and Jane had it right
Growing up in the woods of Connecticut, I had my
very own playground. There were no swings or slides that you find
in the park, but rather a seemingly endless stretch of whatever-I-wanted-it-to-be.
One early summer morning, when the thrill of being
out of school was still new and it was finally warm enough to go
barefoot in the prickly grass, I played hopscotch in the driveway.
Bits of found limestone served as chalk and marker, and I sang to
myself as I skipped.
But I stopped my own voice when I heard the most plaintive, mournful
sound I had known in my six or seven years, making itself heard
through the chittering and chattering of the songbirds and squirrels
that populated the nearby trees.
I cocked my head in mid-hop, waiting for the sound to repeat. It
rose again, low and sad, and compelled me to scan the treetops in
an owl, perhaps, or some undiscovered animal that
cried like a lost child.
Of course I saw nothing. Even at that age I knew there was nothing
in the natural world that would be seen if it did not choose to
be seen. But the sound held me fast, as though it had wound a spell
around me. And without thinking, I curled my tongue and blew, answering
with my own low, plaintive whistle.
The mourning dove taught me to whistle. It would be another year
or two before I was able to purse my lips and whistle like the rest
of the world.
Those woods, I would come to learn over ten years, had more knowledge
and wisdom to impart than any classroom or lecture I have ever attended.
Although it was in the classroom that I first encountered Dick and
Jane and their great lesson -- LOOK -- it was in the shadows of
the trees that I was able to put this lesson into practice. Because
in the woods, you can't see unless you look.
I returned to Connecticut for college -- drawn, perhaps, by the
700-acre arboretum that bordered the campus. There I was again compelled
to attention by the beauty and cleverness of the woods. They are
not inanimate, not simply for decoration. They are the greatest
intelligence network the world has to offer, concealing and revealing
an arsenal more advanced and intricate than that of any political
One early autumn afternoon I walked beside the pond, skirting the
edges so that I might find my way deeper into the brush where I
imagined there were secrets only I would find. Foolishly, I was
not watching -- too focused on where I was trying to get, not where
I was. But the world does not always allow such ignorance. And so,
against my will, my attention was directed to a large brown rock
resting serenely in the middle of the pond. I was not foolish enough
to ignore the obvious -- the rock was normally grey, not brown.
Suddenly the veil lifted and six turtles revealed themselves, basking
warmly in the sun. I silently thanked whatever spirits rule such
places for awakening me, vowing silently to remember that I am always
here, not there.
The world is full of so many people all rushing noisily from one
event to another -- forever concerned with where they have been
and where they will be. Few remember Dick and Jane's sagacity --
most have been conditioned by bank accounts and watches and cellular
phones. LOOK has disappeared along with apple juice and vanilla
wafers, hopscotch and marbles. The fact that I still play with sidewalk
chalk serves as reassurance. I still understand that word -- LOOK.
I am not yet deaf to the turtles on the rock when they call out:
"Hey, look here. Look quickly, before we are concealed once
Outside my house is a bag full of clothespins. There is nothing
remarkable about a bag of clothespins. In fact, most things associated
with laundry are among the banal elements of life. But on one particular
day, the world chose again to reveal itself. When I put my hand
in the bag, it was not a handful of clothespins I got, but a handful
of twigs. Standing on tiptoe, I peered over the edge of the bag
to be greeted by a small nest, a single grey-blue egg resting gently
at its bottom. The sight filled me with wonder. Often, as a child,
I found abandoned nests after their occupants had flown off for
warmer or more comfortable surroundings. But now, finally, the origins
of life had been revealed. I was allowed to peek through the curtain,
to see into this world to which I can only be an outsider.
The bag remains undisturbed except by the birds that come to stand
guard over their treasures. There are three eggs now. I feel a sense
of tense expectancy, as though it is my own family on the verge
of hatching, not one of a different species altogether. When I see
the family-in-waiting, I am here -- part of my world and theirs
they are one and the same.
This morning I hear a mourning dove as I stand rubbing the sleep
out of my eyes. I curl up my tongue to answer, but find I can't
whistle the way I used to. I peer out the window into greyness.
There, perched on my garage, is a pair of birds the color of sky
just after a rain. They gaze at me with peaceful eyes as if their
steady look can lift the veil between our worlds for just a moment.
One opens its mouth
I am startled to hear the mournful cooing
which had greeted me every morning of my childhood since that day
in my driveway. For although we had spoken, we had not met. Here,
before my day full of appointments, I am given a second lesson.
A refresher course.
I curl my tongue and quietly blow, joining them in homage to the
gift of sight.