Wendell Berry puts it this way in Jaber Crow:
“Port William repaid watching. I was always on the lookout for what would be revealed. Sometimes nothing would be, but sometimes I beheld astonishing sights. On hot summer afternoon, for instance….”
This morning, I read that and was savoring the kindred spirit I felt with Jaber Crow, when I beheld my own astonishing sight. It goes something like this:
One warm mid-September morning, while seeking ‘porch therapy’ with my head in the shade and my feet propped up in the sun, I was observing a number of robins cruising in short hops across my lawn reaping the harvest of bugs and worms when their chatter suddenly stopped and they dispersed in all directions. I heard nothing approach, but they knew a presence I was soon to grasp. First only a shadow. Then the silent swoop of a hawk gliding to rest on the telephone pole near me.
The hawk looked me over straight on, then from her right eye, followed by her left eye. After determining me to be unfit for prey, she settled in for a rest on the pole for the next 20 minutes for me to savor. We were not alone. In the same line of sight, high, high above the recently harvested barley field soared her partner. His carving of large, flap-less circles and occasional figure-eights in the southwestern blue powder sky seemed so effortless I wondered who really was at rest?
I was surprised to notice the robins return to their earth-bound toil, and even more surprised to see sparrows land on the phone lines near the “Majestic One.” Magpies even grew so bold as to land on the same cross bar near something so unsafe. Initial fear and awe had been replaced with awe and trust. The Majestic One was nonplussed. She neatly arranged the feathers on her grey hood and plumed her mottled grey-white-brown breast feathers. A few times, she seemed to be yawning as she stretched first one wing, then the other.
I slipped in to grab my camera and snapped a photo. I let Laura in on the secret, making her tiptoe to the porch door so as not to disturb the moment. It felt good to share the experience.
The photo won’t be needed this time because I exercised a little trick my friend taught me on an outdoor adventure 35 years ago. We were camping in the Idaho wilderness and had ascended the creaky wooden steps of an abandoned Forest Wildfire Lookout Tower. From there, we could see the simultaneous wonder of an elk herd grazing the eastern slope of a steep ravine above which was a thrilling western horizon sunset.
My camera was in the truck. I was afraid of heights. Though I’d made it up the steps into the lookout, I knew one of the uppermost steps was broken and dangling 30 some feet above ground. To descend meant having to leap downwards across the broken step and the thought of it paralyzed me. Not to worry, my friend assured me. Just view the wonder before you. Put it into your mind. Now close your eyes and picture it. Repeat.
Today, I still have that mental photo of the sun setting on the backs of grazing elk etched in my mind. Tomorrow I will recall the Majestic One in a similar manner. And the next day. That is if I can ever get down off this lookout tower.