Minding the Gap: Attention in the Quiet Season

The ringing cry of the well-fledged eaglet has faded; he’s off to his new territory. Young hawks are nowhere to be heard or seen. Gangs of adolescent Steller’s Jays still fill the nearby cedars with their raucous shrieks, and this year’s crop of Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches are still desultorily begging from their parents at my birdfeeders—but the parents aren’t paying too much mind now that the young ones are fully capable of feeding themselves.

Young Chestnut-backed Chickadee begging

Fledgling Chestnut-backed Chickadee in classic begging posture – note open beak and fluffed wings

It’s quieter in my forest: the leaves are yellow-tinged, the soil is dusty, the air feels just a bit spent. The stories have shifted.

Late-summer sunset, Lincoln Park

The waters are stiller too. Our summer birds seem to have taken off, and the winter migration hasn’t reached the Salish Sea just yet. A couple of seal pups have shown up on our shores (well-protected by our devoted and generous Seal Sitters), but the pupping season hasn’t yet generated its larger numbers of baby seals resting vulnerably on the beach, in easy reach of curious dogs and humans.

Seal on West Seattle beach, 2009

Seal on West Seattle beach, 2009

Many of the area’s college students have headed back to their campuses, summer camps are coming to a close, and families seem to be packing cars and kids for that last pre-Labor Day vacation before school starts.

The summer before I started college, my family moved to Europe. When it was time for me to head back to the East Coast in late August, my father came along to help me get settled. We unpacked my suitcases, set up my desk supplies, made my bed, found the cafeteria. Finally it was time for him to leave; orientation started the next day, and he had to catch a flight back to his job.

I remember so clearly our hug goodbye, then watching him walk away from me toward the rental car; I suspect he may have had a few tears in his eyes, as I did, but in our family you tried to seem strong. Off he drove, heading back to his regular life while I started my new one.

Now what?

I had no idea what to do with myself. My new roommate was off somewhere; orientation wasn’t until tomorrow; classes of course hadn’t started yet. I could start reading some of the philosophy books I’d bought, I guessed, but when I tried, the words somehow just didn’t click. I think I just kind of walked around, trying to pass the time until something organized happened. I wasn’t actively exploring with any kind of focus, simply drifting in this new setting.

* * * * *

Late August, the quiet season: major transitions are about to happen, but their germination is still deep underground. These days I find it easier than usual to stay home and write rather than exploring the forest, since there’s a new hush; fewer birds draw my attention. When I do walk in the woods, I need to pay a different kind of attention than usual. Huge raptors no longer clamor from tops of trees, easy to find and observe; instead, humbler creatures whisper from the thickets.

It’s a latent time that invites a different way of listening. A season for special mindfulness, to notice what’s absent rather than what makes itself obviously present, to hold closer to heart the softer sounds and senses: the quiet ‘pik’ of a small Downy Woodpecker making its way around a hidden snag, the lingering warmth of a father’s recent embrace.

Soon enough the fall bustle will begin. Classes will start, Buffleheads will cluster off our shores, flocks of Common Mergansers will bring autumn elegance to the Salish Sea with their tuxedo black-and-whites. For now, though, a passing peace prevails.


5 responses to “Minding the Gap: Attention in the Quiet Season

  1. I like “humbler creatures whisper from the thickets”. Sweet story about summer turning to fall and the process we go through. Kind of bittersweet.

  2. Beautiful…and sorta wistful. Yesterday I raked a pile of leaves off our garden paths just to push back the growing evidence of autumn. You remind me it’s a lovely time, thank you.

    • Thanks for your comment, Cass. The older I get, the more I appreciate autumn…but I wonder if, when I get *much* older, my feelings about it will change?

  3. Thoughtful post and lovely photos!

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