Like millions of other Americans, my wife and I enjoy feeding birds. Given the fact that we live in the woods and have accidentally also found ourselves feeding bears, we long ago ceased stocking our feeders once spring has arrived and our furry neighbors have awakened. But from late fall through winter, we keep a steady supply of cracked corn, thistle seed and black sunflower seed on the feeders on our terrace, along with slabs of suet for the woodpeckers.
Fifty years ago, in the waning days of 1967, I was a young G.I. stationed in southern Germany. Thanksgiving had come and gone and now Christmas loomed ahead. It promised to be a singularly unmerry event. I was homesick as heck and most of the people I held dear lived on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean. Then the postcard came. "Meet me in St. Moritz for Christmas. We can celebrate by skiing. Bring friends. Hanno."
I was born in Chicago, eight blocks from Wrigley Field, destined by fate (and my father) to become a Cubs fan. Dad, who played semi-pro baseball for some years with a team called the Buccaneers, took me to see my first game when I was 5. "We" (by which he meant the Cubs) "are playing the Cincinnati Red Sox today," he explained. "Hopefully we'll win."
Six years ago this month my wife and I drove to Duluth with another couple to spend two delightful days in the presence of tall ships.
We've heard it all before. From infancy we've been taught that members of our species, Homo sapiens, are the cleverest creatures in the cosmos, endowed with any number of unique and marvelous abilities. "Only humans can learn to use tools." "Only humans are self-aware." "What sets us aside from the other animals is our ability to use language." "We're the only species capable of looking ahead." Or Mark Twain's famous claim that "Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to."
This past Sunday millions of mothers throughout America received various sorts of special treatment. Some got breakfast in bed, perhaps cooked to imperfection by loving family members whose good intentions outstripped their culinary skills. Others were treated to brunch at a restaurant, maybe followed by a drive in the country. Many sported corsages, emblematic of their status as queen for a day.
Living as we do by the shores of a marshy lake, we are very much aware of our neighbors, the frogs. Each spring, right about now, the first of the croaking begins. When we hear it we are invariably thrilled. More than the return of the juncoes or the trilling of the red-winged blackbirds, the croaking of the frogs means spring. For months and months we've forgotten all about them. We know vaguely that they're burrowed somewhere in the frozen mud, hibernating through the winter. But it's mostly a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind.
A recent conversation with a dear old friend brought back lots of memories, many of them about music. Like most American kids, we started taking music lessons in fifth grade. Our music teacher's name was Mr. Hodge. Mr. Hodge had horn-rimmed glasses and a David Niven mustache. He was in charge of the high school band and choir as well as the smaller bands and choirs at two of the grade schools that fed into the high school. Somehow, despite being stretched thin as paint, he not only taught us the rudiments of music, but generally made learning fun.
I recently rediscovered an article clipped from Psychology Today, in which Stephan Rechtschaffen, director of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, delivered some intriguing observations about our modern sense of time. "There are cultures on this planet that have no word for minute or hour," writes Rechtschaffen, "cultures where a moment can last a whole morning. We don't live in one of them." Instead of savoring moments, our culture pushes us toward an ever more productive and efficient use of time.
Several years ago the mystery writer Georges Simenon published a book titled "When I Was Old." In the book he recounted a period of several years during which he felt old beyond his years; old, not in a wise and mellow way, but simply old. What Simenon found most troubling about those years was neither his sense of declining energy nor his preoccupation with death (which he was certain was near), but rather the persistent feeling of being cut off from the mainstream of life.