I am sitting here at the window of my writing room looking into the garden behind my house and the fields beyond. Everything is snow-covered, soft to my eyes….a fog has settled all around, just barely letting the sun show itself. The light appears curtained and mellowed, yet quietly brilliant. It hurts to look directly toward the sun, but the scene in all its facets is too compelling – the snow, the fog, the light. A small flock of birds has landed on the limbs of the smallest tree in the garden, which miraculously still has apples hanging precariously from its branches. The birds begin to feed, and I wonder that it’s not too cold for them. They share, they argue, they chase each other away from prized nibblings. They fly periodically to the next tree, which is empty, probably to burp and digest a bit before they return to the feast. They peck at the ground under the tree, digging through the snow, trying to get at, I assume, the apples that fell off the tree in the fall that we had not bothered to pick up. Those must surely be frozen, I ponder, even if the ones still hanging are not. But….a meal is a meal, I suppose. I am happy that our garden can provide at least one winter’s fare.
Suddenly, as if of one mind, or through some telepathic communication, or some verbal signal I can’t hear through my window, and certainly could not interpret if I had, they rise up from the ground and the trees in unison, and in a matter of a seconds are in a clearly previously planned formation, flying into the cluster of trees nearby. What happened? Were they frightened off? Did they sense my attention, scoff at it, and seek privacy elsewhere? They vanish so quickly, in the blink of an eye, and the garden is suddenly still. I am sure they can’t have flown off anywhere else, I would have seen them. Indeed, I am sure they are still somewhere in the depths of that cluster of trees just off from the garden. I look, but for the moment they are hidden from my curious eyes.
I turn my attention back to the now quiet garden. It feels idyllic and I am taken once again with the covering of snow. There are 5 fruit trees that stand somewhat at a distance from one another, and I notice that under each one the snow is discolored, and interestingly, these spots coordinate with and reflect the shape of the tree itself. It finally occurs to me that that unattractive brown tint, which I had failed to see before, is made from the fallen apples that the birds peck at so enthusiastically. Having lost their arboreal lifeline, those released and unattended apples molded as they lay there during the fall and early winter months, and their evidently delectable (the voracious manner in which the birds gobble them up substantiate this truth) secreting juices have permeated the liquid snow, displaying a visual signal to hungry creatures passing by - here is something to satisfy your appetite. No doubt, they would laugh at my slow powers of observation in detecting such an important detail. They would say, she could never survive the winter, certainly not alone. I have to smile, myself. My education would prove to be so useless. I notice a bird hopping on the ground, digging once more. One by one, more return, but not yet the flock in full numbers. It’s less crowded now, less jostling and a much calmer nibble and chatter repast.
All this time, a lone fly and a solitary ladybug have accompanied me in my reverie at the window. The fly cannot seem to fly longer than 2 seconds at a time, which looks more like a futile long jump in the air than anything resembling flight. The ladybug has been crawling along the window pane, seemingly looking diligently for something, probably an exit. Whether the ladybug can survive till spring, I don’t know, but I am sure the fly will not. If I put it outside, the cold will be its undoing. If it stays in, hunger will be its demise. I could feed it, but I’m not going to feed a fly. I have no wish to be a monster – God’s creatures and all that – but my decision stands. The ladybug seems to have stopped her search and found a comfortable place on the wooden frame of the window…..or maybe it’s a dead end. Anyway, I won’t feed her either, but I won’t bother her. The fly has disappeared and, I presume, gone to its fate. There is an absurd twinge of guilt.
My attention turns again to the garden, the snow, the fog, the trees and the birds. Many more are back but much less rapacious than before. It is more of a tea time atmosphere – a nibble here, a chirp and chatter there, a short flight to the neighboring tree and return for another nibble. The fog has further lifted and the sun has completely disappeared, making the day grey and dismal as is typical in winter. Suddenly, wafts of snow are falling off the branches of a tree in the cluster off to the side. There is no wind, so something must be milling around in the inner depths nearest the trunk. Then I see it, a smaller bird, about half the size of those feeding, flies high above the apple tree and settles on one of the highest branches on one of the tallest trees in the cluster. And there is another…and another. Are they hungry, as well? Do they wish to enjoy the frozen fruit, seeing this special tree as a happy, unexpected delicacy? Will the larger birds share? Will they not? Are all species as selfish and self-serving as humans? Whatever the answers might be, the little birds, though they remain at a distance, don’t give up. They stay aloft, flying back and forth. But it appears to me, they wait patiently for their chance.
Since I know nothing about birds, except that they fly and eat moldy, frozen apples, I wonder what their custom is. Will they migrate further south, which I recommend, or will they bear out the winter here, in which case they are welcome to all the apples they can find. I personally don’t mind the cold, but the dark shadowy days of the winter season are like tentacles that tear your sanity out of your brain, whooshing away with it while you writhe on the floor begging for sunlight or death – or at least an induced coma until spring finally comes again.
But I digress. The scene outside my window is lovely, and at moments, even breathtaking. I have never lived in such beauty before. The trees of the forest across the way and behind the field are a deep blue-black hue streaked and fringed with silvery snow, giving the impression that a magical world hides just on the other side. I look out at the fields and scattered houses, and it is a still life in real time. I see the curves and twists of the trees, their branches reaching and bending as if secretly photographed in the middle of an ancient dance. On the far hill, the fog has further lifted and a hint of blue merges into the grey, softening the contours of those trees to indistinct, ghostly elements of an impressionistic painting. As the mists rise further, a hint of billowy, whitish clouds begins to fill the sky and the trees come into sharp focus against the brightening firmament. So much to see in a matter of minutes and hours, over the course of only one short day.
It is 2019, and I have now seen 65 (don’t tell anybody) New Year’s come and go. I’ve made more resolutions than I care to remember and held on to less than I care to admit. The fervent promises of no chocolate, less alcohol, more streamlined diet and so on, are not the stuff successful resolutions are made of. They require another breed of commitment. It is those resolutions that demand my time and work, that call for my willingness to find a deeper awareness, that challenge me to see myself in all my glories and traumas, my blunders and truths, and work on it all, one step at a time, without pretense, that are my best successes. So this year, I challenge myself to open my eyes……to stop, to look and to see – to see the snow and the blue/grey of the misty sky, to see the ladybug and the dancing trees, to see the flock of birds, confident and safe in their family unit, and to see the little bird, wary and wishing for its place at the tree. To see what is here and what passes through. To see where I am and what is around me in any given moment. To see what is on the hill and what is beyond the forest. To see the lifting of the fog and the breaking through of the sun. And if I can see all that, maybe I will be able to see myself.
A small bird has dared to come closer to the apple tree. He sits on the low branch of another tree just a small distance away. The others must know he is there. He looks, and he waits. Suddenly, he flutters his wings, lifts himself off the branch and dives to the ground below the apple tree. Another little bird, just like him, joins him, and I watch and wait….to see what will happen. The two little birds begin to peck at the ground and eat….the others do not chase them away. After a few minutes, they dare to fly up to a branch where a succulent apple still hangs there on the tree. The larger birds continue eating, uninterrupted, unconcerned. I find myself feeling glad. All is well. They have been accepted at the feast. They have been welcomed. And so, like their larger cousins, they nibble and chatter, change to a new branch and nibble and chatter again and again. There is enough for all to fill up on and enjoy. There is good will and friendship at the tree. There is harmony in the garden…….and it is beautiful.