Out of the background and into view

0037_Out of the background and into view

Our late-winter woods

This is the last day of what will surely go down in weather history as the Great Winter of 2014 – the longest, coldest, snowiest, fiercest winter in decades. Thank goodness, we’ve survived to tell the tale, and tomorrow, March 20th, marks the vernal equinox, the blessed, long-anticipated first day of spring. I join the winter-weary throng in my anxiousness to welcome spring’s return.

In our part of Illinois, the mercury has registered enough above freezing for the past week to melt away most of the snow, and on the northern slope of our woods, only a few stubborn patches remain. Since the historic snows of 2014 have all but vanished, our woods have again become a study in sepia tones. From the faded cloak of oak and maple leaves that cover the hills’ soft shoulders to the weather-grey bone structure of bark and bare branches, the woods are now largely monochromatic.

Throughout the day, I spend a good deal of time staring out my window, thinking. I’ll turn from my keyboard, glance up from a book, or set aside my sewing to gaze out over this hillside. I continually marvel at the way the wild inhabitants of our woods blend in with their surroundings. Squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, deer, raccoons, hawks, owls, and host of other local fauna are clothed in tones that precisely replicate fallen leaves and tree bark, and when these creatures aren’t moving, they’re almost invisible. Once, lost in thought, I stood at the window and stared out to the grey-brown woods, not focusing on anything in particular. All at once, the surface of the far hill began to shift and distort, like some kind of surreal animation. I blinked and peered more closely. It was a deer. Other fragments of the woodland jigsaw began to take shape. Two deer became visible, then three. Four. No, wait — five! I was astounded. Only moments before, five enormous animals had been hiding from me in plain sight.

Although I call the woods my home, I’m not an exclusively woodland dweller. I can be found out and about – at the market, volunteering at school, in a restaurant, at a show. I’ll wave hello, stop to visit. But even though I’m visible, I might be hiding in plain sight. When I’m wrestling with grief or brooding about something, it often suits me to blend in, keep a low profile, slip in and out, go undetected. It’s easier, sometimes, not to be noticed and to hide – even from myself. But there are times when it’s quite the opposite: I yearn to be seen, noticed, heard, understood.

Which leads me back to these monochromatic woods, the seasonal backdrop to my musings. Late last winter, on the cusp of spring, I was sitting in the well-worn rocking recliner we’ve owned since James was a baby. The day was wind-tossed, and dark clouds scudded across the sky. Rays of occasional sunlight popped in and out of the fast-moving clouds like a child at play with a dimmer switch. I was studying the brown boughs of the trees as they swayed in the wind. A flock of newly returned robins were feasting on bittersweet berries hidden among the tall vines that dangle from the highest branches of our oaks. When the robins’ backs were turned to me, they were indistinguishable from the tangled vines. But each time a bird shifted to face me, I could spot it instantly. Like a snapshot that turns up from time to time, this fleeting moment on a windy day has remained with me, and I’ve thought about it over and over again — the red breasts of robins, visible among drab branches.

There are times it serves us to conceal our hearts, to come and go, to fade into our surroundings, to protect ourselves. But if what we yearn for is to stand up and be noticed — for ourselves alone, for the emotions we’re compelled to reveal, for the ideas we long to share — there’s a risk involved. It takes courage to step out of the background and into view. Like robins in the late winter woods, we must be willing to turn and expose our hearts.

10 thoughts on “Out of the background and into view

  1. Lovely writing Amy. I am reminded how we filled the bird-bath at my mother-in-laws house when we arrived this Saturday. It sits just outside the kitchen window. My father-in law designed it. It is made of a large simple copper sheet that is bent up at the edges to give it a lip to stand on and just enough depth to get a bath. Filling the bird bath was on her to-do list, She pressed the empty milk jug into my hands with great enthusiasm. Later, I stood in the kitchen watching as birds flew up continuously and perched on the rock landscape she set up in it. These rocks may have been the ones they collected on one of their many road trips. They could have been rocks we brought down from mountain tops or plucked out of the bottom of the lake to protect the heals of children when they played. I have never seen Robins so fluffed out. It was quite windy and cold. They arrived and bathed and drank. One Robin drank a long time. Others came and joined him. Some would wait politely on the rock before finding the deepest of the shallow part to dip their head into. Our daughter Zoe, mimicked the way they shook the water through their features. I felt as if they were watching me. A lone male cardinal joined in. What struck me was how fluffy and rotund they became. Dot, my mother-in-law is like a compass to me. She points me to what is meaningful in life, she helps me see.

    • Stacey, the image of your mother-in-law pressing the empty milk jug into your hands is so charming, as is your description of your father-in-law’s handmade copper birdbath complete with stones gathered from cherished places. And how beautiful, that you describe Dot as a compass in your life, pointing you toward what is meaningful, helping you see. I love this!

      Your description of the birds who came to bathe and drink at Dot’s birdbath is so evocative. I felt I was rejoicing with them, with Zoe, and with you as they splashed and drank! Especially during the winter months, birds need a fresh water source. Did you know that more birds die in winter from thirst than from cold? And that they need to bathe to help keep their feathers insulating properly?

      Thank you for all the lovely comments you’ve shared here, Stacey, and most of all, for your friendship. xoxo

  2. As always Amy, your writing stirs my heart with recognition. I read your words while sitting in a California garden far from home, listening to mourning doves, grateful for solitude and anonymity and warm sunshine and kindred souls from far away who feel like friends.

    • Katrina, I so love imagining you in a quiet garden space filled with sunlight and birdsong. Your gentle words, as always, are a balm to my spirit, and your friendship is a gift I treasure, though many miles distant we may be. xoxo

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