Yes, my child, go out into the world; walk slow
And silent, comprehending all, and by and by
Your soul, the Universe, will know
Itself: the Eternal I.
― Jane Goodall, Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey

This spring is the first one we’ve enjoyed here at our home in Hendersonville, North Carolina, at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. It was the end of February when I first noticed the buds on a bush in the overgrown and neglected back of our house. Within a few weeks, there were white flowers blooming which I recognized to be azaleas. Now, almost three months later, I have counted nine different varieties of azaleas surrounding our house with a palette of colors from white to orange to shades of pink radiating a beauty that causes me to stop and stare in awe.

So much of nature graces our ordinary, sometimes dreary, lives (just as the first azaleas did for me on a dreary February day.) But how often do we really walk slow and comprehend natural beauty as Jane Goodall suggests? How often do we notice the natural beauty that could teach us much about our lives? So this spring, I have paused to learn from azaleas.

Lesson # 1: Nature endows us with a visible and invisible legacy.

Our home is about 30 years old, and we don’t know anything about the previous two owners. If azaleas could talk, what stories would they tell about us about those who lived here in the 30 years before us? Who planted these azaleas? Were they, too, amazed at their beauty? The azaleas have slowed me down to think about the visible and invisible legacy we inherited with this house and to take good care of all nature surrounding our home. Our ownership is part of a much larger “universe” of owners.

Lesson # 2: Living in the beauty of nature requires an exchange of care.

As I have learned to appreciate the natural beauty of the things that grow and live on this planet earth like these beautiful azaleas, I ask myself “What can I do to protect and make certain that this beauty continues to flourish?” There is an exchange we have with nature whether we practice it or not. If azaleas continue year after year to grace me with such beauty, what can I do to return something back to these azaleas and their surroundings?

Lesson # 3: Natural beauty requires a sensitive and alert understanding.

Beware if you receive a bouquet of azaleas in a black vase, it could be a death threat! In spite of their beauty, both the leaves and nectar of azaleas are filled with toxins that could kill if ingested. This fact was a reminder to me that natural beauty is complex, and understanding nature requires going deeper than what might be the obvious.

Final Lesson: And as we learn from nature, so shall we know ourselves better.

Betsy J. Perry