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The simplicity of a bird on a wire

Liz Lerner

On a raw cold gray day in late December, up on Pilgrim Heights in North Truro, a lone bird sits on a telephone wire. It is a Mourning Dove, slightly swaying in the wind. It is balanced, not balancing, but balanced — an important distinction — as its every physical detail has evolved for this purpose, a body light-weight and distributed evenly, and toes that intricately lock onto the wire. Not a thought is given to this purpose. There is no thought either to the other realities of its life, one eye constantly on watch for any winged predator, one memory of where the weed seeds were last available, another for the roosting spot when night draws near. The bird is in every way not thinking so much as being. It is not so much perceiving the world as it is being in it, belonging to it.

Of course we can never know what any animal is thinking. Neither, it seems — and speaking for myself — can we know what exactly is going through our own minds. I only know that I am challenged to be in the natural world, much as I love and need it, with the same simplicity, the absolute purity, of that bird on the wire. I must always be naming and counting, assessing, evaluating, thinking about what has been lost, or wondering about the future state of things. I am reflexively back in the past or forward in the future, and less so in the eternal present. We who love Nature and are drawn to it still are separated from it in a way that our wild brethren are not. We, blessed with our brains, intellectualize everything. Our culture and civilization, wonderful in so many ways, keep us from fully integrating with the wildness around us, and, for that matter, with our very selves. Now, in this over-connected age, our devices only increase this separation from living authentically, or as Thoreau would say- deliberately.

But on the beach this morning with my young granddaughters I observe them being naturally in their element. Of course they know the names of all the shells and most of the birds, but it is not naming that occupies them. They have their shoes and socks off (in December, mind you) because they need the cool moist sand between their toes. They are busy collecting shells and pebbles and feathers, keeping some and flinging others into the water. They are occupied with digging holes and creating art with their found objects. They are simply being.

As we enter this new year, I will continue my lifelong quest to observe and learn more about the natural wonders of the Cape, that I am fortunate to call home, but I will also try to remind myself to take a more child-like approach to things, to relax, to simply be, in the “wildness that is the preservation of the world.”