Just To Be Alive

… it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.

Mary Oliver

for Maya and Mom

On these toasty days in Sacramento, I am reminded of the wisdom people love to dispense to the parents of small children, about the days being long but the years being short. I can measure my lack of attention by the number of times I gaze out the window and think about napping and the number of trips I make downstairs to the kitchen in search of iced coffee. Every now and then I lasso a bit of my old productivity and end the day pleased with what I have accomplished. But more often than not, the time ticks by slowly as I struggle to focus on what most needs to get done.

And yet there’s a beauty to these languid days. I never realized how stunning the view is from Jimmy’s room. The way the majestic oak trees fill both windows, making the room feel more like a treehouse than a second story bedroom. The way the sunlight dances on the leaves and exposes every gray nuance of the rough textured branches. The noise of the Nuttall’s woodpecker tapping on the metal gutter above the open window. The black and white flash as he flits to the trunk of the oak tree where he is patiently drilling a hole.  The bright patch of red on his head is a blur, visible only when he pauses.

I realized I can identify all of the birds I see outside Jimmy’s window by name, a gift from my mother who loved to birdwatch. The binoculars I grab, the bird books I consult are gifts from Mom, her gentle way of trying to inspire me to study and appreciate these feathery creatures as much as she did.

Last week, Dan woke me at dawn when he rolled out of bed and wandered out to the kitchen. Just as I was nodding back off to sleep, I heard the sound of a turkey yelping in the yard. I tried to ignore the bird’s frantic cry, but there was an intensity to the sound that inspired me to get up and go to the window. Below me on the left were six small downy chicks, clustered tightly together, a hen on either side. The hen closest to me was directing her rage to the back fence. I turned to the right and saw a full-grown bobcat cornered by two male turkeys at the base of the wrought iron fence bordering our property.

Suddenly, one of the toms lunged at the cat as if to drive him away. The bobcat launched himself at the turkey who turned tail and raced toward the hens and cowering chicks. With the bird on the run, the bobcat whirled around, nimbly scaled the fence, jumped down on the other side and disappeared into the overgrowth. Goliath, vanquished by David. I let my breath out slowly, thinking of all the times that Dan and I had fought that fiercely for Jimmy, refusing to acknowledge the way the odds were stacked against us or the possibility that we might fail.

How much did I miss, working away with my head down at the kitchen counter when Dan and Molly were away at work and school. Even with the windows open and Buster to alert me to the wildlife happenings, I was too busy, too stressed, too far behind to pause and notice the day. Life was singing, hunting, giving birth all around me. Feathery and furry creatures grateful to be burrowing a home, building a nest, cornering their next meal or singing for the joy of hearing their own voices.

I am more mindful of the beauty now. More willing to pause .. at the open window, on a long walk, outside when I take the garbage out late at night after my human companions have gone to bed. I watch the dog more intently to see what he sees and hear what he hears, determined not to miss any more performances. The jack rabbit bounding through the yard. The spotted fawns nibbling on the pale lavender flowers on the crepe myrtle bush near the gate. The adult coyote slinking through the tall, dry grass on the far side of the fence. The snowy egret, stark white against the bright green grass as it strolls across the lawn. The hummingbird that dive bombs my head, hovering so close that I half expect it to kiss my check before it flits off. Life .. pulsating all around me.

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