I pull into the parking lot at work every morning in between 6:00 -- 6:30 a.m. I am the first one there because I am most productive in the mornings; the other people start filtering in around 7:00.
Usually the walk to the building is uneventful. Sometimes a woman is walking her dog and we nod good morning to one another, but most often it is a solitary affair. Often the voice in my head mimics a bad prison movie: "Dead man walking." I smile despite the truth behind the sentiment.
Outside the building stand several trees along with a wild flower area near the main office. In the afternoons, walking out the doors I seldom see any birds or butterflies or anything else fluttering around this vegetation. During the day, I wouldn't know because I have no windows in the room where I spend all my time from 6:00 a.m. until about 4:30 on a daily basis; but, in the mornings of spring there is life.
Gold finches zoom from tree to tree; robins call out welcoming the day; and even the occasional sea gull plops himself down on the parking lot. When I was a child, my grandmother and I would sit in a Lazy Boy recliner, me in her lap, and the two of us would watch the birds come to her bird feeders.
Every time I would ask her the name of a bird, she'd smile and refer me to her book: a blue soft cover text entitled "Birds of Wisconsin"--complete with the official state bird, the robin, gracing the center of the bookcover.
I'd page through the book and find the bird in question. If I were wrong, she'd correct me and tell me to try again. She had a boston terrier named Sparky who loved to go on walks, so the three of us would go outside, and as we walked she would point out birds by their calls.
It taught me how to pay attention, to listen, to see, to turn off the television and watch the only reality show worthy of my time--the beauty of the natural world.
Walking into work last week, a new sound caught my attention. My thoughts were quiet, and I'm glad, for I would have missed it otherwise. It was a bird song that almost sounded like laughing; high little chirps followed by a trill as if to say, "What a beautiful day! Come sing with me!"
Despite the little chill in the air, I stood under the tree where I heard the song and put down my stuff. I needed to find her. She continued her song, and I started at the base of the tree and worked my way up the branches as if I were reading a book in reverse.
And there she was. A tiny little thing with a gray and white chest, and I watched her little beak open and laugh at her own personal joke.
I had no idea what she was called. I told my colleagues about her, and they gave me that pacifying smile one would give a crazy person, and I didn't care because all morning I just felt happier. And, on the next day, when I walked from the parking lot, I heard her again.
She was giving me a little gift to help me get through the day, to remind me that even though this parking lot leads to a building that eats away at my soul on a daily basis, when the day ends--I get to leave. Even though there are no windows in my work space, the day is out here waiting for me, and tomorrow when I forget these simple things I take for granted, she will be in that tree to remind me again.
I didn't find it a waste of my time, therefore, to spend the last hour and and a half tracking down her name: Louisiana Waterthrush. After consulting the DNR website, listening to hundreds of bird calls, and looking up picture after picture, I found her. She only comes to see us up here in Wisconsin in the spring and summer months, and I imagine she must love the large marsh that is not far from our building. Now, though, I can claim her among one of the kind voices that helps get me through the day.
It's important to know the names of your friends.