So yes, I took the dog for its morning business and, since I have a full day ahead but no deadlines, I sat with the dog in front of Denver’s Union Station and started again to notice so many other dogs, and of course many people…men and women to and from work, couples and families wandering and enjoying, all sizes and shapes. And yes, like most men, I do tend to notice women’s shapes first, but retirement has given me time to broaden my range of admiration, and not just among humans, but for critters of many shapes and sizes and species. So much to admire.
Day 1: the dog and I
So there we were outside Union Station, seated in the chilly morning sun, observing/appreciating. In the surrounding square blocks there are probably 50 breeds of dogs, of different ages, many sizes and shapes, female and male (and whatever other gender types dogs may have). They come regularly to the Station plaza, especially in morning and late afternoon when the young professionals living downtown rush to get puppy taken care of and kid(s) to daycare or school… Point is, lots of dogs and lots of folks on leashes being walked by dogs searching for just the right place to take care of their business, smelling everything of the same sort left by previous pups, and everything else. Of course there are also folks not being led by dogs. Some feed the pigeons and other birds who flit around pecking at what the dogs had sniffed. Some admire the shrubs and flower beds where the dogs do their fertilizing. All of which led to reflection not just on the diversity of dogs and people, but of birds and bushes and flowers as well…
I recently read that there are 40-some bird species inhabiting Denver’s City Park (which of course is a lot bigger and greener than Union Station Plaza). Over and above all the caged birds in the big Zoo in the Park.
I have relatives who are serious birders. They know the latest guestimates about the total global number of bird species, and have probably seen at least 400 or 500 of them in parks and shorelines, wetlands and forests around the world.
Day 2, Peter and me.
Next day it’s raining – part of the weather shifts we get in Denver. True elsewhere but, because of mountains and altitude, it’s especially true of our shape-shifting weather.
At any rate, grandson Peter Seamus and I are running into the Museum of Nature and Science which is also in City Park. It too has lots of bird species, or at least their ancient skeletons and modern (stuffed or statued) models, from eagle and osprey to raven and redbird to….
He is a bouncy and very curious three and a-half year old. I a doddering 77. Where to go, what to do – so many options – dinosaurs or North American mammals (which he choses), then a movie on service dogs or the children’s Discovery playroom (which he choose — no doubt who’s in charge here!). At each station along the way, I found myself less noticing the wondrous diversity of snakes and birds than the diversity of people moving around, talking and shouting, while they look at the snakes and birds and other critters, and of course at each other.
Mainly school kids that day – probably 20+ busloads, most from Denver schools, not from the burbs – so the diversity of not just sizes and shapes, but of skin colors and languages, and endlessly different paces of stopping and strolling, running and chasing, laughing and shouting, now and then pushing and pulling. And, of course, harried groups of teachers and parent aides (others not so hurried) riding herd on this magnificent celebratory babel of language and noise.
In the children’s “Discovery” playroom, the noises were lower and the sizes smaller – kids too young to be on school trips: the crawlers, little climbers, and short jumpers – and the guardians also mostly younger. Yes, some grandparents like me, but mostly nannies or moms in groups, the latter typically older than the former – or at least that is what I suspected as I admired the many sizes and shapes, including of course the admirable shapes and sizes of the few dads on the scene.
I tired before Peter, so we again raced the rain and returned for lunch and naps.
Day 3, Me and Jeanie
Sunny again, much warmer. So we (and the dog) trek to the Denver Botanic Garden’s annual spring sale. The Gardens are a year-round “zoo” of plants and trees and grasses from round the globe, today augmented by the temporary zoo of seedlings for every plant species growable in Metro Denver – with accompanying varieties of soils and composts and organic fertilizers, and gloves and shovels and planters and…and… To say nothing of the also transient zoo of our human species on their own migratory search for spring flowers and summer fruits – food for both soul and body.
Since Jeanie was doing the food and flowers, the dog and I spent most of the time watching people. At least I did. Not sure about the dog.
