches of the little mouse that would soon become his lunch, to my little hand waving his direction. When he looked straight at us my eyes surely grew wider than his were, fully convinced then that he could swoop down and gobble me right up if he felt like it.
What is it about animals that fascinate me so much? When you’re a small child laying witness to certain animals for the first time, certain features stand out right away: sharp teeth, massive claws, or hulking size and striking colors. It didn’t click for me until I listened to the lyrics in Hillsong’s “So Will I” that nature exists to reflect the very nature of God. Think of the dual binary of character in a lioness, for instance: wholly fearsome and full of wrath as they hunt, yet also wholly gentle and nurturing in raising their little cubs.
Recently I received a word from the Lord that He took such delight in the way I delight in nature and animals around me. What a touching thing to hear, something so specific about me, to be so well known and loved by our Creator who surrounded us with the endless gift of all the planet’s flora and fauna. I think He gifted me with my heart for the natural world around me to enjoy a unique and special way to experience His presence, and His deep love for me. I’ve felt it as I’ve sat seeking solace and solitude with Him:
surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful creatures like swans that are normally cantankerous and aggressive, but in a moment when I needed comfort, waddled leisurely and uncharacteristically calmly near me;
laying down outside, searching for stars popping up as daylight slipped away, and noticing suddenly that rather than peskily biting away at me, the mosquitoes had ceased their incessant feasting on me, as though a protective bubble covered my whole figure, so that they simply floated lazily around me as I watched them peacefully;
hiking in the deep woods out West, and only in the stillness of the absence of noise and people (and maybe, momentarily, my own breathing) did I get to watch things I’d never seen before in nature, something as delicate as a hummingbird ceasing its frantic beating of his little wings to stop for a drink of water. I realized only when I watched him that I’d never actually seen a hummingbird completely stop fluttering its wings before. So tender and fleeting was the moment - given that now in his calm state, he seemed even smaller, if that was possible - that I held my breath. I held it as long as I could, doing whatever I could to stretch the moment and not disturb my little friend’s brief rest;
on the same hike, I stopped short hearing the familiar rap rap rap of a woodpecker, and upon spotting him in a nearby tree, knelt down and watched him silently, for several minutes, making his way up a tree trunk with gusto on his fervent search for food;
rewinding it back to age seven or eight, I recall my grandma waving me over to their massive floor-to-ceiling windows at their house in Michigan to show me something new I’d never seen: not one, but two precious and carefree little freckled fawns frolicked about with as much carefree bliss as can be, while their mom tiptoed tenderly across their back yard.
What delights you in this world? What about God’s breathtaking creation brings you joy?