I tried hard to sit on the porch in the sun this morning to write this column but it was just too chilly. Staring out the window, from inside the house, the sunshine and pastel blue sky issued a persuasive invitation, compelling even.
I am in a fallow moment just now, without tons on my plate that must be addressed. So I am hoping the predicted warm-up turns out to be true so I can sit out there and watch the new hummingbird visitor and the relentless clutch of other birds flocking to our feeders.
There is a commercial running on television these days, from a travel website, I think. It pans one natural wonder or impressive human citadel after another. There are no accompanying graphics or soundtrack. Then a disembodied voice assures those of us listening from home that when we are at the end of life we won’t look back with satisfaction on all the stuff we collected, but rather, it will be the fullness of our big experiences for which we are most grateful. Each time I see this commercial I want to raise my hand and object to the false dichotomy being presented — as if our only choices are the accumulation of material decadence or a bucket brimming full of items we checked off a list.
There is also the realm of small things, like birds at the feeder and taking time to behold the passing of time itself. The poet Mary Oliver was a genius at noticing small things and then describing them in ordinary phrases that nonetheless revealed something extraordinary. But “stuff” and those big bucket list experiences must be turned down and placed in the background in order to become a citizen in the realm of small things.
The realm of small things has a joy and satisfaction all its own, but one that is seldom recognized by those traversing the other realms. The gardener digging in the soil on hands and knees brings into close-up the intricate ecosystem woven by the seasons and nurtured by insects, plants, and animals. The birdwatcher is keenly aware of which species are late arrivals this year, and know why particular ducks swim where they do on the lake, and at what times of the summer.
Sitting on the porch over the course of the warm seasons, observing the very small realm in which I am also an element, I learn the hunting schedule of the red-tailed hawk, the foraging patterns of groundhogs, flirt with the red-winged blackbird who likes to chatter on the light post, new mole holes, and the elastic schedule of the trains. It is impossible to know what such studied observations will teach, but there is always some small joy revealed — and of course, the simple joy of observing it.
Those who take time to watch the seasons turn, ratcheting up into a crescendo and flowing down into decline as it melds into the next season, will see and hear and feel things the rest of us do not. For example, receiving a sudden scent of spring while winter still reigns. A small joy with great value.
Perhaps you have a porch or stoop or lawn chair from which you too can do nothing other than enter into the realm of small things. I hope so.
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