Last week, four tiny bald bluebirds hatched in the nest box I had set out for them. These are not the same birds who nested there earlier this summer, and I worried when I saw a new pair moving in. These parents are young, and experience matters when there’s a territorial house wren darting through the brush piles. But the bluebird eggs survived both the wren with egg-murder on his mind and this year’s stifling heat. The gaping nestlings lifted their heads in concert when I opened the box to check on them.
A new-fledged red-tail hawk has taken shelter in my neighbor’s hemlock tree. It calls out, forlorn, as the mockingbirds and crows harass it endlessly, diving into the hemlock again and again, until the baby hawk lifts clumsily into the sky to circle a bit before settling in the tree again. Whenever its regal mother appears, the crows and the mockingbirds are the ones taking wing.
What are the antonyms for speed? What is the opposite of hurry? There’s ambling, perhaps, or apathy. There is quiet. Waiting. Calmness. It’s not true that the living is easy — for no creature on earth is the living easy, not even in summertime — but these days it slows. The songbirds rest in the hot trees, their wings held out to let the still air cool them. The resident rat snake curls slowly through the shady ground cover, too hot to bask in the sun. The black crow, panting, keeps to the shade.
And then it comes me. Here is the word I want: rest. I think of Mary Oliver’s lovely poem “The Summer Day”:
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed.
“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” she asks. Yes, I say. Too, too soon.
The air is so thick I can hardly breathe, but I can feel the breath of the earth on my ankles. Heat rises from the sun-warmed soil. Dampness pours out of the dew-drenched tangle of white clover and wood sorrel and mock strawberries that pass in this yard for a lawn. The earth is breathing. I can breathe, too, because it is still breathing.
Margaret Renkl, a contributing Opinion writer, is the author of the books “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss” and the forthcoming “Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South.”