(Eric Shansby)

Have I ever told you how much I love nature — trees and bees and deer and babbling brooks and other outdoorsy, green and brown nature-y stuff?

That’s right, I haven’t. And do you know why I haven’t? Because I’m not a liar. I’ve seen nature, and it doesn’t impress me. I grew up in the Bronx. Trees just make it harder to play stickball in the gutter. The only time I went camping was 30 years ago in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, when my dog, a collie named Augie, almost died from blood loss due to carpets of mosquitoes swarming her eyes and her belly, the only two spots a collie has upon which these opportunistic, droning, whining barbarians of nature can feast.

In short, I tend to think about the beauties and bounties of nature the way I think about men’s behinds — they’re okay, I suppose, and I know other people appreciate them a lot, but just don’t shove them in my face all the time, okay?

So how can we explain that I just came back from a completely voluntary day trip, in nearly 100-degree heat, to Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.’s, 2,000-acre unspoiled nature place?

Here’s how:

My column is published nationally, but it originates in The Washington Post Magazine, which is run by an editor named Lynn, who somehow never got the memo that I am a beloved national treasure who gets to write what he wants when he wants to, dagnabbit. A few weeks ago, Lynn informed me that the magazine is doing a whole issue related to Rock Creek Park this week and that it would be “nice” — she said “nice” real nice, but it was like Hitler observing it might be “nice” if France surrendered on its own before regrettable things happened — if my column was part of that package.

Lynn pays my salary. Like the odious traitor Pierre Laval, I capitulated. The deal was that I had to visit Rock Creek Park. From there — who knows? Commune with unspoiled nature, ramble in the woodsy forest, take a barefoot walk in the crick, maybe pitch a tent, start a fire with sticks, get in touch with my inner backwoodsman, cure my withered, citified soul? It was entirely up to me.

Now, I know that Lynn worried that I’d do this grudgingly. But nothing could be further from the truth. I went off on this mission — did I mention it was almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the hottest day of the year? — entirely without rancor, particularly after doing some basic research on Rock Creek Park, which, according to the National Park Service Web site, is “truly a gem in our nation’s capital. It offers visitors an opportunity to reflect and soothe their spirits through the beauty of nature. Fresh air, majestic trees, wild animals, the ebb and flow of Rock Creek, and thousands of years of human history emanate [from] the delicate aura of the forest.”

Well, I am back from Rock Creek Park and can report that nature is swell. Seriously! I was a nature-hater, but I am here to say I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

I had not been in the park for five minutes when I spotted my first wildlife, and, as God is my witness, it was a bear! A big, lumbering bear, not 50 feet away; but ensconced as I was in this unsullied nature place, I felt no fear. Not long after, looking up, I saw an orangutan swinging from limb to limb.

By the time my day at Rock Creek park was over, I had also seen a 150-pound Komodo dragon, a really fancy-looking shrimp, three zebras, an elephant and a giant panda.

Thanks for the day at the zoo, Lynn. You probably didn’t know this — most people don’t — but, technically, the National Zoo is considered part of Rock Creek Park. You can look it up.

I’ll be filing my expenses for the hummus, the beer and the Dippin’ Dots.

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