Today when I went for my afternoon walk, it was later than usual. I could have heeded the little voice in my head saying, It’s late… you could just skip it… But I didn’t, and went out into the warm early evening, along the sidewalk dotted with brilliant sugar maple leaves, my heart full of joy… at being alive!
Being alive is not something you take for granted when you’ve had a couple of life-threatening scares. It’s the silver lining of scary experiences. And it turns out that it’s quite marvelous, one might also say worth it, when your default mode is one of gratitude. Gratitude is a magical frame of mind that can eclipse almost every other. If you feel sad, gratitude can bring you to contentment. If you feel cranky, gratitude can bring you to… contentment! Come to think of it, gratitude is the essence of my daily walks; letting go all thoughts and worries, letting stresses flow off my mind and body like water, and simply being present and grateful for all I see. Delicious!
On this particular evening, however, what I saw up ahead on the sidewalk was a little, still form. Everywhere I had turned all week long, squirrels were scurrying about, busy with the work of burying acorns and walnuts, dashing across the street, bustling by, digging, even ignoring me standing so close, so preoccupied were they with the business of fall.
Here was one whose work was done. I stared in wonder at the beautiful creature, not a mark on him, his plush fur, limbs and little feet gorgeous, his eyes still liquid, glossy and dark as a raisin. Perfect in every way, and all the life gone out of him.
I looked up above and saw only a small crepe myrtle tree, not tall enough to have caused a fatal fall for a nimble squirrel. He was so robust looking; he had clearly not starved to death, nor died of old age.
I stood with him for sometime, pondering the mystery, mourning a bit that his life was cut short, grateful for this beautiful small being. I offered a little metta, May he be delighted in celestial realms… May he leap from tree to tree with joy in his heart… A woman with a dog came along, but the dog, who might have chased him were he alive, ignored his lifeless form. The woman made a sad, commiserating sound then turned to greet a friend, whom the dog was equally delighted to see.
Life goes on.
Or in some cases, not.
The New York Times carried an article that evening about how natural disasters can actually spell the end of endangered species, citing as an example a rare red squirrel, nearly all of whom died when a wildfire swept through Arizona in June. Lightning struck the mountains where they lived, igniting a 48,000-acre fire that reduced an ancient forest to charred stumps; and 217 of the 252 Mount Graham red squirrels left in existence disappeared. The cones that the remaining 35 squirrels had stored for the winter likewise vanished. A US Fish and Wildlife expert expressed deep concern about how and if they will survive.
My gosh! Only 35 of these squirrel left in the whole wide world.
Shall we take a moment to appreciate the existence of these darling squirrels?
Mount Graham red squirrel. Credit Joel Sartore/National Geographic Creative, from the NYTimes article
Rather than wring our hands, I suggest we honor both rare and common species of creatures on our planet by doing what we can do to help. How can we protect, nourish and restore the earth and its vulnerable populations? Obviously this is not something the government is going to be spearheading for some time. But shall we take individual responsibility and initiative, and take action?
I believe it’s up to us. Which is why I’ve gotten into zero waste thinking, avoiding purchasing plastics, buying natural fiber clothing secondhand, making my own toothpaste, using handkerchiefs and rags for cleaning. I walk first, take the bus or metro second, and drive third. I purchase organic food from my local farmer.
Thus, I’m doing my bit in protecting rivers and oceans and the creatures that live in them from death, destruction, and microfiber pollution. I’m improving the air we breathe and the water we drink. I’m supporting fair trade jobs and voting with my dollars not to support pollution, child labor in unsafe factories, and unfair wages. I’m supporting local economies and healthier lives for folks that depend on them.
I’m just saying let’s commit to actually doing what we can.
Let’s be the solution we want to see. Let’s be life-givers, nourishers, planet protectors.
You with me?