This weekend I stocked up on plants at the place to buy carefully grown vegetable starts in eastern Connecticut. We start most of our own seed here at home, but always reserve some cash to visit Alice’s annual plant sale, which runs for a couple of weekends in the month of May. I do this in part because her plants are ridiculously big compared to mine, thanks to her greenhouse (and no doubt her magical skills), so they fruit really early, and in part because there is little that gives me greater pleasure as a consumer than placing money directly into the hands of a local person doing something they love. Bonus if what they love happens to be the same thing that I love. Granted, Alice has a day job as well; she is the decades long manager of our local food co-op. That is her primary career. Of course I do not know the particulars, but I imagine the once a year plant sale is supplemental, which is actually something I am fascinated with. It reminds me of the many people I know who could use an extra chunk of cash each year for such things as property taxes, annual car repairs, fixing the roof, buying meat from a farmer, or building the sauna that’s been on the wish list for ten years and counting. For some reason, when I see diversified income in action, particularly in self-employed form, I’m comforted and inspired. So this week I’m getting more plants in the ground thanks to Alice’s plant sale. And with that, I’m pretty much failing at “not gardening” down here this year, which to me feels like a good thing to fail at.
One wouldn’t expect to wear three layers, a wool coat among them, while planting out kale on the sixteenth of May. Then again, one would also be advised to not carry expectations. I’ll tell you what though, the hawk that flew about ten feet over my head with a precious little snake dangling from its talons was feeling quite frisky and pleased as punch with this weather. I’m guessing the cold drew the snake into the open, searching for a warm sunbeam. Easy prey. I can’t help but think of the oblivious creature that would have otherwise been the snake’s dinner, and how it will now live to see another day. Hope that little creature is feeling frisky, too. Every day is a gift. I turned the soil, tossed the loosened chickweed and lambs quarters over the fence for the chickens, a few grubs too. Now that’s a frisky sight, chickens feasting on grubs.
I’m not sure how a person can take two weeks to notice new curtains in the living room, but is somehow the first to see every owl, animal track, spider web, and mushroom in the woods. This would be my husband. The guy can hear water running underground. Often I find myself envious of these qualities, but always I admire them. Indeed, they make him an excellent hunter, or maybe decades of hunting has made him an excellent observer. Either way, as soon as that hawk flew overhead I was immediately surprised by the timing of my decision to gaze upward, away from the dirt and the kale starts. Such sightings are usually reserved for him. And then I remembered the one change he always notices in the house... it is the unconscionable disappearance of the tape measure from the kitchen junk drawer. Holy mother of pearl why would someone be so callous? And yet, it happens again and again... naming no names. (Who am I kidding, everyone knows it’s me.) To be clear, the removal of the kitchen junk drawer tape measure is not to be confused with the disappearance of his actual tape measure from his workbench. I can’t think of anyone that would commit such an unspeakable act. Even me.
A while back Adam was driving north on the highway and witnessed a car up ahead clip a hawk in flight. Poor girl had decided to swoop down at precisely the wrong moment and wasn’t so much hit in the typical roadkill sense as she was stunned into oblivion. Adam could tell, from a respectable distance mind you, that this was not an instant kill, even though the hawk did appear lifeless as it landed on the median. The offending car kept driving, either unaware of making contact with the bird, or not believing it could have survived and was needing help. Due to the 65mph, one-way nature of highway driving, there was no immediate way for Adam to slow down quickly enough and offer help. So, he did the obvious thing which was to get off the upcoming exit, hop back on the highway heading in the opposite direction, get off the next exit, then hop back on the highway in the original northbound direction he was traveling; essentially re-approaching the site of contact in the most law abiding way. This human-designed highway system sure isn’t conducive to hawk rescuing. Anyway. He made his way to the wounded hawk and pulled to the side of the road. Up close, hawks are much larger than you might think, majestic really. The bird lay motionless, but softly breathing, her eyes open and searching for understanding. Adam reached into the back of his truck and found a duffle bag which he removed clothing from. One can’t very well transport a wild animal safely, particularly a bird of prey, without some sort of confinement. With apologies and a promise to help, he wrapped her in a soft flannel shirt, tucked her into the duffle, and carefully zipped the closure. Taking to google on his phone, he located the closest rehabilitation center that was open, which naturally was a good thirty minutes in the opposite direction, and he drove her there. The hand off felt sensitive yet matter of fact, as this is an everyday occurrence for the skilled rehabilitators. But for Adam, the rescue and the thirty minute drive with a subdued hawk by his side, then handing her off to those more equipped to be of help, was riddled with hope and sanctity. How could it not be. It is rare to spend time so intimately connected with a wild animal, and when such a moment takes place, it changes you. No, that’s not right. It reminds you.
Two days later he heard from the rehab center that the hawk was indeed going to be okay. Her wings were functioning, and after a few more days of rest and hydration they’d release her back into the wild.
Before rescuing the hawk, Adam was on his way to Vermont, where I was waiting. Sensing a delay, I called and asked if everything was okay. Yeah, everything’s fine. There was this hawk and she was hurt... it’s Saturday so it’s been difficult to find a place that can help her... I hope she’ll be okay... man, she was beautiful, Heather... I wish you could have seen her...
Ah, I see. I totally get it. And I’m so glad you were there to be of use.
Lately, as you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about next steps and new beginnings. Still unsure of what these things will look like, and being okay with it, I do keep coming back to one thing. One grand idea, if you will: Be of use. Both in my personal life, and in my work. Be of use. Of course, I have no clear idea on what determines usefulness, which seems rather subjective, so an exact definition probably doesn't matter. However, I am willing to bet that usefulness is best felt in small, attainable ways such as growing vegetable plants for your community, tossing greens and grubs to the chickens, becoming a meal for a hawk, or rescuing a wild animal. And maybe, because lately it always comes back to this, maybe being useful is also waiting in the wings for a grown child that will most definitely still need you, just as you still need her. So, I think from this point forward, when asked what I "do" in life, I will reply, "I'm useful." And I hope to be doing a really good job.