Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Autumnal Chalk & Squirrels

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven – John Milton, Paradise Lost

I woke up this morning and wondered what the day was going to be like. My first instinct was to unsleep my phone and check out the weather app for time, temperature, and expected highs and lows, but then decided, instead, to open the drapes covering the slider and checking the weather the old-fashioned way – by looking outside.

The sun hadn’t quite made her appearance as yet; the skies were pretty flat, like the well-worn gray of an old fashioned black-board. I caught the momentary whiff of chalk-dust being inhaled – the gift of a memory’s dance with the present.

Back in the ‘60s, teachers often rewarded the day’s most honorable student in class by letting them take old chalkboard erasers across the asphalt playground to the boiler room where eager young lads and lasses could enthusiastically whap them against the brick exterior of the old and venerable Whittier Elementary School (in Seattle). Sadly, I did not have many opportunities to smack erasers against the walls of that ancient institution of lower learning – but when I did, there was no greater joy, not even in Mudville.

Such were the memories that flooded my mind as I looked outside. The sun had not begun to even try to crack open the dawn in the murky darkness, and yet there was enough light to see the air was crisp and clear, and while there was likely a layer of low clouds hanging overhead, it did not appear we would be in for rain – at least not for a while.

I grabbed a cup of coffee – the nectar of life – and returned to the slider to enjoy the slow emergence of the day. Glancing down, I observed a squirrel make her way across our deck. I wondered if she was expecting a handout, or if she was even aware of this human standing still against the glass door and watching her every stop and start. She paused and turned her head ever so slightly, looked me in the eye, returning glance for glance, shrugged her shoulders and went back to foraging the deck for whatever it is squirrels like for breakfast.

I thought about offering her something from our cupboard but, for the life of me, couldn’t think of anything that would be good (in the healthy sense of the word) for squirrels. The fact is, there isn’t much that would probably actually qualify as being good for human consumption either (too much sugar and sodium), so I set aside that thought for now. Besides, I did not want this squirrel, or any critter, for that matter, to become a pest, begging for peanuts or crumbs or bread, or things like that.

Then I looked up at the hummingbird feeder that hangs above the deck.

Hmm. Why is it OK to feed birds and not squirrels? How do we humans justify our inconsistencies?

A lady working her garden once told me (when asked), “The difference between a weed and a flower is nothing more than a weed is a plant that grows where you don’t want it.”

Is it the same for humans? Do we consider some people to be weeds – communia colligentes zizania – and others to be flowers, worthy of cultivation and care?

The Good Book tells us that the human family was created in God’s image (even if we may not always act like it or look like it or even feel like it). Hmm.

After a moment of pondering I returned to my morning squirrel-watching, but she had apparently moved on. I couldn’t blame her. Philosophy did not appear to be high on her list of things to do. I suspect she really didn’t care what I was thinking. I doubt she considered herself “less fortunate” than the birds who could access our fake nectar-dispensing bottle.

I believe she simply followed her nose wherever the Great Squirrel inspired her to go, and delighted in all Manna of tasty morsels found along the way.

I looked over the neighbor’s house and watched the sun begin to break open the dome of heaven in the East, took another swig of coffee from my mug, and smiled at the simple pleasures of Fall in this, our valley.

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