Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Inspiration from Above

By T.W. Burger

The great thing about epiphanies is that you just never know when they’re going to happen.

An expected epiphany would be a contradiction in terms.

So, on a recent Sunday, I stood, coffee in hand, looking out over the creek, the trees, and the critters I could see.

I had been watching a great blue heron in the bright sunlight, spearing his breakfast in the rocky shoals. Something caught my eye, a glittering movement, a bright sparkling thread of light, a chain of diamonds trailing from the branch of the big oak right outside the window.

First, you have to understand that I love nature writing. My shelves are crowded with books by Loren Eiseley, David Hopes, Henry Beston, Edwin Way Teale, Annie Dillard, and the like.

Through them I learned that as vast as the world may be, there is enough wonder and horror in the average back yard to keep me goose-bumpy and awake many a night.

Eiseley wrote of playing with a fox kit, and of dancing with, I think, a Sand Hill crane. Teale and his wife tracked all four seasons as they made their way across the U.S. Beston wrote stirringly that animals are “different nations” with attributes different and sometimes better than our own. Dillard wrote a passage about the death of a frog in the jaws of a giant water bug that gives me the willies just thinking about it.

Now, you would think that after so much reading about the finned, feathered, furred, hooting, clacking, chirping world would prepare me for just about anything.

That was before I saw the squirrel pee.

Yeah, I know, all God’s creatures gotta go. But you know it’s just not something one thinks about. Gathering nuts for the winter. Running helter-skelter into the paths of cars. Scolding the cats from the tree branches. Building nests of leaves in the branches of trees. Eating the stalks of my corn plants, (Which had me telling the cats that for all the free food they were mooching off me, they could try a little predation once in awhile. They just blinked and told me to talk to the shop steward.)

Nobody ever mentioned, well, squirrels’ bathroom habits.

But there he was, in full sun on a thick branch, letting go, his tail and head held high. He looked like he was smiling, but I may just be projecting. The, um, product ran off the branch and trailed off to the leaf litter below, making the glittering chain that had caught my eye.

He finished his business, flicked his tail a couple of times, and launched himself into the air to another branch. Back to work, scolding, nut-gathering, and so on. It’s a tough life.

I stood there, finishing my coffee, happy to be reminded that there is always something new to learn from nature. One just has to pay attention, to be still, and be open to new possibilities. Not a bad lesson on a Sunday morning.

I resolved to spend more time walking along the creek, and in the woods.

And to always wear a hat.

© 2005 Marsh Creek Media,
Gettysburg, Pa.