An Oasis in the Backyard
It was a beautiful balmy summer afternoon and the gang was busy making preparations for granddaughter Emma’s surprise birthday party. There had been a temporary hiatus in the COVID warnings and such get togethers were no longer frowned upon. I had escaped the chaos and responsibility associated with major decisions like whether the balloons should be tied down or allowed to escape to the ceilings by sneaking out to the back deck. I settled into a comfortable chair hoping for some peace and quiet. My favorite son-in-law (I can use that term without offending anyone since he has no competition for that honor) devotes nearly every minute of his spare time working in his yard. The result is a carefully choreographed weed-free wonder of plants and flowers surrounded by patches of manicured grass in the front of the house, but my favorite place is the back yard which he has converted into a beautiful wildlife-friendly oasis. It all began when he planted some shrubbery and small trees around his back lot line in order to provide some privacy. As is his style, he soon immersed himself in learning all about landscaping, and the fence line around his backyard began to widen at the expense of the lawn due to the addition of more varieties of flora. The diminutive pond fed by a trickle of water, at Jim’s behest, now got its fill from a more substantial flow which emitted a mesmerizing lullaby as it cascaded over a series of carefully placed stones into a small pool stocked with koi.
Indeed, as I settled into my adirondack chair, I felt at peace and somehow comforted. My knowledge about flowers, plants and trees is very limited, but I was impressed that all this stuff seemed to look as if it belonged. There was all manner of shades of green in various shapes and sizes. There were delicate ferns dwarfed and shaded from the assault of too much sunlight by their taller brethren who turned their leaves to face the sun’s rays head on, gratefully absorbing all they could get. In the midst of this sea of green was the contrast afforded by those plants who seemed to compete for attention by showing off their ability to produce vividly colored flowers. Presiding over this show was a backdrop of several varieties of tall trees silently dominating the scene.
Let the Games Begin!
The quiet was soon interrupted as mother nature raised the curtain and the show began with the clarion call of a squirrel who was barking at me from his safe perch high up in a tree. He was staring at me and his bushy red tail was swishing back and forth as he told me in no uncertain terms that I was invading his space. This guy, I will call him Sammy, soon lost interest in me when a smaller version whom I named Freddy appeared on the scene.
Freddy was aggressively attempting to access all those goodies in the bird feeder. Never mind that the feeder was designed to be squirrel proof, Freddy was not to be denied. He initially decided to attack from above and slid down the wire which suspended it, but with nothing to hold onto, slid off the top and fell to the ground. Undaunted, he immediately was back up the tree. Having changed to a strategy of frontal assault, he opted to leap from the trunk of the tree directly onto the feeder. This time he appeared to have some success even managing to briefly reach paydirt by contorting his body around the feeder, but alas with nothing to hold onto and with the feeder swinging back and forth wildly he once again did a backflip and hit the ground. However, his efforts had not been in vain for bird feed now littered the ground. His good fortune was short lived however: as Sammy who had been preoccupied with my presence suddenly became aware of what was happening directly beneath him.
Sammy had apparently decided that the immediacy of Freddy’s attempt to steal his cache of sunflower seeds and stuff represented a greater threat than did my presence consequently; he attacked poor little Freddy who was barely half his size. Since I had been bullied as a kid, I had great sympathy for Freddy, and was rooting for him to kick Sammy’s butt, however Freddy was no dummy and took off running with Sammy in pursuit. Their speed and agility was amazing as Freddy raced through the trees with Sammy on his tail. Freddy’s diminutive size allowed him to leap onto small branches which would barely support Sammy, advantage Freddy.
While those two were fighting, a flock of sparrows saw their opportunity and swarmed around the feeder determined to take advantage of the absence of those hair covered monsters. In order to lessen the chance of being grabbed by some predator hawk or eagle, these guys opted to land, take a bite, and quickly fly away to seek refuge in the foliage of a tree. Speaking of bullies, at this point a couple of blue jays showed up squawking and shoving the smaller sparrows out of the way, but it was not long before Sammy, after dispatching his adversary, was back at the bird feeder determined to reclaim it as his personal domain. This time he used his size to grab the birdfeeder with his front paws and somehow anchor his rear legs to the tree, thereby gaining access to the goodies. It appeared to be a successful strategy until my little hero, Freddy, reappeared. He slid down the wire and holding onto it with his hind legs was able to hang on since Sammy had stopped the feeder from swinging back and forth. Needless to say, Sammy was a very unhappy rodent. He reacted by attempting to reach Freddy, but in the process lost control and the feeder began swinging loose again. You guessed it Sammy and Freddy both fell to the ground and took off running up, around, and through the trees. They had barely disappeared from view when Charley the chipmunk showed up to clean up the spoils of war which had been left on the ground.
