The summer of 1887 was the summer of the “awakening” of Helen’s soul. She explored with her hands and learned the name of everything she touched, and as she learned more about the world around her, she began to feel a “kinship” with it. Miss Sullivan often took Helen for walks through the fields, and Helen had her first lessons in the “beneficence of nature.” She began to delight in the world more and more as she learned about it, and Helen credits Miss Sullivan with instilling a love of the natural world within her.
As Helen explored the world around her and began to understand the names, roles, and interconnectedness of the things which made it up, she delighted in Miss Sullivan’s company and felt grateful to have Miss Sullivan guiding her through the world and describing with reverence, love, and wonder all the marvels of the natural world.
Helen did have an experience, however, which taught her that nature is not always kind. One day Helen and Miss Sullivan stopped to rest in the shade of a large tree, and Miss Sullivan helped Helen to climb up into its branches. Miss Sullivan suggested the two of them eat lunch in the branches, but when she went to fetch their food, a “change” passed over the sky. Helen could feel the sun grow covered by clouds, and smelled the odor of oncoming rain. Helen longed to get down from the tree, but she was stuck. A great wind nearly blew her from the branches, and she crouched in the fork of the tree as twigs snapped all around her. At last, Miss Sullivan returned for her, and helped her down, and Helen realized that even “under softest touch [nature] hides treacherous claws.”
Helen had been so excited and happy to learn about nature and begin to develop a deeper relationship with it that it did not occur to her that there was a darker side to its beauty. The experience up in the tree taught her that there was a duality to everything in the world, and that even in places of immense beauty and comfort, danger could swoop in at any moment. Helen’s education at this point in her life was more than studying and learning abstractly—it was based in learning about the world from the world itself. This is a distinction that she will continue to make throughout the book.
Helen did not climb another tree for a long time after this incident, but one morning, she smelled the “sweet allurement” of a mimosa tree in full bloom, and followed the scent to the foot of the tree. She made her way to the trunk, lifted her foot into a space between the branches, and hoisted herself up. After surmounting her fear, Helen spent many a happy hour daydreaming in her “tree of paradise.”
In the first instance of a pattern which will repeat throughout her life, Helen experiences a setback, learns from it, and redoubles her commitment to facing her fears and conquering them.