Seeing the world through his daughter’s eyes
Our hike down from the Pitcher Mountain fire tower in Stoddard has gone, more or less, as one would expect with my five-year-old daughter Uma in tow. The easy trail – filled with monstrous daddy-long legs, delicate beetles and flitting dragonflies – has been a typical source of wonder for my insect-loving kid. Every few steps seem to involve 10 minutes of field study.
And that’s fine. My wife, Meena, and I have worked hard since having Uma to allow nature to play an everyday role in our daughter’s life. Hikes like these should be normal and frequent, as opposed to something special. Access to the outdoors is something she expects, rather than is surprised by.
Little did we expect, however, that nature would manifest itself in her in the form of a love of (almost) all things creepy and crawly. So, it’s no surprise when she stops in her tracks and points.
There, fluttering down the trail toward us, its deep blue wings flickering in the noon-day sun, is the amusingly named butterfly, a Red-spotted Purple. We’d seen this fellow earlier near a turn in the trail, but now it appeared to be following us. Uma watches the little guy drop to eye level and land nearly at her feet.
“Daddy, it’s like it wants to tell us something!”
And I want to say to her, everything, baby, everything. Like the poet William Blake seeing Heaven in a wild flower, this tiny, fragile life can teach you everything. Just one minute with the butterfly, one moment, could be enough to awaken you to the cosmos, to the brilliant stardust that I see burning inside you every day. Your thread-like connection to that tenuous life that appears to have selected you of all the passing humans is literally why you’re here, the reason for all of this – your mother and the trail and the Sun that makes you glow, and of my love for you.
All of it, and more, in the reflection of a deep blue butterfly in your curious eyes.
When she came in our lives near Christmas 2014, she came thundering in; a difficult, nearly fatal pregnancy, weeks of uncertainty, months of recovery. Five years on and my sleep habits are forever changed, my anxiety still notches too high.
They say that your old life is over the day your child is born. This is true. What they don’t tell you is how full of wonder and awe your new life will be. For, despite the rough start, despite the fact that Uma has grown into child so bursting with verve and energy that I can barely keep up, I now can’t imagine life without her. This isn’t new territory I know, but it is a journey that I had the opportunity to write about.
On the day of her birth, I began a journal, an accounting of her and our lives. At a time of so much uncertainty I wanted there to be a record, an archive that perhaps someday she’d look back upon. That journal turned into “You & Me: Reflections on Becoming Your Dad,” a book published in June 2020 where I documented her first five years.
And now, I’ll move forward in time, here. When ParentingNH asked if I’d have an interest in picking up where the great Bill Burke and his column, Dad on Board, left off, it occurred to me that my daughter is about the same age as Bill’s was when he began writing his column 12 years ago. That my journey will now pick up where his began. I appreciate the connectivity of such a tendril, the circular notion that life is always picking up and dropping off.
I’m eager to explore that road with you in the months and years ahead. Uma and I have large hiking boots to fill, but we’re always eager to start climbing, to walk both a comfortable path and to set off like pilgrims learning to transcend the ordinary. And we’ll pay close attention to moments of awe.
Just like on that trail in Stoddard, just like a little girl with wide eyes and her butterfly friend.
Uma slowly reaches down to the butterfly, extending a finger, holding her breath. I can see that every ounce of energy is being directed toward somehow convincing the butterfly to alight on her finger, to give her that moment of connection.
But it’s not to be.
The creature lifts up and flutters down the trail. We catch up, and Uma tries again. And again. And again. The butterfly leads her and she follows. They play a game of tag, two delicate children of an endless cosmos, intersecting for a bright, joyful moment, and then parting.
The butterfly eventually floats off into the forest and Uma sighs deeply, watching it go.
“Daddy, look,” she says suddenly. “It’s an inch worm!”
The universe takes, the universe gives, and we two wanderers keep on walking.
Dan Szczesny is a long-time journalist and writer who lives with his wife and energetic daughter in Manchester. He’s busily engaged in learning about insects and My Little Pony in between hikes to fire towers. Learn more about Dan’s adventures at www.danszczesny.com.