May 19, 2013

North Cairn: Peace in life's bare necessities

In the soft, lightening dawn, I make my peace with the day.

Now that the light comes earlier and stays later, my animal metabolism has shifted out of the sloth of hibernation to a sort of energized, eager joy. Without thought, I awaken before the sun has come up fully over the horizon, in advance of a definite sky of unbroken blue or misty gray. The rains, when they hover, fall on and off, like whispers of gossip going 'round, subsiding and then storming back, wearing themselves out.

Every morning now, the sun and songbirds are the clock by which I calculate the start of day. A hawk -- a northern harrier -- has returned to "our" woods and is settling all scores on the matter of territory. I hear him at any moment when trouble is on the way, and occasionally I see him mobbed by crows, cooperating to defend their borders.

One gift of living in the woods has been exposure to the proliferation of unknown, unidentified bird song. I find myself undone by the symphony of it, and try listening to a CD of bird vocalizations to help me recognize the instruments.

But it may be that I am no longer able to learn or memorize these auditory nuances from the higher realms. My human heart, my earthbound hearing, has left me at last straining to make the sounds of the natural world sensible -- as they were to me when I was a child and life uncomplicated by constant chatter and pings from some technology perched in my palm.

Still, I give myself chance after chance to learn from the recording the happy chirps, insistent whistles, liquid trills and sharp caws -- memory etched into a plate of plastic -- as I navigate to Portland in the morning and then in the evening return north, home again, reversing my course like a tide, trying to stay in tune with natural things.

But at the opening of the day, while I am still moored on the shore of sleep, when the twilight is slipping away and the promise of the morning is still only a murmur beyond the window, I let myself waken slowly, like a dog or a doe, knowing no human hurry, no fret about finances or worry over work. These moments make for the sweetest eclipse, a transport out of time into the drift of earthly eternity.

The cold of the night still clings to the landscape and threads its way through the window screens, a chill and breeze that coaxes me to stay where I am, ensconced in flannel, cotton and down. I burrow in for a few more minutes before I join the living, laboring world in which I must sustain myself like any other creature with the instinct to survive. But finally the whirring of my thoughts, spinning the design of the day, alert me to all the devotion I must meet, and I am up.

So much about my life has simplified to the lowest common denominator: seeking peace, and staying there. I do little that would interest or excite anyone other than the dog who attends me through my obligate hours, mostly waiting -- for walks or treats or unplanned ride-alongs in the car.

Our rituals are a happy tedium of repetitions: I rise five or 10 minutes before she stirs, start water boiling for coffee, produce all the sounds of 25-pound bags of kibble being opened and cups of pebbles being poured into a large, thick plastic bowl. I refill the bottomless pit of her water trough and set aside a single biscuit on a throw rug nearby.

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