Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Simple Act of Paying Attention

Today I begin a blog that is the natural outgrowth of a backyard journal I started in Sept 2007. The idea for the journal was spawned while reading Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Chapter 2, Seeing)---to sit for at least one hour every day in my ordinary backyard---reading, or writing, or contemplating writing, or simply paying attention to the space and time and action and sound of the place---so to write at the end of the hour the singlemost significant thing observed.

Before trying it, I anticipated that some days would require a mental stretch to find anything worthy about which to write, misconceiving my backyard to be a place of serenity. What an education I've received in just 20 months. What have I learned? Tons about backyard wildlife, and beyond that, to expect the unexpected---yet every day surprises me.

By way of example, below is my first entry, dated 09-27-07. If you will indulge me this one flashback, I will return to current observations tomorrow without trying to catch you up on all I've seen and learned in the past 20 months of paying attention.

9-27-07 I've been here not ten minutes and the most comical baby squirrel (baby squirrel in September?) has captured my imagination. This I have never seen. A crazed lunatic of a tiny squirrel with tail twice his size in breadth and length darting and dashing and jerking at a dizzying pace from legs to arms to seat to chains to supporting bars of my brother Jim's handbuilt wooden swing. What is the matter with this squirrel? He's in a state of deranged panic. Something must be eating him alive, though I can't see what, for his mad thrashing about. Every now and again, in the course of his terror (Or is it simple play?), he lands on the ground beneath the swing to hop frantically with 12-inch vertical jumps, flopping and landing once on his back, next on his belly, or on his feet, or even on his head. He keeps this up for many seconds. A larger squirrel sits in the center of the grassy area in front of the swing, watching the antics, tail occasionally flipping, but otherwise still of body and head. His mother perhaps? Now the small one tears out into the grass beside the swing to roll and thrash and knock about, showing flashes of pure white belly, gray back, tiny feet grasping in every direction, giant tail all the while following, dragging, wrapping around him, obscuring my view. Did he get into a hill of fire ants? I've not seen any in the grass. Now back to swing. It's a wonder the swing doesn't swing, as hard as the poor creature keeps knocking his head on it. He looks not unlike a first grader caught in a nest of yellow jackets. Why doesn't his mother help him? I step inside to retrieve binoculars. When I return, the squirrels are gone, the mystery never to be solved. dkm

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