Yesterday was the 103rd birthday of my friend Ruby. Now I have received numerous notes and messages from Ruby through the years. She is a fine observer, and since 1992, she has informed me about kettles of buzzards, flocks of gold finches and pine siskins, early snowdrop blossoms, the first fireflies, the first autumn juncos, the songs of snowy crickets among many many other things
She loved to drive and one day not too many years before her 100th birthday, she invited me out to ride around the countryside.
I thought of that drive this past winter as I was taking the southern highways to Oregon. Dropping down out of the snow and cold of Flagstaff, I came into the warmth of the Mojave Desert. I was surrounded by flowers I had never seen before, and a landscape for which I had no language.
And it was a land in which I knew my friend Ruby would have discovered animal shapes everywhere. Because when she took me out for that ride years ago, she kept asking me: “So what does that tree remind you of?” “What does that mound look like?” “What animal shape is that over there?” And when I invariably gave her the wrong answer, she would respond, “No – it’s a ….. Can’t you see it?” And she would point and explain.
In the Mojave, the choices and the options were so overwhelming. So as I drove toward California, I tried to respond to an imaginary Ruby beside me, explaining to her that the hills looked like the bodies of behemoth, ancient moles or tortoises or whales swept up and frozen by the turbulent inland sea that once helped to shape this place.
But I knew she would have seen so very much more.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the Second Week of Early Summer. In the meantime, go outside and look around: What does that tree branch look like? How about that hill, that big old stump?