Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 10: Awareness

Our cat has been especially restless today. I don't know if it's the warm weather, the sunny, open windows (she's an indoor cat, so sitting on the sill is as close as she gets to being outside), or the birds and insects that keep buzzing past the windows and glass door. Rather than curling up on her pillow for hours at a time--her usual habit, despite being a young cat--she's been wandering from window to window, or sitting in one spot that gives her a view of the bird feeders, alert to any and every motion outside. Just now, up on my desk, she's spasmodically following the path of a bumblebee on the other side of the screen. Her ears perk up at the sound of a crow whining down by the river. Seems this clear, sunny weather and the movement of air through the house has brought new sights and smells into her world, made her more aware of what's outside.

This morning I finished a great new book about how to start developing a deeper awareness of the world outside: What the Robin Knows by Jon Young (I include a link to the book so you can learn more about it, not to encourage you to purchase it from Amazon. I hope that if the book interests you, you'll get it at your local, independent bookstore.) Young's premise, put very broadly and simply, is that by developing an intense familiarity with the creatures that inhabit our world, especially species like robins that can give us learnable cues about what's happening around us, we can better understand the natural world and how we can become a less intrusive presence within it. The key is developing one's awareness through intimate, repeated observations. 

The book made me realize how much I have to work on in this regard, yet also that I've been following some of its tenets already. The other day, for example, I heard jays and crows making a racket out back that I was certain indicated a strange cat was passing through. I looked out the window and sure enough, there it was--an orange-and-white cat I'd never seen before, scuttling down the riverbank on the "cat trail" that the neighborhood cats all follow through our yard (usually without the corvid fanfare). Apparently I'd been unconsciously absorbing a little bit of bird language just by paying attention to my back yard.

This very afternoon, I heard the chip of a woodpecker in the willow over the driveway. Before I heard its complete call a few seconds later, I knew this was the local downy woodpecker that likes to hang out in that tree on his way to another tree in our back yard. So, I've gotten a little bit of a start on Young's teachings all on my own, but his book has opened my eyes to how much I haven't been paying attention to, focused as I usually am on seeing and hearing all the birds I can when out on the trail. His point is that it's not just a matter of knowing the names and songs of birds and what habitat they each live in, but of learning so much about them that when the robin in your yard makes a particular alarm call, you know to look up for the sharp-shinned hawk flying overhead. And, like learning a language spoken in more than one country, this knowledge then travels with you, enhancing your awareness of the natural world wherever you are and enabling you to interpret the behavior of the "robins" everywhere.

I recognize my
neighbors--robins, crows, sparrow--
but do I know them?

No comments:

Post a Comment