Saturday, July 11, 2009

Moments of attention

I’m sitting outside behind my apartment, listening to the soft jingle of the neighbor’s wind chime. The sun is sliding down the western sky; in another two hours or so, it will disappear from here all together. A few minutes ago, I had a short experience with a fat squirrel with a thin tail. Coming out with my book and a few bags – recycling and trash – the squirrel leapt from its place underneath the table when I was heading to sit. Onto the neighbor’s fence I watched it go, clinging as the momentum slowed down – squirrels are damn good at clinging, as are people, though in different ways I suppose. It looked at me, and then scampered under a tree which I then noticed, for the first time, is an apple tree. Maybe a crab apple tree, maybe something else, but it’s filled with fruit.

Sitting down, I cracked the book. A novel by someone I have never heard of – a woman named Sheridan Hay who apparently worked in bookstores for many years before writing a book about, among other things, a bookstore. The novel is two years old; I bought it an hour ago at the local thrift store for a dollar. It’s amazing how fast things travel nowadays.

So, I’m sitting there reading when the squirrel leaps off of the fence and walks down the little sidewalk running along the garage building for our apartments. The sidewalk is maybe 10 feet from the table where I am sitting, which may account for the feeling of startle I had when the squirrel stopped right across from me, looked right at me, and lifting onto its hind legs. It’s funny. I have always really enjoyed squirrels, and yet I have also had this odd, reoccurring fear that one is going to run at me and leap onto me. As it stood in the air for maybe five seconds, I didn’t sense any anger, or even any fear in the stance. Maybe confusion. Curiousity perhaps. Maybe it’s sick. I’m not sure. But as it stepped back, and slowly walked down the rest of the sidewalk, I could sense that it had something it wanted to show me.

Up the fence on the other side of the yard it went, still moving fairly slow, but also filled with that squirrely energy that makes their bodies jerk all over. It was definitely fat, but it didn’t really seem sick or close to dying. I watched it disappear, and wondered if it would return while I was outside.

How we pay attention, it strikes me, has just as much to do with environment as it does with “internal” skill or focus. Squirrels teach one way of attention; turtles another. Semi-trucks still another. Everything around us is like this, going about its business, while simultaneously offering a teaching on attention to whomever or whatever will give it some.

Now, I’m going to enjoy this gift I received by returning to the novel, and keeping an ear cocked for the return of my furry, little friend.

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