THIS is the dawn of Independence Day. On one of the few occasions I do this every year, I lounge on the backyard terrace, wrapped in a red-plaid blanket against the presunrise chill. I cover myself to the chin, avoiding the few noiseless insects that hover in the area. Three lots below me, little Steele Brook barely moves beneath an elephant-hued haze.
The dawn is noisy with birdsong, however, though the woods at the edge of our property remains dark and mysterious. Only patches of light, like silver water seen from afar, glint through. Whatever wildlife might be down there hasn't wakened yet. Light perceptibly increases when I look behind and eastward. A fresh breeze stirs, touching my face, exploring my skin.
I AM filled with wonder at its feel, as if I remember the pristine morn of creation. Leaves move against an opaque sky that now shows pale blue. And in response, new bird sounds erupt from the woods as light penetrates their nighttime sanctuary. I guess at what all is actually waking down there.
Is an owl-in-residence blinking, settling down for a long day's nap?
Is a brown rabbit peering out of her brier patch, ready to venture into the morning mist?
What small creatures stir, furred, scaled, or feathered? What insects spread cellophane wings to dry in the sun? Butterflies and moths, beetles and aphids, toads and salamanders in the damp places? ``Come out, come out,'' urges the light of this new day.
An obviously immature blue jay, but for the tone of his screech, lands clumsily on the seed tray near my perch. He makes furtive stabs at the stale bread and seeds I've put there. He is reluctant, or unable, to feed himself, and teeters impatiently on the rim of the tray till a second jay arrives. This bird means business. He certainly knows how to gobble, and shoves a bit of bread in the adolescent's beak to cut off his begging. Then he sails off with a larger crust while the crybaby follows, still panhandling.
Now the flowers in the garden before me become distinct. Day lilies are full-blown. Ramblers are fading. Yellow primroses open inviting faces, having shut them against the wasteful night when no insects would seek their nectar. Foxgloves are in their prime, stately and tall. Bumblebees love them. The fragrance of sweet rocket drifts on the breeze.
I close my eyes and think of my country. Country, that is, with a capital ``C.'' ``America ... oh, beautiful ... God shed his grace on thee!''
Where else this freedom, this peace? Central America? Asia? Haiti? Africa? South America? Europe? Ireland? How blessed I am to have been born here. Happy Independence Day, America! ``And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.''
The trees are motionless again. Birdsong diminishes as prospectors forage. Earth breathes deeply of the rising sun. It is like a renewal of the world. The wind moves the leaves again so that light reaches my face. It is moist, palpable. A catbird glides silently to the feeder, briefly indulges his curiosity, then sails on. A gray squirrel scrambles up the birch tree, leaps across to the hickory, and investigates its promise.
What do birds converse about? How ignorant we humans are, in spite of our book learning. Now a cardinal lands, chipping assurance back to his mate. I recognize that call. He has located seeds. If she chooses to come and be beak-fed, fine. In any event, he's keeping in touch, constantly bonding.
The pruned crab apple yearns skyward. When winter bares its branches again, it will expose a new crop of wild water-whips, shooting straight up. All things yearn hungrily.
I'd like to preserve this morning in amber, save the picture, the moment. Impossible, of course, and impractical. Imagine the crowding. The cardinal dashes off with a second helping. I try to imitate his whistle, but run out of breath after the 10th puckering. He is alert, challenging me, ridiculously unbirdlike though I sound.
A dove rouses, mournful. He depresses with his cooing - but his spouse is pleased. A crow caws, harsh over the brook. He is part of the blue-gold morning.
I isolate individual notes now: sparrow-chips, wren-scolds, a robin's rattled warning. His notes taper throatily, thick with aggression.
Is a cat in the vicinity? Bossiness is pronounced. Is each bird monarch of all he surveys? Laissez faire in the aviary? Spaces acknowledged and observed by each and all? Live and let live?
Birds fly at various heights, speak in divers' tongues, yet have a common language - winged Esperanto? They dine on worms, bugs, seeds, berries, table scraps. Plenty for all in a season of plenty. The cardinal cuts across my vision, full of life's mission.
AND I? Out here doing nothing? But I am not! I sit at the feet of our common Father, applauding his handiwork. There is much to be discovered, learned. A brilliant scarlet geranium, which wintered over in the cellar, glows.
I recall Browning's elegy to Evelyn Hope. (He folded that flower in their cold hands, pledging: ``There, that is our secret, go to sleep. You will wake and remember and understand.'') I face west, but the sun is magnanimous on this glorious Independence morning.
And I truly believe that I shall also waken one day, and remember and understand.