You’ll note from the post On the Back Deck that I spent 5-6 weeks recovering from a concussion sitting out on the back deck doing absolutely nothing. In fact the experience as I describe it brought me closer to an experience of the garden I’d never felt before. The garden became for me a subject, an other, a presence and not simply an object for my pleasure and pride.
To summarize the transformation into my new view of the garden, as time dragged on for me each day unable to be active, gradually, I lost my resistance and defence; I softened to the garden, saw it in a new light, that is, my sense of control over the garden, being above the natural world, superior to it, the garden there to serve my need, benefit me, its purpose to better me, nothing to learn from it but to admire its beauty which in the conceit of self-transference is to say how beautiful am I, the garden’s purpose to indulge me becoming instead the garden my teacher. The new relationship that I described in the post is to see instead that the garden has a life of its own, as legitimate as my own life, and our relationship, garden and me, is that we live that life together as collaborators, equals. I had seen the garden more as I’d seen a pet, its life reflecting me, as if to walk through the garden patting it on the head to say good garden. That sense of our relationship flipped over through my experience sitting on the deck for weeks, now to see the garden as my elder, as one knowing more than I, in its shape and form and rhythm as having a lot to tell me if I would but listen.
One occasion in those weeks of sitting dramatizes that new awareness. It happened because I was there week in and out, ready to listen, able to sense the new understandings that were beginning to seep into my consciousness. The experience I am about to describe would have been impossible even weeks and days before, unavailable to me but for the concussion experience. I expect the occasion described below to change my life.
Our young neighbours -and I have to make perfectly clear, our neighbours are extremely fine people and highly conscientious of doing right – like to entertain on their back patio outside their back door. Above their door is a safety light, a double light. The top of the light became the choice of home for a pair of nesting robins. Little bit of this and that became a beautiful nest resting on top of the light.
I noticed the next day the nest had disappeared. Our neighbours had dutifully removed it, and with good reason, noting that bird poop could mark their door, even get on them going in and out. And the light over the door was hardly a place for birds to raise a family especially with parties going on.
In no time, I noticed a new nest. How did they do it? The pair of robins must have worked night and day to rebuild their home. I assumed this would be it; the neighbours would have to concede in admiration of the robins’ resoluteness.
Well, no. Next thing I noticed was a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of the outdoor lights. From its appearance I thought the nest was still underneath. Anne and I thought we could ask to move the nest to our second floor window rail. Alas, the nest had been removed.
We had to endure a day of sad and painful witness. The female robin kept trying to sit where the nest had been. She struggled with sitting on the aluminum foil making all kinds of metallic noise in her feverish but fruitless attempt to make a nest of it. She didn’t understand. Her nest was here. Over and over, she shifted herself and flapped about trying to settle in, flew away, came back, again tried to settle into her nest, away again, came back, came back.
Eventually the pair of robins gave up.
But not before this: the part of the story that I feel should change my life forever.
I was sitting on my chair as I had day in and day out for a number of weeks. I was sitting there all during the robins’ discovery of the flat top of the light, all during the nest building and then the struggle to make the aluminum foil turn back into a nest. I witnessed the disconsolation in the robins’ behaviour. Confusion. Why is this happening?
I was sitting in my chair and the male robin appeared on the fence to my right. Closer than any bird had ever thought to come to me. And then he jumped down to the glass table, hopped over to the edge nearest me, just an outstretched hand away. Stood there on the glass top and stared at me. He just stayed there, looking directly at me. Eyeball to eyeball. Right there on the edge of the table next to me. The male robin. Looking me right in the eye. Not letting go of his gaze. Holding me there in his gaze. Appealing to me. Waiting. Not going anywhere. Just staring right at me only a couple of feet away.
I think -really I feel I know without question – that he wanted me to help, was asking me directly to help.
I have rarely felt so distraught for my helplessness. I was deeply saddened for him. I felt empty and lost and useless in my whole being. Sitting there me a lump, pathetic. The robin imploring me fo help. I know he doesn’t know that the property next door is someone else’s. I know he doesn’t understand I can’t help.
But he is asking. And the asking tells me that he has known of me all along, all through their arrival and choice of home and building of a nest, were entirely aware of me being there. And I had no idea that I was very much a part of their consciousness. And it would seem they assume that of me that I am conscious of them. And here I am quite unconscious of them, assuming my life is quite independent of theirs, my consciousness of them but to admire how the birds might for a moment entertain me, brighten my day. Not as they assume of me, that I am part of all this web of life going on in the garden, that I am part of their nest building and their nest not being there and even then, in their belief that I can do something about it.
After some time waiting on the edge of the glass table, an outstretched hand between us, me rigidly sitting there, after having given me much time, begging me, he flew off. For weeks we didn’t see any robins. Months later we saw some young robins; but never the parents.
I had no idea I was seen as an integral part of this whole thing going on in the garden, not the spectator but collaborator, that I was entwined in all the plant growth and flower blooming and squirrel feeding and bird foraging and birthing and training of fledglings. All that life going on day in and out – apparently – is aware of me. I am seen a part of it, responsible to it, but I am unaware in my being, cut off really from the natural world, no sense and no act on my part that I in fact belong and am responsible to that world.
I am making a mess of things, of the natural order, a mess, by all accounts, truth be said. I think I’m the smartest one on this planet, know what this is all about. I am not taking my place in the garden, doing my part, being a good part of the whole. I am in my stupidity thinking myself so wonderful seeing nature as something I use for acquisition or pleasure. I think I create gardens but gardens make their own life, little to do with me but for my one part of it. And what a mess I make of my part. But nature keeps asking that I join in, that I be a part of this great force of life, recognize that force of life in me, in my being, find my own life there in the garden at one with the garden, not distracted to see life in some digital screen mirroring my obsessions, rather listen for the wisdom inherent in nature, found in listening to nature, learning about my place in the schema of nature, how I fit in, there discover my own felt being, being human. Discover who I am with discovering my place immersed in the world of which I am.
That robin looked to me, to my generosity and looked to me for help. It got nothing from me. The robin did not hate me; I think the robin just wondered why I acted as I did. How could I? … Because I believe I know better, dear Robin, and of course I don’t. Not at all, do I? Not at all. Forgive me.