“Always there was a timelessness, a residue of the sacred, and a lingering feeling that I was witnessing something spectacular.”
-Charles Finn, Wild Delicate Seconds –
I recently came across a thin volume of nature writing in my local bookstore. It was fairly nondescript, save the beautiful woodcut of a Water Ouzel wading through surf on the cover of the book. The book is entitled Wild Delicate Seconds: 29 Wildlife Encounters by Charles Finn, and when I picked it up and flipped through it, I knew I had found a valuable piece of work. Inside are 29 (very) short essays, “shimmering moments” of the author’s nature experiences caught in snapshot form. I, too, have enjoyed the form of snapshots in the past, of capturing moments as they come. Finn seems to believe that every moment that we witness is worth remembering. That the encounters we have with all beings are fleeting and they are precious. They are also delicate, for you never know when a wild thing will depart as quickly as it came.
This is the kind of writing that I strive to create: sharing snapshots of my life and the beauty I am witness to. Like Finn, I also believe that every moment we witness is worth remembering. There are too many times worth mentioning in which I have smiled in the face of a woodpecker darting across my path and into a tree as I left work. Or at a squirrel sneaking into my classroom through an open door and hiding under a desk to nibble at who know’s what. Or at a dead bumblebee lying on the pavement for us to examine. Or at a bushtit, darting at my suet feeder and away again, so fast. Or at a small inkling of a new spring flower, its green shoot emerging out of the soil one millimeter at at time. It is these moments that cause us to stop. To notice. To tune into the world that is buzzing and teeming with activity everywhere. To get outside of our selfish little bubbles and notice that someone else doing what they do best. It’s moments like these, that happen all the time but are so fleeting, that cause us to close our eyes and sing.
Charles Finn’s writing reminded me of a piece I wrote about a wildlife encounter I had myself at Whitaker Ponds Nature Park while teaching summer camp there last year. I’m glad I finally have an opportunity to share it with you now:
A hot, sticky day. The sun beats down relentlessly on our heads and the pond is still. The group is occupied, doing a watercolor drawing of the water ringed in a circle of cottonwood trees. We wonder if we will see the beaver. Signs of him are all over the park- his toothmarks carving grooves in tree trunks like live petroglyphs. But all is still and buzzing. Damsel and dragonflies float about our heads, zzzz-ing in their metallic, opalescent way.
I don’t know who first noticed him, the fish hawk, circling overhead, wings in their well-known M-shape. The osprey, looking for lunch. We all seem to stop at the same time and put down our paint brushes. Without talking, kids and teachers alike turn their faces upwards, waiting for blood. He circles for many mintues- around, around, around, charting his course. And then, without warning, he makes his move. He dives so fast we can hardly see the in-between. He is a bullet into the pond, floating back up into the air again with a fish in his talons. I had only seen this one other time before, in a wetland park in the Pearl District. A rare witness to a magnificent bird of prey, pouncing on his midday meal. Pure instinct, all senses engaged, stomach empty, fish in his sights.