Life seems longer when you're aware

I used to think all the birds went south for the winter, or if they stayed around they kept their beaks shut.

But when I opened my windows and my eyes and ears, I saw and heard them—the hawks and geese and Cardinals and Chickadees were there and announcing themselves. The drama of life was going on and all I had to do was wake up and participate.

As I write this article the weather at Heatherhope Farm is dark gray, raw and wet. It is typical of the challenging weather we have around here for at least six months of the year—weather that tempts us to ball up on the couch, turn on the TV and wait to be entertained.

Yet, behold, there are the first blades of green grass. There is the first jonquil, the first Barn Swallow, the first baby rabbit of spring munching the first lettuce of the garden.

Not all the signs we notice are of good things, but it is an unmitigated good thing to notice more things. Just this year Joshua Foer, in his book, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, pointed out that one reason put forward for the common observation that the older we get the faster time seems to fly is that we no longer see things as amazed children, who are always learning. When everything in life becomes old hat for us, we become less aware and time slips by quickly.

Whether or not awareness can slow things down, certainly it makes life richer. The passing of seasons on a farm or in our back yard is absolutely crammed with fascinating detail. It makes “reality TV” seem absolutely barren in comparison. I, for one, can’t wait to learn what kind of spring and summer we will have. What sort of birds will put their stamp on things. Three years ago we had an abundance of Dickcissels who posted themselves on high and conspicuous branches and sang their heads off in the late afternoons. Two years ago we had a good company of Bobolinks. Last year it was Meadowlarks and I had to learn to distinguish the western from the eastern ones. And there are mysteries galore. A solo, whitish, bird that soars like a hawk and hunts the tree lines taunts me because I cannot identify it. And I was pretty sure we had a Goshawk in early winter, but a birder friend seemed so amazed that now I’m wondering.

Being aware may slow life down, but surely it deepens it. But one more salutary thing is that it keeps us humble. That poem of Ecclesiastes in the Bible teaches that for everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven, but by the end of that puzzling book, the point is made that we mortals cannot know or control what is coming our way.

But we can open our eyes and ears and souls. We can let ourselves be amazed by the ebb and flow of life around us, and we can enjoy the ride all the more.

This article appeared in the Daily Chronicle on March 25, 2011. Page A2.