Planted in Pennies

‘I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But—and this is the point—who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kid paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? … if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.’

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I was hoping for warblers. 8 a.m. May 9th, 15C —there should be migrant warblers feeding high up amongst the sun-warmed buds of maple and poplar. But there were none. The wood was quiet: too quiet, for a May morning.

I can give many reasons for the lack of songbirds – some of then depressing, some simply the nature of migration: after a week or more of rain and cold, we now have clear nights and a moon nearly full – and birds moving north as fast as possible. But my head and heart both know there are fewer birds every year.

I mourn this loss, deeply. I have found myself, this year, strangely reluctant to walk the woods and fields, to witness, aurally and visually, the declining number of birds. Late last year, I read Barry Lopez’s last book of essays, Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World. I was thinking of it as I walked the too-quiet paths this morning.

Because the world is still ‘planted in pennies’, and had I not been out this morning, I would have missed so much. A pair of spotted sandpipers, flying low over the water of the maple swamp, as graceful as swallows. The flash of green and copper of a wood duck; a brown creeper, probing for insects under bark. The osprey breaking off branches for its growing nest on a light standard over the soccer field; the crow devouring a frog (fresh road kill? or predated?) up in a dead tree. None of these sights are ‘chips of copper only’, but glints and glimpses to be treasured in the moment and in memory. Embraced, as Lopez says.

Image by brands amon from Pixabay 

There is no life without loss, whether it is the loss of bird species to destructive land use, pesticides, avian flu or climate change, or the loss of those we love to accident, disease, age or simply lives that converge. (This is much on my mind, largely, but not entirely, because it is the major theme of my novel-in-progress.)  But as abundance diminishes, should not the pennies matter more?

There will be warblers, one morning. I still have faith.

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