Long ago, I fell in love with nature. I was cradled from birth by the Blue Ridge Mountains, and grew up running barefoot, climbing trees and feeling free.
What's not to love about that? Besides bee stings, chigger bites, sunburn and poison oak? Love affairs are seldom without flaws.
I don't often run barefoot any more. But I still love to be out in nature climbing mountains with my eyes, hearing waves crash on a beach or eating a hot dog in a ballpark at a Little League game.
My husband feels the same way. It's one of the reasons I married him. It's also why we moved to this valley.
Our house is small. Especially since one of us owns enough musical instruments to start his own orchestra. But for me, these mountains are heaven on earth.
Most evenings, we sit outside watching the sun go down and the moon rise up. I find it helps to end the day with thanks.
I think I was born to love nature. I suspect you were, too. But I'm not always sure how nature feels about me.
Last week I came home after a month away helping my son and his wife and their 2-year-old welcome a beautiful baby girl.
My husband picked me up at the train station, dragged my bags in the house and motioned me to follow him outside.
"You gotta see this," he said, as we started down the steps to the patio. Suddenly he shouted a word that always sets off an air raid siren in my head: "Snake!"
I launched myself like a pole vaulter back into the house.
"It's only a garter snake!" he said, trying to sound brave, "it's not poisonous!"
In my book, a snake is a snake. Poisonous or not, if it can scare me to death, I'm just as dead.
The snake disappeared under the steps. We probably scared it to death. It might've been there all along without my knowing it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Jumping over the steps, I said, "What did you want me to see?"
He pointed to a patch of earth that was pockmarked like a paper target at a shooting range with holes the size of softballs.
"Gopher holes," he said sadly. "One day I saw 'em pull a whole flower down under the ground. I felt just like Elmer Fudd."
He pointed to where a trap was set, ready and waiting.
"Great," I said. "All we need is about 3,000 more traps."
A day later, driving to town, I turned on the car's fan to cool off and heard a bad sound.
"Oh, no," I said, "not again!"
When I got home and told my husband, he went out to check under the car's hood. Then he came back grim-faced and said, "You were right. It's rats!"
We park our cars in a carport. This was the second time rats had nested in my car's engine, and gotten caught in the fan. You'd think they would learn.
"You wanna see it?" he said.
In a day or so, we'll take my car once again to a mechanic who makes his living cleaning rats out of engines. We just hope he won't find any chewed wires.
But on Memorial Day, we were happy to be hosting a barbecue for our family, those who live close by, including four of our nine grandchildren and their parents.
I made potato salad and overbaked a cake. My husband grilled burgers. We ate on the patio because there isn't room for all of us to eat inside.
We expected the weather to be lovely, but fog was rolling in thick as cotton from the coast. I told everyone to bundle up. We'll make it work. We always do.
Snakes and rats and gophers and fog are minor problems with nature, nothing like the wildfires we faced last summer and could face again. Nature is beautiful, but it can turn ugly.
Life is a lot like nature. Some days it's heaven on earth. Other days it can be a living hell.
I try to take them both as they come, believing they're a gift, whatever they may bring.
That isn't always easy. But day after day, I find myself falling in love with them all over again.
Sharon Randall is the author of "The World and Then Some." She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or by email at email@example.com.