Today, I would like to share a lesson on attitude from two dogs and one cat. On one memorable morning, the “line-up” was in the kitchen waiting to be fed at 8:30 a.m. The poodle sat quietly while I put on the water for tea and started coffee for John. Translation from the poodle: “Oh good. You’re up. I know you have lots to do this morning and I’ll wait patiently by your side until you have time to feed me.” The cat, however, had a completely different attitude. He managed to wrap himself around my feet with every move, demanding attention by “meowing” loudly. Translation from Merlin the cat: “What do you mean you slept until 8:30 a.m. Really! Humans are so unreliable. Feed me now or I’ll trip you. And while I am at it, I’ll make sure you land in my empty food bowl.” As for dog Ratso, she was still asleep. Smartest one of the bunch, I’d say, although the cat would never agree.
I would like to think that I am more like Oscar was on this particular morning – giving, forgiving, patient, easygoing and unassuming. Alas, I find myself many times to be an inconsistent and mixed bag of emotion with responses too often dependent on internal and external influences, including the close proximity of a favored glass of iced tea. It is not that I do not know the value of a stable attitude, but rather the sheer fact that imperfection requires that I live as a work in progress. At sixty, I am still learning how to do life better and this alone is reason for hope and celebration.
Even Oscar is inconsistent as evidenced by growls of discontent when he is forced to move from a favorite position in a chair or forced to relinquish a favorite toy. The most consistent one has always been the cat who is always superior in every way. Just ask any cat.
Perhaps, the unpredictability of life is truly part of its charm and includes our reactions during the journey. Life may be a motley boat to sail, but it is certainly not boring and without the element of surprise. Just maybe, a few tossed waves are needed to keep us engaged, to keep us alert and perhaps, even inspired.
Now, where is the glass of iced tea?
The Great Egret (Ardea alba)
We had just pulled into the road to Pinckney Wildlife reserve. Not a bird in sight, well this fellow, I would call him a Sentry, flew in making its presence known. This very large white orange beaked fellow flew to a tree and stood there looking right at us. It seemed stern in manner curious to the fact, we did not belong in his territory. I thought maybe it would fly away after seeing us staring up at him. As I turned around, to tell Deb to get her camera, she was already gone.
We spent about thirty minutes watching this great bird. The Egret was beautiful in the wind, fluffs of soft white feathers fluttered as he faced it. The bird was tall when it stretched out his long snake-like neck. He truly looked like a guard of his domain.
Pinckney Island is full of wild marshes and there are various rookeries. The island is full of vegetation and wild birds of all kinds. The reptile population was very active. The cycle of predator /prey was evident.
We knew it would be interesting because we were greeted by one of its inhabitants, sitting in a large dead tree. This event gave us the impression that this was going to be a wonderful day of birds, not to mention alligators, and that is another story. Maybe this bird was trying to warn us of things to come.
This is one of the most interesting insects to watch. When I was first introduced to this speedster, I thought it almost acted like a hummingbird. Its wings flutter so fast that it is actually difficult to photograph. My wife caught this one just right. Its wings are outstretched, although if you were watching you would only see the blur of his flapping wings. This is a moth called Nessus (Amphion floridensis).
He is attracted to thistle. The thistle is a common plant most pollinators like to land upon. This insect rarely lands to get the nectar from the flowers but hovers above them. Wouldn’t you want to land after all that flapping? We found this wonderful moth in one of the prairies right here in Ohio.
I could barely see her, a set of lissome wings held by a gentle wind, a mere speck in a deeply blue and vast horizon. She moved with precision as one knowing her destination. To behold her in flight was sheer magic, a perfect form made more distinct as she neared the shoreline. I could hear the soft rhythmic music of wings as she settled on the beach, several feet away from my camera. This Great White Egret seemed unconcerned with my presence, focused solely on one mission, the hunt for food.
Her day is about survival, a continuous battle against the elements, predators, and hunger. If she is smart and lucky, perhaps a companion will come her way. Perhaps, she will once again, avert a lurking danger, having surely survived the perils of day’s past. Strong swift wings can carry her to both safety and sustenance.
As a child, I thought birds were special. To be able to fly into the heavens was exhilarating to contemplate. There would be no need for lengthy trips in the backseat of my dad’s station wagon to visit a friend or even the need to ask permission. Remove the middle man. I could simply flap my wings, be wherever I wanted to be in minutes, and still be home in time for dinner. If I was lucky, I might even catch a glimpse of an angel or two sitting on one of those fluffy white clouds.
As an adult, I still admire birds, but my thoughts of wings are more allegory than magical. I need my metaphorical wings daily to lift me when life is difficult and provide courage to move forward when necessary. Wings provide fuel to act on dreams and move forward with goals, even when success seems far away.
I can still soar, even with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
The little man looked upon me through the glass. I stood for a long while and looked into his eyes. He looked back into mine. Not a small creature looking at me but a man. His face was wrinkled in sorrow. He wondered about me, I wondered about him. I knew he was curious because I was curious. His sorrow tore at me, for he did not move like a monkey, just sat and stared at me. I could not help myself but stand there and stare at him.
I thought to myself, how does he feel about me? Sensory cues were limited to sight. If we could only touch each other. Hear each other’s life sounds, breathing, and vocalizations. Use of the other senses could give us cues to our feelings about each other.
I felt like maybe I knew him from somewhere. Perhaps we have met before? Not possible, if you think about mankind’s definition of human. He for instance might be kin in a before life. I jest in that thought that this human-looking monkey might just be like me. How close are our genes anyway? I laugh at the thought.
A mirror? I wonder, do I have a sorrowful face that draws his stare. I am looking into his eyes at least. The eyes are what draws us to each other. Not movement of the body, for neither I nor the monkey, moved, just staring, seeming to look for each other’s soul.
I remember as a child when a pet died, a minister told me an animal had no soul. I think as I thought then, all life, in general, must have a soul. All life returns to the earth and the energy never dies.
I stared a few more minutes, his face did not change. When I walked away surprisingly he followed and watched me. I thought to myself, maybe we helped each other’s sorrow, in this life, for a while, to go away.
Growing up, there was a special tree that I visited often when I was lonely, afraid or hurting. It stood proud and tall at the end of a small circular street park in the middle of West Park Avenue. Two streets down, the tree was a short walk from my home.
This tree was not special because it was perfect. In fact, the tree was horribly deformed, stretching at a ninety-degree angle over the adjacent street and over the top of the adjacent home. At night, the tree was a frightful sight, a black silhouette with long twisted limbs reaching for nearby homes on the opposite side of the street as if to pick them up as their residents slumbered in bed. During the day, the tree was visible for several blocks arching above cars as they traveled beneath its massive trunk.
Sitting at the base of the tree was unnerving, yet strangely comforting. The appearance of the trunk towering over my small frame and stretching upward into the sky was unforgettable. The idea that at any moment the tree might topple on top of me was always in my mind. Yet, I could relate to this tree that remained unmoved by elements that would destroy it. If the tree could stand for years despite the strain of a weighty crooked trunk, so could I. Under the tree, I felt small but powerful.
Decades later, I returned to West Park Avenue in search of my favorite tree only to find a vacant spot where the tree had once stood. I will likely never know whether the looming tree had become too much of a threat to resident life or if, perhaps, the tree had simply died from age and disease.
As an adult, I still look for misfit trees – ones that are damaged or misshaped. Like the tree featured in this post, they bear the battle scars of a life survived, one that is imperfect. And on hard days still, I remember, that life no matter how tough is always worth fighting for.