Soon the sparrows who had been waiting unseen in the trees also showed up to share in the bounty. Charley seemed to have no problem in sharing his find, and the birds seemed comfortable with him. I guess they all felt there was enough for everyone. I sat in place for a time waiting for Act 3 to begin, but neither Sammy nor Freddy showed up, besides it was time for me to return to my nest where I could participate in a different life drama which would be equally loud and raucous, especially following the arrival of the guest of honor.
The Miracle of Life
The drama that I had witnessed on the patio merged with the realization that Emma the birthday girl was to be honored for 30 years of life, barely one third of the time I had been alive. There was of course nothing new about this revelation, except that it awakened me from my usual lack of appreciation for the miracle of life in spite of the fact that our environment is teeming with it. I believe most of us take our own lives for granted except for those of us who are more at risk of finishing our stint such as old men like me or those suffering from other possibly fatal conditions. It has been said that awareness of our mortality leads to a more zealous appreciation of life, and my own personal experience confirms that to be true.
In spite of endless speculation, observation, research, meditation, and spiritual inquiry, there is much about life that remains unknown or perhaps even unknowable. There is not even agreement as to its definition. I have spent nearly all of my life studying various aspects of life and the more I learn the more I become awed and humbled by its complexity. We are told that life had its origins over 4 billion years ago, only a mere 250 million years after the earth was formed. It is said to have originated from random chemical reactions to form amino acids which combined to form proteins. The proteins coalesced, and became encased in a semipermeable membrane. Thus, the cell, the basic building block of life, was formed.
Those “Why” Questions
Evolutionary biologists have provided extensive evidence as to how life has progressed from one cell to its current state of development, yet do little to explain why it all happened. Why questions only lead to more why questions and in the end can only be answered by God. Reproduction is Job One for all living things, including the participants in Jim’s backyard drama, in order to assure the continuity of life. An individual’s life is finite, but life goes on, at least it has on this planet. Since life began on earth there have been 5 cataclysmic events that have resulted in mass extinctions, but some type of life has always survived. Some ecologists suggest that we are now entering into a human caused period of mass extinction. They base that conclusion on the large number of animals that are now seen as endangered mostly due to loss of habitat and climate change. Some feel that all life including that of homo sapiens is at risk.
No matter the current threats to our lives we need to remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote:
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.Eleanor Roosevelt
To follow that admonition is likely to earn one the epitaph of a life well lived, but for millions throughout the world such reaching out proves to be very difficult. Ben Franklin who had something to say about everything was only 40 years old when he wrote in POOR RICHARD’S ALMANAC: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.” When Ben wrote the almanac, the average life span was 33 years old so I’m sure 40 must have seemed old to him. As a bonified oId guy, I can personally attest to the brevity of life and to the urgency one may feel as one’s time winds down.
As a physician who wore many hats, first as a general practitioner and later as a Psychiatrist I have been witness to many deaths, all of which were sad, but perhaps none more so than those who died from suicide. It is true that in spite of its wondrous qualities, life can present us with pain that can be so intense as to be intolerable. There is also the recent phenomenon of the so-called suicide bombers who are conned into killing themselves along with others for political reasons. We Christians honor life, but ignore the Biblical commandment “though shall not to kill” by sanctioning executions and wars.
In spite of its difficulties, life is a marvelous state of being as evidenced by the fact that even those whose lives we consider to be horrible cling to it. As a matter of fact, during my stint as a shrink I witnessed so much unremitting pain that I was surprised there was not more suicide, but nothing was more satisfying than to see one who had suffered that torment return to experience joy in their lives. The human spirit is indeed resilient.
As for me, every morning I look on the wall of our kitchen and read a plaque which was given by a Grandson. It is the best advice I have ever been given:
THIS IS THE DAY THAT GOD HAS MADE
LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT