# 90 Second Thoughts on Animal Behavior

 

Second Thoughts on Animal Behavior.

I simplified. This winter those hard to clean squirrel-proof and tube feeders stayed tucked away in storage replaced by a single hanging platform and black oil sunflower seeds. My intent, to feed crows as well as the finches and sparrows,  was straightforward but the feeder I bought turned out to be too small for crows so every other day I’d toss leftover feeder seeds onto the concrete porch floor with some added handfuls of peanuts in the shell. This worked well but as spring approached a single gray squirrel showed up. One by one the squirrel gathered the peanuts from the porch then buried in them in separate holes dug in the lawn until all the peanuts were gone, then the squirrel would return to stuff itself with as many of the sunflower seeds as it could eat. When the crows showed up there was little food left and their favorite, the peanuts, were out there somewhere covered by dirt.  I was watching a parallel behavior to the panicked Trader Joe’s pandemic hoarders filling their carts with multiples of canned beans or peanut butter jars until the overflowing carts could barely be pushed and those who shopped later went empty handed.

In the midst of this long haul social isolation and sick of my own cooking, I tried local curbside takeout at a nearby eatery  but their usual homemade fries didn’t hold up in the paper container on the ride home. Waiting for a time of squirrel absence, the next day I tossed the fries on to the porch floor along side a pile of peanuts. I was testing those crows. Would they head straight for the protein or go for the junk food? You know the result. Every last fry disappeared down crow gullets before one protein peanut was consumed.

Watching the birds has provided solace during these troubled times, a relief though what I thought was animal behavior untouched by the overwhelming current circumstances of people. Such a relief thinking that nature would continue with Spring, unabated by troubling human conditions. How wrong I was; animal behavior is not “pure“ nor separate from our actions. And then the internet sprouted photos and videos from all over the globe showing animals filling in normally human occupied spaces: Japanese deer wandering the car-less streets. Mountain goats running around yards in Wales. Mountain Lions wandering freely through neighborhoods. Wild Turkeys showing up in Oakland.  It seems that nature will repair the planet if humans start behaving themselves.

https://www.boredpanda.com/animals-roam-streets-coronavirus-quarantine/utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic

And:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/51977924

# 88 Sound

Sound.

The nights are never truly silent. Even during the most quiet time, when the tide is furthest out and the winds are calm, there is still the constant backdrop of waves colliding with rock. When the fog horn is not sounding, that is as silent as it gets. I would have thought that this sound would fade from constant awareness into backdrop as does a heartbeat or the sound of breath, but that’s not the case. 

These days of early spring are not silent either as the songbirds sing for mates and territory. But it is the absence of other sounds that holds my attention and gives awareness that not all is right in the world. 

The sound of pickup trucks in the driveway, saying soon the nearby restaurant will open for the season, is absent. The sounds of the school bus picking-up or letting-off neighborhood kids is absent as well as the occasional sounds coming from the closest yard when the boys are out there together letting off indoor steam. The sound of planes  in landing lineups overhead, preparing for delivery of their passengers is (nearly) absent. The diesel engine noise of lobster boats pulling traps is also nearly absent. The hearing evidence of human activity has faded to a whisper.

The sound of my own voice is also mostly absent. There are a few phone calls now and then, but not daily. Mostly there is quiet keying on the laptop or the phone, the silent greeting of words to check in with others and to pass along funny internet stuff. I am noticing we seem to fade in and out with one another, wanting to stay in contact yet there are days we seem to collectively withdraw just a little. 

The radio, often a prime source of sound, is only on occasionally; the news is grim and indeterminate, an anathema to the calm and peace possible when focus stays on light and clouds and water, when watching the Eiders transition from the great flock down to pairs as it’s unfolding day by day. There is spring work to be done, a new brood to make and raise and, although I suspect those things are far from silent, the duck sounds do not make it as far as the house. 

I feel a very particular kind of envy watching the birds going about their lives oblivious to our unfathomable human existence. I think of the times human actions have impacted theirs in devastating ways, but now there is only watching their movements while taking solace that the season is changing and (at least some) aspects of the world are still normal.

# 86 Grace

Grace.

Grace is present in our world. Grace does not show off. Grace does not strut, or bellow. Grace is subtle and you need to be paying attention to notice its presence in life’s daily moments.

