Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sacred Space: Rebecca in Nature

When spring finally came that year, it came with an extravagance of color. The wisteria on the lattice work covering the sky over my small backyard seemed to grow and bloom overnight. Thousands of perfumed flowers appeared, but not only that. Bees adored the lavendar buds. With hundreds of bees living right above my head, sometimes the buzzing was so loud I would stop what I was doing, close my eyes just to listen. and breathe in the air.  Somehow I got on the hummingbird flight pathway, one little hyper Anna's hummer after another, with its telltale flourescent green back and ruby throat, flew by to sip nectar from my copper feeder. It felt magical, in techicolor even.  My bright pink and salmon-colored geraniums  grew to the size of an adult's head and I swear that year I never used Miracle Gro. I didn't need to. My 20'x 10' backyard was a wonderland.

It began when my granddaughter was just three and 1/2  years old. We began to sit outside, very still, and watch what happened in my small yard.

Her blond curly hair hung almost to her waist. Pink cheeks.  Everything I said to her she believed. Not so much now at the age of 5, but back, then I was the authority on all matters. Rebecca looked at me with her navy blue eyes and saw a tall person, the keeper of life's mysteries. The question , "Why, Grandma? " hung on her lips. Lots of times I didn't have the answers so I tried to be completely honest with her. I did know some stuff, like why lizards do push ups or why hummingbirds rarely rested. Over the short few weeks of spring I began to make a mental list of all the insects, birds, reptiles, and other animals that Rebecca and I saw in this sacred space.

Dozens of yellow and brown caterpillars appeared underneath the dead winter leaves composting on the cement. 

I picked up crickets who found their way under my screen door. They would  hop across my carpet eventually disappearing under my couch or the TV in my living room. Carefully showing no fear, I would pick one up and hold it for Rebecca to examine. We looked at its sweet eyes, delicate antennae, and its crazy looking, impossible legs.

We found ladybugs, rows of ants, lizards big and little, and even a lazy old raccoon with a torn up tail. Neighborhood cats perched on the lattice, then finding some shade, curled up for a nap. Hummingbirds zipped by so often I had to fill the feeder up a couple of times a week.

Then one morning when Rebecca was visiting I looked out at the fence and thought I saw a slug on my plants. I try hard not to kill anything. I would usually just pluck the offender off the plant and throw it over the fence. But this was different. It was huge, yellow, ugly as hell, slimy looking. The first bug I'd seen in a long time that I really didn't want to touch. It was over 5" long and icky. I tried not to show my disgust in front of Rebecca who was thrilled by it. Her awe stopped me in my tracks. She looked at it. She put her little finger on its wet body. She giggled. We went onto Google Images to identify it. A banana slug. UC Santa Cruz's own mascot. I let it continue on its journey unbothered.

Blue jays, tiny brown wrens, Red Tailed and Cooper's Hawks floated hundreds of feet above us in lazy circles. Also those little birds with the black pointy heads, titmice, came to visit when I thought to spread out some sunflower seeds. If I wasn't out when they arrived, I'd heard them calling to wake me up. A squirrel that usually stayed in the tree in the utility easement crossed the boundry of my  fence raiding the food.

One Red Tail landed on my fence for a brief stay. Regrettably Rebecca missed that one, but I told her all about it. Another early evening visit brought a huge owl landing in the pine next door. It was the size of an adult cat with a profile that showed little pointy feathers above its ears. When it flew away at dusk, it's wingspread was breathtaking, huge and ominous. Another afternoon we surprised a baby deer who had jumped the fence behind my yard. It flew out the gate like its tail was on fire.
Over the course of the season, we found rolly pollies, pincher bugs, snails, scary looking black spiders with beautiful intricate webs, a wayward rat. I once found a brown tarantula in the middle of my living room floor. It had climbed under a gap in my door.
When it got warm enough to swim, Rebecca and I discovered a teeny lizard, barely an inch long, that had drowned in the pool water. Rather than be put off, Rebecca touched it, sniffed it, and asked if she could take it home. A request which I complied with to my daughter's horror. I put it in a small jewelry box from Macy's snug in the cotton batting and I tucked it into Rebecca's backpack, but neglected to tell her mother what was inside.

I've forgotten lots of the creatures that came our way that year, but not how I felt. If you have a small child in your life, I highly recommend spending some time every day outside. Just watching and being still.

"You don't need to do anything. Just watch and be still.  Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. Nature will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."
Franz Kafka

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