Living Madly: Natural Wonders

Cycad Fern. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Living Madly: Natural Wonders

By Emilie-Noelle Provost

Looking directly at the sun for more than a few seconds will damage your retina. Because I didn’t have protective glasses to wear during the solar eclipse on April 8, I used the camera on my phone to watch the moon gradually overtake the sun. Standing in front of my house, I snapped a photo every couple of minutes and looked at it to check the moon’s progress. I ended up with several cool photos.

Later that night, as I was looking at the photographs I’d taken along with photos of the eclipse other people had posted on Facebook, I started to think about the enormous amount of media coverage the eclipse had received over the previous months. That publicity resulted in thousands of people clearing their schedules to view the eclipse, even if it meant traveling long distances, sitting in gridlock traffic, and paying exorbitant rates at otherwise unremarkable hotels that happened to be located in the eclipse’s path of totality.

A solar eclipse is a rare and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon. Everyone should try to see one at some point in their lives if they can. I find it disconcerting, however, that it takes an event of such magnitude to get people to ditch their screens and pay attention to the natural world.

I spend several hours each week outside. I hike in the White Mountains and on local trails year-round. When I don’t have time to hike, I walk in my neighborhood. Natural wonders are everywhere. I see them all the time.

At no time of year are these bits of magic easier to spot than in the spring. You don’t have to go far. Just put your phone away, go outside, and be mindful of the world around you.

A few days ago, I was walking in my neighborhood when I saw more than a dozen birds hanging out in the hedges in a nearby yard. When I got closer, I realized they were cedar waxwings, a species I’d only ever seen in the mountains. They are beautiful birds with black eye masks, yellow bellies, and red markings on their wings. Just a few feet from where I was standing, they were having a great time splashing in the puddles on the sidewalk and gobbling up the berries on a thicket of holly.

After spending the previous summer, fall, and winter in our garage, Rob and I put our mason bee houses out on our patio in late March. (Mason bees don’t sting and are important pollinators.) The small wooden structures are crammed full of bamboo tubes where the previous year’s bees have laid their eggs, each one inside a pollen-filled chamber made of mud.

One day, when the temperature is just right, the bees begin to emerge from the tubes. They break through the dried mud with their front legs and fly off in search of pollen to nourish the next generation of bees. Sometimes I stand right in front of the houses and watch the small bees as they fly in and out. I’m always impressed by their tenacity and resilience, and by how cute their little faces are.

While hiking in the mountains, I once saw a meteorite enter the earth’s atmosphere and burn up in a white-hot streak that was visible in the daytime. Layers of rainbows, created by sunlight shining through the morning mist, sometimes stretch from peak to peak for miles, often vanishing as quickly as they formed.

One May afternoon on a little-used trail, Rob and I came across an endangered eastern hognose snake sunning itself on a footbridge, its body as thick as my arm. A little while later, we spotted a chipmunk taking a nap on a branch. The little creature dozed peacefully in the springtime sun, as still and as quiet as a chipmunk will ever be.

I know when to look for the pink, bell-shaped flowers that grow on the undersides of Solomon’s seal. I’ve come within spitting distance of black bears, and have stepped in moose tracks almost twice as wide as my boot. I’ve stood beneath glacial erratics bigger than houses, and know of trees nearly split in two by lightening that still sprout leaves every spring.

None of these things are as dramatic as a solar eclipse, but all of them are worth seeing. Unlike an eclipse, which comes around once every several years, the living world is all around us, all the time. Magic is out there, just waiting to be discovered.


Emilie-Noelle Provost (she/her). Author of The River Is Everywhere, a National Indie Excellence Award and American Fiction Award finalist, and The Blue Bottlea middle-grade adventure with sea monsters. Visit me at

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