The air had warmed but I failed to notice. I was busily occupied inside and let slip away the first above 60 degree day since last Fall without any awareness, nary an opened window or door, or a sniff of fresh air. But the night brought rain and the morning’s sun shone through nature-washed windows. The salt crud that had coated the window glass with an unwelcome frosting since last week’s high surf was erased and the morning light made the world fresh again. Stepping out on to the porch to feed the birds was entry into a new season. Yes, there would be more cold and mostly likely even snow, but the air had been gently rinsed and the smell in the day’s early air hinted of mud rather than ice.

All day the sun played out on the water ducking in and out behind the clouds. When it was out the water looked green, that wonderful gray-green with the iridescent sea-foam green sparkle as the top of each wave tipped over onto itself, the color I think is the most beautiful color on the planet. When the sun tucked behind the lofty, floating cloud puffs the water turned blue-gray, the color painters most often choose for seascapes. All day the cloud forms changed in dips and swirls and, later, gathering into small masses looking like mini storms  approaching, not serious but as teasers saying “but I could if I wanted to…”

Such a simple day suggesting in-between season possibilities, a day of grace and beauty disguised as ordinary.

# 82 Out There

Out there.

When I meet people and the question about where I live comes up the inevitable words “I love it out there!” is the most likely response. Last night driving home after dark from a rare evening out I, too, felt like I was driving “out there” along the only route that passes through town, in then out again, turning a few miles later onto the road that runs out when you get to the sea. A map, Google or printed, shows a jut of land water to the left and in front of you. Aerial photos show the dark blue ocean with a brown-grey mass of rock trimming the edges, and a somewhat small cluster of houses set just back from the rocks.

I woke from a dream where I was traveling to where I lived before I came here. I opened my eyes to my current life, seeing the vivid horizontal streak of sky orange before sunrise and with it an underlayer of cherry red that only occasionally appears. I could feel the change from my dream-body to the waking present where a jagged dancing energy flowed just under the skin of my chest, realizing that feel is a near constant presence when I am here. I wonder about that red, the color of alarm, danger, excitement, passion. It seems to pair with that jagged edgy feel inside me.

The first moments I spent in this house I sensed the possibility of a vast presence. It remains to this day, as unnamed now as it was then, sometimes feeling like a challenge and sometimes, a mere unsettled sense, of nearly constant unease, perhaps and ebb and flow of a rhythm that matches the intensity of the waves and the wind.

I imagine living on a pleasant street in a tidy neighborhood thinking there I would not feel this underlying red, this unsettledness that is so constant. I am not referring to life’s ups or downs, the troubled times or restful ones. I am attempting to describe an existential energy present, I believe, where the vastness of the ocean pushes its might up against solid rock, opposing forces giving off energy release that is palpable even if all seems calm, or as calm as the ocean ever gets.

What images form in your mind when you think of the word “retirement”? I had thought it would be a time of rest, of unstressed  activity with time to savor. Instead, I landed in an energy vortex where beauty is a constant but ease is not. This is a stark awareness on a minute-by-minute basis. I am not attempting to describe emotions or feelings. The backdrop roar of even a fairly calm low tide is in my ears as I write. It is the constant presence of releasing energy. This truly is “out there”.

# 80 The Range of Beauty

The Range of Beauty.

Many of us in cold climates grumble about January: it’s long, it’s cold, it’s dark, and worst of all, it is a very long way from spring.

First there was an odd warm spell followed by a falling-in-clumps day of unserious snow, one of those pretty snows like the lazy flakes depicted on holiday cards. By afternoon the glop was present most everywhere with cleaned up roadways and good going. Then the wind picked up in late afternoon and by nightfall the temperatures plummeted and the glop froze solidly into ice ruts. By morning it was 11 degrees with 40 mph wind gusts. It became one of those winter trials where something–the car, the house–something, will break down because that is just the way it works when weather goes to extremes. There were repair trucks in driveways fixing the (most likely) expensive problems.

In a very typical New England winter weather pattern the cold was broken a day or so later when a snowstorm moved through, warming the air and dumping ten or so inches of pristine white over everything. The sun rose brilliantly in the early morning, the storm having moved north. The colors of the ocean and the sky and the light were exquisite and constantly shifting  the whole day.

Silvers, blues, traces of pink here and there, with tinges of green as the waves gently broke on shore, and a shining band of light on the horizon, like a magic highlighter pulling your eyes to the dancing light of that line of shimmer.

