Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Looking up, looking down


Despite all the truth behind the popular conception that parenthood can leave you in a constant mental fog, only capable of functioning at the intellectual level of a head of baby bok choy (well perhaps less, when we sleep less than a cabbage gets to), there’s also nothing like parenthood to help you take notice of things.

Like how many seconds your infant can sit up by herself now, balanced on pudgy forearms like a potato- shaped motorcycle with missing wheels, before tottering over…Or how noisy the world is during the day when your baby is trying to nap (and how eerily quiet in the house at night, except for the dogs heavy sighs, as you pace back and forth, back and forth)…

I’m also still re-learning to see the world through C's 4.75 year-old eyes—view from 36 inches I’ve been calling it (though his eyes may be farther off the ground than that at this point). The hundreds of digital photos he’s taken since getting the camera the Christmas before last illustrate this well—dog butts; a dozen seemingly identical pictures looking straight across at the top of a block tower; automobiles looming large, shot while passing, as if with a fish eye lens; adults faces from underneath, peering down like parade puppets.

But it’s his fascination with money (and occasionally noticing a track) that has reminded me to look down, and look well. There are a surprising number of coins to be found when you’re that low to the ground, and more than a few bills as well. Although I usually notice other treasures. Today it's amongst the flotsam in the little strip of green space next to A's doctor’s office parking lot.

Even the trash has meaning of course, though. Take the styrofoam coffee cups and takeout plates and discarded car air fresheners, and the solar calculator I tried, just to be sure it didn’t work. These are signals from folks who didn’t take the time, or care enough to bring a travel mug for their cup of Jo, or to find a trash can. I’ve always struggled to understand just when it became OK to cast our garbage to the wind. Sure litter has been around since kids threw clay tablets with their old homework assignments into the pit by the road, but mass roadside litter-storms probably coincide with the period when automobiles started appearing everywhere like dandelions in the spring. I just can’t picture people throwing a pop can from a bicycle very often, or a crumpled piece of paper from a horse-drawn buggy—these modes of transport would put you too close to the offending object, and your guilt, for too long (and again when you passed by on the way home). And if you drove the only car in town, I’d think you’d want to show it off and honk and wave to everyone in passing—"ah-wooooo-ga!"—not be known as the fast and fearless littering roadster).

But when I’m done pondering this and look past the mound of cigarette butts, I see nature(remarkably) in our midst. It takes a moment to register, but those clumps of gray fuzz mean we’re standing below an owls dining room. Below—that means there’s something above—and only then do I look up and notice the great old (and half-dead) tree with no leaves to shade with yet this spring. A relic no-doubt overlooked by those that tidy up nature for us and make sure all those dead trees are removed post-haste (afterall, this thing could fall on your car, or several; though it will most likely come down in a storm, when no one’s likely to be parked at the far end of this big lot).

But I’m glad it’s been overlooked for now (they must not have been looking down closely enough to notice it); and I can picture the owl with a midnight snack, and almost hear it as clearly as the redwing blackbirds are calling right now—telling me it’s spring, and that at night there are also frogs to be heard in the marshy area back there. Maybe I’ll see if A's doctor has night time appointments…


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