I have not lately spent as much time afield in search of nature’s lessons as I once did. Nature has responded by striding up to my recliner and dumping lessons in my lap. She’s like that: maddeningly impervious to urgent investigation, then suddenly extroverted when your attention wanders.
The other day I was observing the one ritual that remains inviolable in our household — happy hour — from my perch on the second-floor deck that overlooks the east pasture. It has been a remarkable summer here, with no heat waves (half the days in August we did not even turn on the air conditioner), and rains frequent enough that the grass is lush and the roads are not dusty. This long spell of perfect weather, I have decided, has been given to me by the universe so that I can think and write more objectively about global warming.
It was in the late afternoon of one of these standard, splendid summer days that I happened to lift my eyes from my book in time to spot the red-tailed hawk, high above the pasture, just as he tucked his wings and fell like an arrow to the grass far below. Just before impact he flared his wings, stretched out his talons, and plucked a vole clean out of the timid little critter’s dreamy summer afternoon. Then the hawk thrashed his way back into the air and was soon soaring upward and away.
The hawk had the vole gripped by the shoulders, holding the little fellow upright as they soared away to dinner, and the vole seemed to me to be looking avidly around at the marvelous panorama of his former habitat, now spread out below him as he had never seen it before. I’m pretty sure that’s what he was doing.
I found myself hoping that on the day the Great Predator decides to pluck me from my happy hour, he gives me a final look at the state of being I’m leaving behind, from the perspective of the transit to next one. (Veterans of near-death experiences talk about floating to the ceiling and observing their own inert bodies below, but I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about space travel, about the equivalent of the first view of blue-marble earth from the moon.)
I think I would ignore the bite of his talons on my shoulders if he gave me a view of my life in its entirety, of life itself in its entirety, compared and contrasted with the contours of eternity, visible to me for the first time from my unprecedented altitude. Would that not make the final seconds interesting?
Then what? Then the worm becomes the butterfly, the vole becomes the red-tailed hawk, the beat goes on.
Thank you, Madam Nature, for the lesson, and especially for the home delivery.