Wednesday, August 30, 2023

BENCHED – Taking a Walk Sitting Down

Every summer, it seems, opens Sally’s and my hearts to a few new discoveries, new experiences. This waning summer has been no exception. Some of these new finds are things most folks wouldn’t find the slightest bit stirring. Yet for us they’ve become treasured parts of our daily routine.

A block and a half down East River Parkway one of our neighbors has installed a bench in their front yard, at the edge of the public sidewalk. Quite unlike the occasional bench the city built along the walking/biking path across the street—some of them dilapidated and facing neither passersby nor any view but the thick stands of invasive buckthorn right in front of them—our neighbors' seating is placed very thoughtfully.

             It’s under the leafy umbrella
             of a mature horse chestnut tree.

They could have put it on the ample boulevard, between the sidewalk and the street. That would have set sitters a bit closer to the steep, wooded slope down to the Mississippi flowing below. But it would have given priority to views of soulless sedans and SUVs passing by.

They could have placed the bench ten or twelve yards further west, in more or less the center of their stretch of sidewalk. But that would have put it in full sun during some parts of the day.

No, these thoughtful folks put their gift to pedestrians right next to the sidewalk, where one can interact with neighbors—and their social-lubricant dogs—walking past. And it’s way over in one corner of the yard, under the leafy umbrella of a mature horse chestnut tree. (Amazing, isn’t it, how cozy and sheltered a tree can render the space it overspreads.) The bench is also right next to a flower bed.

     If it takes being an old man to value such
     languor, I must be aging faster than I thought!

“Our” bench has become kind of a focal point of our daily walk. Even though its location falls far short of what should be the terminus for a healthy, two- or three-mile walk, what it affords our souls outweighs what a longer walk might do for our hearts.

We love stopping there. (Sylvia’s now learned the word “bench,” and automatically stops and lies down next to it.) We sit, she jumps up in Sally’s lap, and we just chill and observe the usually lazy pace of life as it flows past us. And, since we’re both fairly busy most days, it’s also one of the few occasions where we get to enjoy each other’s full attention.

“Benching it” has become another of what seems like an ever-greater number of our activities that stand out for their sheer simplicity. Hey, if it takes being an old man to value such languor, I must be aging faster than I thought!

Nearly as pleasant as the well-placed bench and Sally’s and my conversation is meeting our “hosts,” Lynn and Rahul, who’ve happened out to visit with us a couple of times. They’re very nice, and are among the few people we ever meet these days who actually seem to care who we are as much as they expect us to care who they are.

We’re trying to think of an appropriate gift we could leave for Rahul and Lynn to say thanks for their putting out “our” bench. What do you think? A small coffee table? Maybe a footrest?

Do you have a special place or activity, one that might seem ridiculously simple, where you can pass a little time just quietly observing, allowing Nature and neighbors—and perhaps a dear friend or partner—to nourish your spirit?

Friday, August 25, 2023

HOWLIN’ HARMONY – Sylvia Sings With Coyotes

So Sally and I are just down the block, sitting on our favorite bench along East River Parkway. Our mini-schnauzer, Sylvia, is sitting in Sally’s lap, her keen senses piqued by every movement, sound and smell within a hundred yards. Walkers, bikers, squirrels, a few cars.

Then the relative quiet is pierced by the wail of sirens, and Sylvia’s ears perk up. The emergency vehicles are headed our way, and sure enough we spot a couple of fire trucks tearing down the street right toward us.

Sylvie’s getting agitated now, and when they’re about a block away, she points her nose toward the sky, purses her lips and starts belting out her demure version of a full-throated, primal wolf howl.  

I cover my ears as the trucks scream past and Sylvie keeps howling for another
ten seconds.

As the sirens fade into the distance, Silvia catches her breath, and a new sound emerges from the din. Right across the parkway, somewhere on the steep, wooded slope down to the Mississippi—and no more than 50 yards away—a pack of coyotes is still performing their unique, siren-provoked medley of howls and high-pitched barking. And it’s not just one or two; it sounds like the whole, extended family.

       It is a profound reminder of the timeless
       connection between all creatures.

Coyotes may be the most populous, yet reclusive, wild animal in the U.S. It’s hard to believe how many there are, even right here in the city.* And when you run into one face to face—as I have occasionally—blocking your way on the foot path, or hear them sounding off en masse as we just did, it touches a nerve.

That’s because few people, especially those of us who live in the city, ever come face to face with a wild, free carnivore. The rare privilege of doing so is essential to our understanding that the natural world does not—or at least should not—revolve entirely around homo sapiens.

Our arresting encounter today is a profound reminder of the timeless connection between all creatures— in fact, the oneness of…everything.

One is seldom moved to contemplate the scope of such awareness. But this communing between our little dog and those coyotes, the stirring consonance of their common ancestry, brings it home for me as few experiences have.

* There are significant populations of coyotes (canis latrans) in every U.S. state except Hawaii. The U.S. total has been estimated at between 3,000,000 and 5,000,000.