“…maybe just looking and listening is the real work. Maybe the world, without us, is the real poem.”
My morning practice is a simple one. I sit at my kitchen window and watch, actually gaze at, the world in our backyard. I watch the sun moving slowly across the grass, filtering through the branches of tall evergreen trees and slowly pushing the shadows of the night to the edge of the yard. Birds come in flocks to our feeders-sparrows, woodpeckers, cardinals and the yellow finches flashing their bright colors. And now humming birds are showing up. These little ones stop and rest briefly at their feeder before taking flight and disappearing faster than my eyes can follow. Sometimes the birds get along with each other but often they squawk and push each other out of the way, hogging the food for themselves. Even so, there is plenty for all.
The neighbor’s cat is also there stalking the perimeter of the yard while fixing its steely eye on potential prey. One day when I glanced up I saw a squirrel die. Right underneath the bird feeder, it rolled over and took a last breath. I don’t know why. The birds and other squirrels seemed to notice but then continued their morning feasting. A little shock ran through me, the surprise of being present at that threshold between life and death, the awareness that in the presence of death, life goes on.
Often there are deer in the back yard. Sometimes they sleep over, taking the high ground under the trees where the pine needles are soft and the lay of the land feels safe. Just recently a doe and her fawn have come around. The doe moves slowly, grazing quietly. The fawn runs and leaps like a puppy, exploring everything, charging through the birds’ feeding ground, the squirrel’s dying ground, now the fawn’s playground. I watch it and laugh. Such dappled beauty and exuberant exploring make me want to run and play.
This is the way I pray – watching, gazing, and enjoying the beauty and complexity of the day as it wakes up and I wake up.
Today a friend sent me a poem by Mary Oliver, “Five A.M. in the Pinewoods.” She writes about seeing the hoof prints of two deer under the pines, and so she went in the dark to sit there under the trees and wait for them. They came, stepping closer, Oliver writes, seemingly unafraid until “one of them…could have come to my arms.” The other one warned against it, and they both took off through the trees.
This isn’t a poem about a dream, Oliver writes, “This is a poem about the world that is ours, or could be.”
Every day as I sit at the kitchen window waking up, I marvel at this “world that is ours, or could be.” Watching, gazing, appreciating, opening my heart to the feasting, the dying, the slow and the quick, the shadows and light, the rambunctious and the cautious, I take the day, the world, into my arms.
This then is my morning prayer.