June 7, 2013 – Life can be rich and interesting if one merely opens their eyes and hearts.
By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond
What is the purpose of life? That question has undoubtedly been asked innumerable times since humans developed the means to articulate their thoughts. Speaking purely scientifically, I believe the purpose of life is to replicate genes. That is, contrary to our lofty opinion of our species, we are not apex creatures created in God’s image but merely gene replication machines, just like rats, cockroaches, Bermuda grass, bacteria and fungus.
Fortunately, (some) human beings possess great intelligence that enables them to escape the lowly design of their existence and extract something more from life. Some of these people are artists whose works we admire and laud, but many are just ordinary folks who try to enjoy each and every day, often by appreciating the little things in life: the smell of a rose, a delicious meal, a good game, a good conversation, watching children at play, horsing around with a pet, the vivid greenness of the yard amid the darkness of an afternoon thunderstorm, a refreshing afternoon nap or the sight of animals frolicking in the yard (one of my favorite pastimes).
Eating is one of my great pleasures in life, so most days I fix at least one delicious meal or make something special, such as a loaf of bread. I find good food, comprised of quality ingredients and prepared from scratch not only satisfies my hunger but nourishes my soul. When I catch myself thinking hours later, “Boy, that was a great meal,” I know I succeeded.
Fresh baked bread loaf
Following a meal, particularly lunch, a lazy afternoon nap can be most refreshing, even if it’s as brief as twenty minutes. Anyone who has spent time observing animals, both domesticated and wild, can attest that animals spend quite a bit of time napping during the course of a day. Since animals often exhibit more wisdom than humans, perhaps we ought to take a cue from them and spend more time napping, like the pair of doves below, who have taken up residence in my front bushes and pass their time napping on my front walk.
Pair of doves nesting in the front, napping on the walkway
When I’m tending to the yard, I literally take time to stop and smell the roses, like the one shown below. The flowers on this plant are especially fragrant and a single cut flower can fill the entire house with rose fragrance (it’s a small house).
Fragrant red rose
My yard is animal friendly and I enjoy watching the myriad critters putting on free performances throughout the day. There are all manner of critters in the yard: at least a dozen varieties of birds of all colors, squirrels, rabbits, moles, snakes, frogs, lizards, turtles and feral cats. Once I even had a hawk land on the bush out front of my living room window and sit a spell. Unlike my neighbor, who relishes introducing his shotgun to any creature that doesn’t “belong” in his yard, I just let them be and try to peacefully coexist, although sometimes they do try my pacific nature. I was horrified a few months ago when my neighbor did me a “favor” by blasting a poor snake to kingdom come, in my yard! He genuinely thought he was doing me a favor because he hates snakes and figured I do as well, so he proudly pointed out his handy work when I went out to work some vegetable scraps into the compost pile. I was horrified, but in the interest of neighborly relations did not condemn him for the “favor” he bestowed upon me and simply cleaned up the poor snake. After all, I figured the odds of that happening again were so close to zero there was no point making a fuss about it.
That snake was not the only victim of life’s cruelty I’ve discovered on or near my property. About the same time that the snake ran afoul of my neighbor’s shotgun, I found a rabbit (like the one below) in the front yard, well, pieces of a rabbit, to be more precise: a torso here, a head there (with its eyes still open), a foreleg elsewhere. Something – probably one of the two large feral cats that patrol the yard – ripped that poor rabbit to shreds but didn’t eat it. I suppose after massacring the rabbit, the cat was scared off before it had a chance to consume its kill. So once again, I scooped up the pieces of the poor fellow, dug a nice grave in the backyard and laid it to rest.
