My mother turns 83 today. She's slowing down a bit physically, but is still lively and fiercely opinionated as ever.
Among the many things I learned from Mom was how to be a naturalist. From a young age, I learned to be a birder by looking out the big picture windows into our backyard. Family vacations were camping trips, where I learned how to be still, to listen, and look for hidden things: industrious ants working a hill or a silent owl high in a tree. As a young teen, I roamed the regional parks of the Berkeley Hills by myself, following deer trails and lying in the grass to watch the fawns, teaching myself to be invisible. No parent would let their kids do that today, which is a huge loss.
A few years ago Mom told me, "every day has a gift that I look for". Mostly this is on the daily walk she takes with Dad and their dogs, in the same hills I roamed as a child. Sometimes she phones me to tell me what it was: colorful mushrooms springing up after a rain, a great blue heron hunting gophers on a remote meadow, the first lupine of the season, or one of those spectacular clear winter days over the San Francisco Bay where you can almost see the Farallon Islands from Grizzly Peak.
I've tried to take this on board for myself. I live a more urban life than Mom and much of it is imprisoned by a long commute, so I don't have the ability to range over the hills any more. But I try to be still and look for the gift nonetheless, which can attenuate the frustration of delays and traffic.
Recently, my morning train was trapped at a red signal for a prolonged period, but it was right next to a lagoon full of reeds, where the redwing blackbirds were displaying for the females. I watched one plain brown female flit from sector to sector, head tilted, evaluating the flashing scarlet wing patches of each calling male. Or it can be the yellow mustard that dusts the green hills at this time of year. Or the sudden view of the snowy San Gabriels through the palm trees of Orange County. Yesterday, a rainstorm cleared Los Angeles but left the clouds all tangled up with the mountaintops, so it looked like the peaks of the Santa Monicas, the Verdugos, and the San Gabriels all disappeared into mounds of fluffy white cotton. It was beautiful.
Thank you Mom. I love you. Happy Birthday!