Road kill

Roadkill really bothers me, especially when it’s a squirrel like the one I just saw. I like squirrels. They’re cute and playful and fun to watch. Yes, they also get into my birdseed and bury nuts in my flowerbeds, but I forgive them their natural instincts. Lying in the road injured and half dead as unsympathetic cars hurry by is an apt metaphor for the often hectic pace of modern life. We are overtaxed and overburdened, so we needfully filter out some “unessentials.” Of course, the list of what is unessential continues to grow. While I don’t expect motorists to stop their cars and nurse an injured squirrel, I wonder how many of them at least felt some sympathy for its plight?

I saw a scene on The Waltons a few weeks back wherein Elizabeth finds a bird that has fallen from its nest and goes to the trouble of putting it back (apparently, it’s not true that the parents will reject it – unless it is injured.

Nature is often practical if not cruel). Were Elizabeth living in today’s world, she would likely be too busy texting as she scurried along Walton’s Mountain, oblivious to her surroundings and the stupid bird. I know, times have changed and I’m starting to sound my age, but I do often wish life were simpler. As much as I love some aspects of modern technology (I’m sitting outside – in nature – typing this on my laptop), there has to be some balance (for me, this is partially accomplished by not subscribing to cable or broadcast television. Excess hours I’d be tempted to lazily squander on silly reality shows are spent reading instead).

Many things in nature are short-lived (except trees), at least from a human perspective. But time is a human illusion, and perhaps nature is not as cruel and careless as it can sometimes seem. Nature does continually renew itself, and many more squirrels will come along to replace my dead friend (we could say this of humans, too, of course). But it reminds me of the story about a boy and his father walking along the beach amongst hundreds of stranded starfish that had washed ashore. As the boy picked one up to toss it back in the water, the father laughed and told him he couldn’t possibly put a dent in the situation and make much of a difference. The boy, pointing to his starfish, said “It makes a difference to this one.”

Make a difference.

Ode to trees

Trees. I’ve always loved them. Shrubs, too (little trees!)  I wasn’t a tree climber, I never had a tree house, but I did take special notice of trees – their often majestic grandeur, their shiny and intricate leaves, the wonderful shade they provide, the wide array of flowers and fruit they bear. I remember the huge chestnut tree in the neighbor’s yard when I was a kid and the minefield of chestnuts that would litter the ground beneath. I would pick them up and save the best ones, admiring their hard, shiny surface and deep brown color. Another neighbor had a gorgeous pink azalea that made such an impression on me that to this day, when I see a similar one, I am reminded of my childhood. In our yard we had a flowering white dogwood, fragrant purple lilacs, a bright yellow forsythia and a red Japanese maple.

Trees just stand there, gracefully, unobtrusively, year after year, asking little and giving much. They’re kind of introverted, trees are. I respect them. When I visit a far away place, the unfamiliar trees are one of the first things I notice. I love planting trees and watching them grow and change with the seasons. Trees are one of the things I love most about spring,  savoring the fireworks of white pears and pink cherries and stunning magnolias that sport both colors in abundance. There are specific trees in the area that I admire and remember and try to visit during their bloom. In the fall, the color explosion is totally different yet equally awe-inspiring. And lets face it, isn’t one of the dreariest things about winter the fact that the trees are bare? Wouldn’t winter be more pleasant if they weren’t? Thank goodness for evergreens, silent and graceful when covered in snow. Is there anything more magical than a forest?

I’ve been busy planting trees and shrubs in my yard this summer, something I’ve done at every house I’ve lived in (too bad I keep moving and leaving them behind!). This time around I chose a weeping cherry, a Blue Angel holly, royalty and Mother’s Day azaleas, a Blue Star juniper, a burning bush, a Japanese andromeda, and assorted roses. I also have two existing white birch trees framing the yard that are mature and gorgeous, a weeping mulberry that I’ve trimmed into an umbrella shape, a large, graceful Japanese maple, and a wide assortment of flowers that were already here and have surprised me all summer long. Many butterflies, hummingbirds, cardinals, finches, and squirrels come to visit – two of them practically jumped into my lap as I sat on the side porch the other morning. A number of them chase each other around the yard and seem to enjoy it as much as I do. To them, it’s a storeyard for nuts, but to me, it’s paradise.

Nature Boy

I’ve always been an indoor kind of guy. When I was a little kid in grade school, I wasn’t good at socializing or sports, so I hated recess. Kids knocked me down. I was good at my school work, which was, of course, indoors. At home, I did have a friend or two in the neighborhood and we did things outside (including, apparently, terrorizing the fat lady who lived  down the street, but that’s another blog entry – I promise), but I spent many summers at my grandmother’s house where there were no kids. I’d do word puzzles and jigsaws, walk with my grandma downtown, and spend countless hours sitting on the neighbor’s front porch while she and my grandmother gossiped about everyone on the street (mostly an Italian and Polish neighborhood, until a notorious family of hooligans moved in. This was the 1970s, and I heard words for African Americans I had never heard before).

As a young adult, I continued to prefer indoor activities to outdoor ones. There were some practical reasons for this (I was very fair-skinned, I still didn’t care for sports, and I was allergic to grass and pollen), but truth be told I often felt too exposed outside. I liked to keep to myself, and didn’t want the world watching me or talking to me. Many days I stayed inside with the blinds closed, safe in my little cocoon yet often feeling very isolated. I loved rainy days because they normalized my indoor preference. I felt threatened by the outside, and quite possibly was a little too reminded of how the rest of the world was out there having fun and being boisterous and socializing and doing everything that I condemned myself for not doing. I didn’t understand that I was an introvert, and that quiet and solitude were normal states of being for me. Granted, I may have had other issues too (agoraphobia?).  I’m sure it is quite possible to be introverted and love nature, but my point is that to me, the outside was the domain of extroverts and I didn’t belong there.

As I got older I became a little more adventurous outdoors, but not very. I would never sit on the grass or god forbid lay on it, I never went swimming, and walking the dog around the block was a big deal. I had a fabulous house in a high-class neighborhood with a big gazebo in the backyard, but I rarely sat in it. It looked nice from my living room window, though.

When I moved to a resort area of Cape Cod and bought a house right on the main drag of the business district, thousands of people passed by my front sidewalk daily. What was I thinking? My very gregarious friend would sit on the stoop of the shop next door and schmooze with the locals, but I rarely joined. I conveniently had to work all the time, and preferred to stay inside with the very non-threatening dog.

Now, five years and two homes later, I live in a house with a fabulous yard, a front and side porch, and  a large back deck. I’ve spent more time outside here in the past few months than I ever did at my other homes. I frequently sit on my porch reading or web surfing and enjoying the view of the yard. I’ve done lots of landscaping, tree cutting and stump digging, and am trying to get my pond set up.  I love it here, and I’ve been trying to figure out what triggered the switch in my behavior. Is it the yard? Perhaps. It is very inviting and pleasant, there is lots to look at (the prior owner won an award for the landscaping and flowers), and there is enough of a buffer between me and the neighbors that I never see them. And yet, there is much activity in the neighborhood – sounds from the nearby playground, lots of people walking by, barking dogs, traffic – but none of it requires my interaction, and it’s far enough away that it doesn’t threaten my space. It’s comforting that the commotion is there because it makes the place, and me, feel less isolated, which I think was a problem with other places I’ve lived. It’s a beautiful noise, as Neil Diamond put it, the music of life.

This space just feels right for me. My only regret is that it’s taken me thirty years and nine homes to find it.