”Miss Bunny” beside her favorite bush
I believe the rabbit victim was a sibling of the one above, four of which were born in a hole dug in my front lawn a couple of years ago. I think the one above is a female, who I’ve dubbed “Miss Bunny.” She is sitting beside her favorite bush, under which she frequently naps during the heat of the day. Since the bush is only five feet from a walkway, I often walk right by her and see her little head peeking out from under the bush, cautiously observing me. I always say hello and keep on going and she seems comfortable with my presence. The only thing that scares the living daylights out of her is when I bring the lawnmower around. When the sun sets behind the trees, Miss Bunny comes out from under her bush and dines on the juicy grass, after which she carefully grooms herself and retires for the night. Besides their predilection for napping, another thing I’ve noticed about animals is their obsessive grooming, a behavior some humans would be well served to emulate.
Wily squirrel dining on a previously cached nut (I love their little hands)
Squirrels are crafty creatures and incredible acrobats. I once observed one standing underneath my pickup truck, looking upward. Suspecting that it was contemplating hopping into the engine compartment, I watched it for a few seconds, until it disappeared into the engine compartment! Rushing outside, I walked over to the truck and the little fellow dashed out of the engine compartment and fled up a nearby tree. Hopefully, that little scare put to rest his curiosity about my truck. My concern was that the thing might take a shine to the rubber hoses and plastic coated wires within the engine compartment, a concern that is not hypothetical. My mother had a car that she seldom used and which sat on the driveway for years, until she discovered that rats had gnawed through pretty much every hose and wire in the engine compartment.
When they’re not getting into mischief, the squirrels are perhaps the most interesting to watch, for they are seldom idle and they have spunky personalities. I’ve witnessed squirrels chase birds right up trees, birds chase squirrels, squirrels chase rabbits across the lawn and squirrels chase other squirrels; whenever there’s a chase in progress a squirrel is probably involved. It’s remarkable to watch them “squirrel” away a nut, carefully selecting a spot in the yard in which to bury their prize, only to come back months later and dig it back up and eat it, like the fellow above is doing.
Of course, the squirrels are no more immune to life’s vicissitudes than any other creature. A few years ago I had to clean up a flattened squirrel from the street in front of my house. Then a few weeks ago there were two such deaths in one day! I found one in the street in the morning, cleaned it up and buried it next to the decapitated bunny in the backyard, and then in the evening I spotted a second, freshly killed one in the street, cleaned it up and buried it next to the first one (I’ve got a little cemetery going out there). I was dismayed by the sudden epidemic of squirrel road kill, but chalked it up to the drama of life and death. At least the spirits of those squirrels can rest easy in the knowledge that their bodies are fertilizing the very ground upon which they once frolicked.
Clever little blue bird has learned how to profit from my lawnmower
The birds are fascinating to watch as well. The blue bird above has developed the clever technique of following me around when I mow the lawn. As soon as I mow an area, the bird swoops down and plucks something – a hapless insect, presumably – from the freshly mowed lawn. I keep the grass rather long, which probably makes it more difficult for the birds to spot food, so this bird has apparently learned that the mower makes its foraging task easier.
Spending time observing other creatures gives one an appreciation for the complex web of life (and death) and the humility to understand that humans are not the only creatures that are important on this planet. All creatures have intelligence, personalities, emotions and goals, characteristics we humans often claim as our sole property. Although animals get embroiled in the occasional tiff, it’s usually resolved in a matter of seconds and without bloodshed, after which the animals go back to doing whatever they were doing, managing to peacefully coexist in the yard. Although I regard my house and yard as my “territory,” a concept that animals generally understand, I take my cue from the animals and share the yard with them and enjoy seeing them in the yard. I’d hate to imagine how dull and lifeless the yard would be if they weren’t there.
As for life’s other simple pleasures, they make each day worthwhile. Life is not like an airline flight where all you want to do is get to the other end without losing your dignity. Trite as it sounds, life is a journey during which one should find something to enjoy every step of the way. So many people spend their lives planning for “someday,” only to discover when someday arrives that they are too tired or ill or broke to take advantage of it and thus spend their remaining days existing rather than living. By enjoying life along the path to “someday,” people can get a lot out of life even if they never get to “someday.” And if they make it to “someday” and find their pot of gold waiting for them, well, that’s just icing on the cake. Paradoxically, enjoying the little things usually costs nothing more than pausing for a few minutes to notice the world around one’s self.