North Coast Journal


Bird in bush, philosophy in hedge

by Miv Schaaf

ONLY RARELY AM I SHOCKED INTO seeing the real world, waiting here, placed there. Why? For my edification, through a whim of nature, an accident of atoms? I don't know. But it is there and we are, in spite of our luxury-limited time, here to enjoy it.

Late, in a rush, I open the front door to go out. Something flickers in the hedge bush, low in the leaves. A bird, but such a tiny bird, one of those maybe chickadee kinds I've been trying to find out about. They come in bunches, in rushes of bunches, as though someone has thrown a whole handful of pebbles.

A cloud of chippering in that bush and then, as though a bell sounded -- whick, they are gone, all at once, faster than I can see them. And here, in my mid-rush, at his timing not mine, one perches on the lowest branch of the hedge.

A perfect miniature bird, perhaps a master's model for a bigger bird, for he is wonderfully proportioned: small rounded head, fat teardrop body, a modest, completely unostentatious length of tail. Oh, why can't I spend the whole afternoon appreciating this bird -- the fitting of every feather, its volume a tiny marvel?

The branch he has picked to sit upon is a little clearing in the hedge; it makes an open halo around his body, defining the negative space, as we graphic designers would say. You could draw an outline around that bird, a frame six inches square and in that space you would have an entire world.

No, I do not exaggerate. First we have the bird -- no one has yet found out all there is to know about this bird, its bone structure, its migration, its metabolism, its mind. We have the air around the bird, ever changing, a confusing cauldron of chemicals.

Then we have the hedge, living its own woody mystery. We have not yet found how a seed grows -- imagine, practically the 21st century and we have not yet found how a seed grows! This hedge, in its prickly old age (for it is 50 years old or more, pretty ancient for a bush) runs all along our walk, ignoring us completely, every bit as immersed in its greenings, its turnings, its inner intricacies as we are in our own immediacies. The hedge, I am reasonably sure, will be here, thickening its complicated woody self, long after I am gone.

And that is good. It has a deeper relation to the real world than I, in my silly rushings, will ever have. It has more to say, sitting there, a philosopher in the sunshine, watching us spoiled with too many toys.

Miv Schaaf, a resident of Fieldbrook, wrote for the Los Angeles Times for 15 years.

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