Nature Connection: Of Waiting And Patience

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond Illustration.

It is pouring rain outside my window as I write on this dark morning. By the time you read this, an election may be decided, and the world may be changing, at least in terms of hopefulness or despair. Most of the time a few days doesn’t matter when writing on a deadline, but this week it feels odd to be writing without knowing what is going to happen in the days between writing and publication. The one thing I do know: We’ll all have been waiting, something we’ve gotten used to this year.

Over the weekend we’ll turn the clocks back, but that will be old news by the time you are reading the paper and drinking your coffee. The full moon of Halloween will be fading, and the rain will have dried up. There will probably still be blackbirds gathering on wires, and the cormorants will still be moving across the bay as they migrate south, their long lines of dark dots spreading out over the horizon.

In my own backyard birds are waiting for the drenching rain to stop enough so they can grab a few seeds or a bite of suet. They need the energy the food provides to stay warm and active, but they also need to stay as dry as they can. Birds can withstand a good soaking now and then, but when it is also cold, they can suffer without adequate sustenance and shelter. A male cardinal sits on a holly branch, looking handsome as he waits. He appears to have stayed pretty dry, foraging now and then beneath the thick umbrella of holly branches and leaves. I look out the window at him and he looks back at me, measuring the risk I may or may not be from inside the house. I slowly back away and leave him to his waiting.

Much of nature spends time waiting, something we humans seem to have forgotten how to do. We humans get impatient with waiting. We claim boredom and want something to do even when not working, whether that be a crossword puzzle, knitting, walking somewhere, or reading a book. Just sitting and waiting makes us nervous. We seem to have lost the art of waiting. And patience. Patience seems to have flown out the window with rotary phones and whipping cream by hand.

Hawks can often be seen waiting. They sit atop trees or poles, watching, listening but mostly waiting. Movement is what they are waiting for, the first clue that something alive that might make a good meal may be within reach. Sometimes a hawk soars above a field, a sand dune, a marsh or even a parking lot, waiting to see what might be there. There’s a lot of waiting between meals, but somehow hawks never seem to be bored. They take in the sun, the breeze, the rain, the cold. It is all just part of life to them.

Boredom is a funny thing. For some of us of a certain age, boredom can even seem laughable. Our parents and grandparents insisted there was no such thing as boredom, just laziness. They would also offer up chores or other suggestions of things we could do instead. Usually those options were far worse than a little boredom, so we adapted. We made whistles from acorn caps and thick blades of grass. We spent afternoons searching beds of clover for four-leafed ones we could press in books to bring us good luck. We watched clouds change shape and built forts from fallen branches and sticks. There were daisy chains to weave, fences of dirt to direct ants and other bugs, and stones to stack until the towers fell over.

There were long hours, even days, of open-ended time. We waited for lunch time, a chance to play with friends, for dad to come home, or for our weekly trip to the library. It was a different time. Waiting was simply part of it. Everything took a while, whether it was a trip to the store or a drive to grandma’s. We only had a few favorite TV shows each week that we had to wait for. There was no Netflix or cable to click through until we found something we wanted to watch or play. There were no smart phones or social media to entertain us. We had to entertain ourselves.

Recently I surprised a deer in a field, or maybe it was the other way around. She’d just been standing there while I was looking for birds. I had been looking up so was almost as surprised as she was to find ourselves in close proximity. We both stood still and silent as we took in the possibilities before us. Was there danger? We waited. It didn’t feel very dangerous, though I have to say deer are pretty big animals when you’re up close to one. I moved first, backing away, looking away, and she was gone in a flash, her white tail bobbing amidst the fluffy seed heads of goldenrod.

We have a choice when waiting. We can use the time to note our gratitude, make plans for our community involvement, write a note to a friend far away, or simply sit and watch the cardinals and chickadees. Perhaps it is time to reclaim the gentle arts of waiting and patience. The world is very noisy right now. Choose silence and a chance to reset and recharge. Those hawks on the poles may be on to something.