My thoughts turned to the beautiful summer houses on the shores of the Atlantic, empty, their owners far away in warmer climes. The measurement of abode when one has choices are often based on “climate” usually meaning temperature. We humans don’t care for being cold (many of us but not all.) But today’s winter beauty was every bit as glorious as a peak summer’s day. It might have even exceeded it, in the stark light and sparkling white. A gull lifted off the rocks, just as it would do in the summer, only the backdrop to the flight was gray and black and white, the colors of the bird itself.  The symmetry was precise and cause for a gasp of recognition and elation. This exquisite day was missed by those who were elsewhere.

I sat on the porch warmed to 70 degrees by the sun, my heavy wool sweater discarded temporarily on the floor. When the sun slides down under the horizon at day’s end the sweater will be needed again, but for this afternoon of light and beauty there is only “Thanks”.

# 71 Elemental

Elemental.

If you witness the sun rising over the ocean at daybreak and see it only as “pretty” you are missing something vitally important.

The pulse of the world is elemental. It can be experienced beside vast water, at the base of tall trees, viewing distant blue-gray mountains, in meadows of sweet grasses and wildflowers, with birds flying overhead.

It might well be what moves fire before a great wind or nestled in the parched landscape waiting for rain.

Faint or pounding our earth breathes, it’s heartbeat present in the smallest of moments whether or not you are aware.

The fishes know it, so too, the bears and the deer and coyote moves by it, always.

The animals we dismiss as lesser beings than ourselves, live inside it. We humans mostly pretend. We pretend we are masters of this world, our cars and our electricity and, oh Lordy, those distracting computers and cell phones and gadgets, bent heads holding our gaze so absolutely unable to know it.

We make our games, our talk-talk, in our flimsy shells deceiving ourselves about the nature of our lives, ironic for how far from Nature we have come.

We occupy frail bodies, even those focused on muscle and prowess; one snap and we are reduced to howling.

The earth endures our attempts at destruction, bears the scars, bides it’s time. When it’s had enough it will “shake us off” (as someone I knew once said) “like fleas” and it will go on breathing, our opportunities for witness gone.

#70 November

November.

November has come like an 19th Century taskmaster in an unforgiving boarding school. Cold awakened me at 3 a.m. seeping through the walls. The full moon light outside the windows looked and felt icy, the light shaded a faint pale blue rather than the usual soft glow of yellow. The first snow came as a thin blanket, not enough to help insulate the herbs I’d hoped to keep going a little longer. With this temperature plummet they may not survive at all and Spring, a damn long way from now, will mean tiny bedding plants rather than strong wintered-over stock. Such is life in northern climbs, only now the proof of erratic weather conditions predicted by climate change scientists feels more true each day. How easy it is to forget September and October were glorious and often warm; what feels like an abrupt plunge may be that the natural order of things is restored and this cold is appropriate. No. I don’t believe that either.

I went to hear a speaker, a young immigrant man who told his miraculous story of winning the Diversity Immigrant Green Card Visa lottery, a program targeted for elimination by the current administration. Twenty million people apply for this lottery worldwide and one hundred and twenty thousand are initially selected then whittled down to half that. This was the number of immigrants and refugees who actually got to come to this country five years ago when he won his chance to fulfill his coming-to-America dream.  I am one of we oddly faceted humans, dimly aware of and feeling awful about, the plight of a million refugees and still don’t DO anything, yet a singular story told in person holds me (and those in the room) in attentive awe, the story opening our hearts to the plight of many. A young man stood at a podium describing situations we’d never imagined,  our consciousness awakening in tingling shock, our taken-for-granted richness, our privileged lives in contrast, hanging in the large room, an audience touched–at least for the moment–by more than a little shame. Did we not know? Yet our lack is not as much evidence of our guilt but rather more his telling of his joy, courage, and determination in being here, his brother permanently denied the same path, his mother never to come, leaving him without family, braving the uphill climb to adaptation, education and earning money as a translator to send money back to help feed a village of others.

Is this not a November story? Thanksgiving is not a holiday in a land frequented by drought and killing hunger yet the concept of the holiday alone is proof of American bounty. His is the story of stressed possibility, amazement at his good fortune, a continuance of joy despite hardship, of thanks through adversity, survival, and what comes after.

Later, snuggled under blankets in the dark night of winter’s first plunge, I wonder about one part of his story, of coming from a hot, dry climate and landing is such a frigid one, one more hurdle in rebuilding a life out of impossible odds.

 

To read his story:  Abdi Nor Iftin [with Max Alexander]. Call Me American: A Memoir. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.