I lay in bed this morning, fourth of July morning, thinking I should take advantage of my pre-children morning time (when I would usually take a shower), because my husband and Madelyn (three and a half) had gotten up and gone out to buy milk. I pulled on a T-shirt and shorts, the first shorts for me this season, and headed downstairs. I hesitated in the kitchen because I realized that my phone is my watch, and this challenge stipulates no phone. I just glanced at the minute hand’s position past 6 a.m. on our clock. I’d just trust my instincts. Then I opened our backdoor.
I could go anywhere. I was not calling after children, not destined for my driver’s seat, not off to find something in the garage. I was just out, awaiting direction from whatever in nature would most engage my senses at this moment. I found myself following the thrum of flight by a tufted titmouse. I have always given up trying to capture birds in drawings or paintings, because they are always dancing. How do I make a drawing dance? Watching this titmouse, though, I imagined maybe I would try again. Could I memorize and slow down the silhouette of its wings, paused in flight for just a second?
The titmouse had landed on an ornamental tree in our garden, so I walked closer. I breathed. I shivered and pushed my arms down into my pockets. Could that be the sight of my breath in front of me? I had noted the distant morning mist over the wetland, but I could hardly believe it was cold enough to see my breath in July. I exhaled: two, three, four, and kept looking up. Yes, my own mist—haaaaahh—positioned for a second in visible droplets. Another image elusive to brush and lens.
I followed the bird, crested, blue-grey, small—it had flown over to the stand of tall pines with low hanging, branches. He had joined two others: and they were angling up and down the trunks, playfully. Later he cracked birdseed, and I also heard tapping at wood-though I didn’t know titmice would do this. In the excitement of morning time they reminded me of my children once fed and playing: at little here, a little there. Then one little blue-grey feather fell. I watched its shape and path, falling from a wing, floating back and forth, simultaneously slowly round. Here I have a souvenir of this morning.
Crisp yellow light made the needles around me shimmer in cascades. Light glinted off the sap of some knotty, dead branches. I thought I’d sit leaning against this tree, and settled into a comfortable recline. Here I am, positioned to receive:
Soft, cooing mourning doves
Constant Crows, near and far
Wet sounding calls of the redwing blackbirds down below our field
Perhaps a hundred barn swallows, darting, swooping
The clank of something in the barn—perhaps the cow’s tail or head hitting something
Six truck engines driving on nearby roads
One dog, slowly following my path then nosing under my knee
A beautiful and delicate insect, perhaps a may fly? Silent.
A small, tightly topped mushroom
Many spider web patches, light little tents in a nightly city
Dew jewels hanging off unkempt grass
Many intermittent train whistles but probably just one train...
Two choruses of morning chicken coops, from close neighbors and then from distant neighbors, each with distinctive styles. They reminded me of fiddle tunes.
And at the beginning: One lonely owl hoot—I listened and listened for more but no more calls followed.
I thought about my position, amidst these wild, domesticated, and completely manmade sounds. I thought about all this happening, every morning, while I am focused on our family's own routine: showers, microwave beeps, breakfast setting, dressing, washing, clearing, packing, picking up, waiting, coaxing, reminders, and goodbyes.