Thursday, March 4, 2010

Of mice and girls (and birds and squirrels)

I am convinced that one of the reasons I am a 5 on the Enneagram is that I grew up on a hill. Yes, there's probably a 5 gene lurking somewhere in my DNA. But I can recall countless hours spent in our yard with its vistas giving way both south and north. Some of that time was of course spent intentionally in play. But much of it was spent simply exploring, watching clouds morph overhead, and gazing into the distance with a vague sense of impending adventure. At night, I would peel the curtains back to look out at the lights huddled about the galaxy that was our small local city.

No wonder I wound up the detached observer.

I would climb one or another of our many tall trees and spend hours at heights that now make me shudder as a parent. On the first really nice spring day, I would take a pair of binoculars and observe and record airplane flights as our local airport, in full view to the north, would come alive like a hive beaten with a stick. On other nice days I would set up as a painter at the back of the yard and produce landscapes of startling mediocrity. In fact, if not for our yard, I would probably have spent all of my time living in books and had much less to connect them with; no outer match to my inner muse.

Subsequently, I spent much of my time in cities as culturally rich as my hometown was excitement challenged. When I started on the contemplative path, my mystical mom told me that I would begin to see the natural world differently. I was convinced I would be an urban contemplative, destined to behold the green lining of life's sidewalks.

As usual, mom was right.

Well, mostly right. I spent a month at a hermitage in Nova Scotia, and five months as a postulant in Big Sur, taking increasing notice of the God bursting at the world's every seam. I was edified by Annie Dillard, Rick Bass, Wendell Berry. I learned to sit crouched in the woods behind our place in the Poconos for 45 minutes at a time without so much as a muscle twitch, watching the woods crawl like a log that only that degree of stillness could overturn. But eventually, I found myself in that place where once-green dreams of creative attainment go to die when they wither unplucked: suburbia.

Which brings me to my yard, still mostly snow-crusted as I sit here and type on a late winter's afternoon. When we made the decision to buy a house eight years ago, I was determined that it have a good, kid-friendly yard. No pool (much to my step-daughter's chagrin), just enough space and enough flora and fauna to experience God's restless need to stay materially on the move. You might say I was shopping for a nice yard that happened to come with a house.

And eventually we found it, in a modest but mature neighborhood where the colors detonate for a couple of weeks or more each April, and again in the fall. We have an appropriately stately silver maple in the back, and a multi-personalitied Japanese maple in the front. We have a family room with two skylights that frame the moon, and French doors that make the squirrels constantly playing on our deck seem like part of the family. We've had a pair of ducks and a pair of hawks as regular visitors (not at the same time). And we've been given the greatest suburban gift of all: free lawn care courtesy of my mom.

But I enjoy our yard the most when I enjoy it with Maddie. It's just the right size with just the right amount of plant life to sustain a good game of hide and seek. It's home to a soccer field, baseball diamond, and football field, depending on current requirements and requisite imagination. It's a place to explore and to discover otherness, likeness, and a diverse array of forms - wriggling, fluttering, scampering, and still. Of the atom-smashing, tirelessly mutating creativity of God it is both sign and microcosm. Just like Maddie herself.

And she even prefers it to "The Lion King."


- monk about town

(Contemplative dad tip for the day: With a little menu planning, the ingredients for meals early in the week can make good pizza toppings later in the week.)

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