“I’m sure there’s a god in favor of drums,” writes Pattiann Rogers. That god had a hard time getting my attention on Monday morning (surely a hard time for all gods in that endeavor), when I was wandering around my woods disappointed to have had no sign of my beloved young hawks.
I was so attuned to hawk-shaped spaces that it took me a while to even notice the quiet rhythm at the edge of the trail. When the sound finally pierced my hawky haze, I thought that, well, at least I might get to see a Hairy Woodpecker even though I missed my young accipiter friends. But all I saw in that area of the forest were a couple of Steller’s Jays, so I moved on.
I arrived at the hawks’ favorite hangout at the convergence of three trails, where they sometimes perched on a tall snag above the grassy area where I was standing, near some beaked hazelnut shrubs. No hawks. But again I heard the tap-tap-tapping, and was surprised that I would have chanced to hear a second Hairy Woodpecker in a single morning, when often I don’t encounter any for several weeks.
A Steller’s Jay landed in the hazelnut shrub, apparently a young bird because it seemed to be having a hard time landing properly, flopping around for several moments. I figured it must have given up when it flew off to a wide, strong branch low on a nearby Doug Fir.
Then I heard that now-familiar light pounding from the jay’s direction. Sure enough, there it was hammering away on the branch.
Funny how long it can take, while you’re busy pursuing your agenda, to realize that the real story is somewhere else entirely.
Having finally been awakened by the god in favor of drums, I watched more closely as several jays flopped around in the shrub, their lovely blue feathers glowing among its bright green hazelnut leaves. I followed one with my binoculars as it flew up to a tree, and saw it hammering the hazelnut seed until the prickly cover came off. It then swallowed the nut whole.
In making my quick assumptions about the jays’ behavior, I hadn’t been giving them due credit: what I thought was an inexperienced young jay landing unsuccessfully was actually a show of remarkable acrobatic expertise. Paying better attention, I saw that the jays were managing to land on the flimsy twigs that supported those luscious hazelnuts, and while precariously hanging on (often upside down), they were able to wrestle the nut’s twig until it broke off.
They then had to extricate themselves from the shrub without losing the nut, and fly with it to a stable nutcracking platform. All this intricate maneuvering going on around me, unappreciated, while I kept looking for something that wasn’t there.
How many other aspects of my life fit that description, I wonder? How many marvels go unnoticed, how many stunning beauties shimmer in secret places I’ve overlooked? Sometimes I think that my own “work of loving the world” takes the particular form of exulting in the exquisite quotidan beauty that helps to unweave my web of ego.
It’s hard work, this vocation of appreciation; it takes minute-by-minute mindfulness and openheartedness in an age of distraction and destruction. You have to maintain a delicate equilibrium, staying aware of our environmental crisis while feeding your hope with beauty, and I’m not as good as my jays are at the acrobatics of hanging onto thin twisting twigs while reaching for that precious nut. But it’s my only alternative to despair, and I have to believe it’s well worth the work.