At 7:30 in the morning, a baby bunny rustles leaves to make room for its friend beneath a backyard chair. The newcomer just finished eating a dandelion near fence posts now topped by an acrobatic squirrel. It runs toward a Blue Jay that takes off toward pine branches filled with American Robins, House Finches, and Black-capped Chickadees. Above them, a Swainson’s Hawk returns to its nest with a twig and cries out, signaling to the neighborhood the start of a new day. The morning is serene, as it tends to be.
I have gotten to know these animals over the past few months. The hawk is a master craftsman, and it is heartwarming to see it make progress on its house. The bunnies prefer dandelions to other flowers and the mallard couple enjoys spending quality time together paddling around a little pond. Every day the animals all wake up at around the same time and, every day, they head off into the world to do errands and explore on their own schedules. It is as complicated and consistent as clockwork: a total coexistence of societies.
I sit on the chair above the baby bunnies that have come to trust me over the past few weeks, sipping a warm cup of coffee and reading tales of adventure. Visions of Proenneke’s construction of a cabin with hand tools in the Alaskan wilderness and Shackleton’s 1916 voyage across the perilous Drake Passage of the Southern Ocean light my imagination, filling my mind with the peaceful joy and sublime terrors that ”real” nature has to offer. I wish I could experience tenacity like that. Just then, a blue jay lands on the fence with something in its mouth. It writhes.
A garter snake! Blue Jays eat snakes?! With no apology the predator takes the life of its prey, bashing it with its beak on the fence between two bordering cul-de-sacs as the snake bites back. The brutality continues for a minute with no finisher and, understanding the need for a new strategy, the blue jay takes off to end the snake elsewhere. I sit, shocked. Such carnage! Right there on the backyard fence!
Unsettled, I look around. My neighbors are not amused. If they are, I cannot tell. I am the only human around, and the birds, bugs, and bunnies could care less about the bout. I look back down to my book and finish the chapter before taking my mug inside and washing it by hand. Looking out the window, I watch the hawk take to the sky. It is going to hunt elsewhere for food or more lumber; which, I am not sure. Both pursuits are noble, and I respect it regardless. The bunnies, safe now, hop out from under the chair and continue reaping dandelions. Invigorated, centered and filled with inspiration, I dry the mug, set it down, grab my laptop and head back outside. Time to start the workday.
Before the pandemic, the sublimity of the great outdoors seemed more readily available in faraway, unoccupied spaces - epic realms like the national parks, jagged mountains and pristine, secluded lakes. It felt harder to find that at home. The truth is, serene, natural beauty and raw, wild intensity prevails everywhere. It is present in the chirping of the birds and the fight between the blue jay and the garter. It shines from the hawk nests on the treetops and amplifies itself with every blooming flower. Watch with fascination the flight of the sparrow through wrought-iron fence posts, the thousands of ants bustling about the sidewalk crack. Backyards, forest preserves, city parks; everything teems with living detail.
As the new normal continues and we do our part by staying local, let’s not think of it as sacrifice; instead, let’s consider it an opportunity to commune with a realm we have yet to understand in full. Nature is everywhere and, therefore, so is inspiration.