On your knees, biped

I learned humility from robins.

While working in the yard near the Quilt Garden, I saw a robin enter the inner world of our small, under-pruned crabapple tree. The tree, maybe eight feet high, is a temperate jungle of branches, twigs and glossy leaves. I suspected and found a robin on a nest, hidden from all sides, top and bottom. One had to enter the encircling protective greenery to see the statue-still bird on board.

As days passed, I kept a surreptitious eye on the nesting tree, on any robin in the yard. One day, after the young had fledged and became full-time grub-gatherers, I told B. about the nest.

“Where? What nest?”

“In the tree? Don’t you look at anything? Here, I’ll show you. Just put your head right through the perimeter protective branches and you’ll see . . . a nest. You just have to look, to watch. Observe. See. Right here . . . oh . . . .”

“What? What do you see?”

“There are two nests in this tree.”

Urban shrubbery can be revealing, too. In tightly-pruned evergreen shrubs one can occasionally see a slight flaw in the smooth exterior. If it is a tiny hole, it may be the passage-way to a chipping sparrow or cardinal or house finch nest.

Face forward

Public people like Justin T., Hillary C., and Donald T. speak about the environment, climate change or its supposed non-existence. U.S. senators affirm or deny this or that about our weather or our world. Shoppers at Sobey’s or Loblaw’s comment lightly about whether we have global warming, cooling, more than (or less) than normal, El Niño or La Niña. I haven’t heard of any of these folks speak of putting their faces into a crabapple tree or a fox den, however.

Recently I read an article about predator hunting in an outdoor magazine. Targets included badgers. Not soft-featured English badgers that you read about in English children’s books, but Western Canadian sleek, fierce, pointed-muzzled, T-34 badgers that munch mice, gophers and baby birds indiscriminately and which can tear up your dog pretty well in a fight. I didn’t notice the hunter/writer speaking of putting his face in a badger’s den, however, even an empty one.

Ground level

I remember a farmer who tasted the soil, presumably to determine whether it was sweet or sour (high or low pH). Those who get down off their tractors used to grab a twist of hay to determine its readiness for baling, instead of using a moisture probe. Another farmer regularly checked the cows’ manure – it should be not too runny; better to have well-formed plops with a dimple in the middle.

Mr. Groothuis used to take a walk through the fields each evening observing his dairy cows in the night pasture, decapitating the scattered thistles with his stick while he walked. Although upright, one might say he was kneeling his way through the field in the cool of the evening.

Kneeling? Certainly not in a pasture. Certainly not in front of a shrub on Robson Street. Certainly not in a copse of trees near worms or on the bald prairie in the dank, musky air of a burrow.

Kneeling? St. Paul, a rather famous self-confessed kneeler, saw creation groaning. I wonder if he took the time to see it from his knees, or from the interior of a crabapple tree, learning humility at the same time.  

On Your Knees, Biped

put your face into the fox’s den,
     or is it a badger’s?
a close fit, like putting on a mask,
with its strong musk air old dry fur
     wet dark garden
soil slowly alive with worms and
become the earth and see through its

Kelly Shepherd, Shift
(Thistledown Press, 2016)


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