I stood on the top of the kitchen crossbeam, my hands braced on a log rafter, scrubbing the fish-fry grease that had floated, landed, and collected dust for all of last summer’s resort season. The gray water dripped down my wrist and collected in my sweatshirt. With one hand dirty and the other securing my precarious balance, a nose itch or hair in my eye had to be meditated away. “Clean the logs” was my only agenda. With my perch, even thinking wasn’t a wise distraction.
But then my Iris, in her five-year-old exuberance about bird nests and first dandelions and pretty rocks from the gravel road, came running loudly into the cabin.
“MOM, you’ve GOT to come see this!” she yelled up at me.
I started my typical No answer, my typical excuse about work, using my typical frustrated tone that implied how inconsiderate she was to not notice how busy I am. But then, suddenly, I stopped.
I stopped, and I saw her bright eyes, her whole body dancing in excitement, her sweet desire bursting to share something she had found with me and me alone. It could very well be a spider’s web or a hole left by a rock she dug out of the road or a moth she would label a butterfly that had long since flown away. One just never knows where a child will lead them next.
I walked across the beam to the ladder, climbed down, left my cleaning supplies and followed her. She started leading me down to the lake, which was further than I wanted to get from my work. I again started my typical resistance, but again, something made me stop. She seemed so particularly excited. And it was the most beautiful day of the year so far. The songbirds were in full whistle-while-you-work mode and a woodpecker tapped a rhythm just off to our left. A grouse was thrumming in the distance and the skies were busy with gulls, ravens and crows.
I walked and she ran, looking back yelling for me to hurry every few yards. When we got to the docks, she stopped and pointed, whispering, “Look!”
Swimming just beyond the tiny marina where the ice met the shore-warmed water were a pair of trumpeter swans. We see them from time to time here, mostly in transit or when we happen upon them in the nooks and crannies of the Canadian side of the lake, but I’d never been so close before, and it was a complete first for Iris. We were both quiet, watching, listening.
“Can you take a picture?” she whispered finally. I had left my phone in the cabin where I was cleaning, but she volunteered to run back for it while I slowly walked closer. At the water’s edge, I saw there were also two pairs of Canadian geese and a duck couple swimming in the shallows. Iris came scampering back and we settled in on the lookout deck right above the muskeg.
While she exclaimed at the long necks of the swans and marveled at the colors of the mallard, the swans honked their low hello’s and the geese called their minor distress at our presence. Then, to our right, the freight train bugle of what could only be a sandhill crane made us both jump. Not even a stone’s throw away, two cranes danced and fed right there at the muskeg’s edge.
“Those are the loudest birds I ever saw!” Iris whispered almost as loudly.
We could barely decide where to look. The swans were swimming gracefully side by side, one pair of geese walked gingerly on the thin ice, and the cranes bobbed and danced, diving their heads into the shallow weedy waters. We were right in the middle of it all, and for a time I simply closed my eyes and listened to their loud chorus, a rare harmony of honks and calls we may never hear together again. Even the ducks joined with their percussive, insistent quacking, and the gulls swooping overhead added their lilting sopranos. Iris’ innocent worry that the geese might fall through the ice was just as much part of the music as the rest of it, and I let it all be, feeling no need to explain or correct her thinking and no guilt at the work that waited my return.
The light breeze and the sun made the minutes fly. I had gone from not wanting to leave my lofty log scrubbing to nearly melting into the warm wood as we sat in the presence of it all.
After quite some time, we slowly walked hand-in-hand back to the cabin. At the edge of the docks, I stopped and turned to her, crouching down to her eye-level. I put my hands on her shoulders and said with all sincerity, “Iris, thank you so much for showing me this.”
Her smile was slow but then burst into being as warm as the sun. She threw herself at me in a hug and then sprinted back up to the cabin to tell Grandma about her swans and her cranes and her geese.
They were hers, after all. It was her magic and her joy that had brought them to me and would now bring them to whomever else would listen.
I couldn’t help but reflect on the lesson I almost hadn’t learned. In my busy Doing, I had almost missed out on Being. I had almost missed the most precious of moments with my ever-growing child. I had almost declined to relax at the feet of the Almighty and listen to the wisdom of the winds and the wild things and the five-year old’s.
I had almost not paid heed, but I’m ever so glad that I did.
(First published in the May 15th issue of the Warroad Pioneer.)