Give me shelter
Thursday at 5 p.m., 30 minutes before I had to be back home for my sitter. I was heading in the back door to bury my nose in the computer for a few clandestine moments of research and writing before my son discovered my presence, but as my foot hit the last stair leading to the back door, something in my deepest, aching heart-of-hearts called out for me to stop.
Half an hour stretched out before me, so instead of going inside, I turned and sat on the step directly under my feet. The sun had dipped behind the edge of the neighboring house, still bright, but not overbearing. The leaves were back in their full glory after a brief but real winter, gracing me with verdant shelter. I imagined I would find silence there, but instead I was met with a cacophony of bird sounds: steady banter, chatter overhead.
I don’t really like birds. They scare the living hell of out me when they get too close. Their sharp beaks and primordial legs are just fine kept at a distance. But in this moment, on this day, I listened. And they spoke. And I wondered what they were talking about.
Their conversations persisted urgently, rhythmically, and I was uncharacteristically transfixed. What were they talking about? What was so important up there? Were they scouting locations for nests? Looking for love? Grieving the loss of an egg that never hatched?
As I sat, listening to them, I had a creeping sense of exactly how far removed I have become from the natural world, the hushed and thundering world that exists beyond the boundaries of my insulated home and numerous devices.
I’m a city person, always have been. I love it all: sidewalks and people, morning showers and soft sheets. I don’t long to lay my head down in a sleeping bag on hard dirt at night, but there is something increasingly missing in the drumbeat of “when” and “how” and “how-much” that populates my city-dwelling days.
I dragged myself away from the birdsongs that evening and wandered back inside, thinking I still had time to “accomplish something.” But time had flown away. I was due upstairs, but my head was still in the trees. What were they talking about?
The next night, in dead-stopped gridlock in the heart of downtown, I was confronted with the stark truth that my gentle, midsized city was rapidly evolving into a full-throated metropolis — which both thrilled me and broke my heart. I gazed at the sea of brake lights and realized that if that’s how it’s going to be, I need a counterbalance to the pull of urban life. I need birdsongs and clouds and leaves on trees, and if I don’t take the time to see and know those things, I will lose something of enormous value — and my son will, too.
Another email, another hour spent staring at a blank screen in search of ideas, is not only fruitless, it’s heartless. It’s a vortex of pixels. Don’t get me wrong. I adore my screen time. I love connecting with friends old and new, and I value this maddening laptop that enables me to purge my thoughts. I fill it up with all kinds of inventive things when I have something to fill it with, but when I look to it, or to my phone, for inspiration, they leave me cross-eyed and lifeless. The birdsongs, on the other hand, are very much alive, full of intrigue.
I’ve hugged a few trees in my day and will definitely be hugging a few more in the years to come. In fact, the bigger the city gets, the more trees I plan to embrace, sap and all.
Bring on the chaos of a city in flux. Come what may, I’ve got birds in my backyard, and trees and leaves overhead, ready and willing to give me shelter from the steady hum of Wi-Fi forever worming its way through my skull.
And to discover what the birds are talking about, I’ll turn to the experts. My 4-year-old and his trusty pit bull will most definitely have a theory or two on that.