I’d say, on the basis of my morning surveillance, that the spring sale also represents a ritual pilgrimage for the mainly middle-class devotees of our blooming green religion, along with their younger and frequently grungier fellow devotees, all acolytes and evangelists for spreading the green gospel. And, of course, it still is a sale – “sales” being the most central ritual of our more fundamental (and often less benign) American faith in markets (mostly not green). But this is a green sale, at one of our better civic temples, which then enables we, the people, to set up altars for daily devotion in gardens, window pots, arbors, and green lawns (or even higher altars in the newer xeriscape Edens).
The devotees came in many shapes and sizes. One lean and bearded old-timer – with a modern 3-pronged cane, wearing an old grey beret and a tasseled tan buckskin jacket – shuffled slowly by a seemingly chagrinned 14 year-old, one of many such, whose lean body had probably shot up a foot or more since last spring, clad in the mandated baggy basketball shorts and flat brimmed baseball cap (front facing if white, back facing if black – the kid, not the cap). Chagrinned sloop shoulders because of the 10 zillion better things he’d like to be doing, most probably in front of some loud screen, but mom controls the car and much else and she needs his man muscles to carry the dirt.
That during just the first two minutes of observation. I doubt the dog noticed.
Then there was the lioness. I had left the dog to search for Jeanie when, coming down an aisle of potted plants in one of the gospel-tents, I was brushed aside by her as she hunted, dragging and urging three cubs in her rush to pounce on the best of what was left.
Then the late-40s couple posing under apple-blossoms for a photo, he in jeans and cowboy hat, she in flowered dress, smiling their love to camera and world. And the young Filipina (we spoke) on a bike with the coolest rear wheel storage pack system I’d ever seen. One of the gear gen. And the turbaned Singh guy (we didn’t speak since he was busy with phone business while the family’s women harvested the tented fields).
Eventually we loaded the car and left so Peter could (today in the warm sun) help Jeanie with planting.
A Moral to the Stories?
There’s both good and bad news. It’s good (Gospel) news that we live with such amazing diversity of life on this our Mother Earth, and that there is so much attention to it. Yet there’s also a not-so-slow motion Apocalypse that is our Fate — with many species newly extinct, more dying, many more threatened. An Apocalypse that already threatens our species (how could it not?) and will do so increasingly. Yet the Gospel remains true — as I’ve written previously — and with it both hope and a call to action.
A Final Word about Admiration:
My mentor William Lynch, SJ, left an unfinished manuscript which he titled “A Book of Admiration” – a book about the importance of the habit of admiration for us humans, lest we get locked into fears and oppositions which may be necessary but can too easily dominate our lives. His antidote (though he’d stress there are many) is admiration – that we continually counter or balance our fears (however legitimate) with the regular practice of admiration for all the good of our world – not so much for the “big” things (heroes, nations, leaders, IDEAS) we are supposed to admire (though I do admire Pope Francis), but above all for the small and daily things, for folks on the bus or dogs on the plaza, kids in the museum and critters at the zoo, and even the dirt (perhaps beneath layers of concrete) under our feet. Admiration may amount to little more than a momentary “smell-the-flowers” escape. But it’s not so trivial when it becomes a regular practice in the many different dimensions of our lives. This too I’ve previously written about.
So it was for me — and for Peter and Jeanie and (I hope) for many others throughout our city — during three ordinary days in May, filled with life, with so much to admire even with our so many fears.
6 thoughts on “Three Days in May: Which Started with the Dog… And Ended at a Zoo”
Amen, John. Looks like you took a lesson from Mary Oliver, when she wrote:
“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.”
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Thanks to the Birder, Gardner, shoreline walker, Mary Oliver lover that you are!
What a wonderful meditation on people and dog watching, on grandfathering, and on paying attention.
With love, Natalie
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Apropos of your “looking”, John: The NYT’s told the story of a museum that wanted to get rid of a vase that seemed to have nothing lovely about it. No one would take it. Finally someone asked for it and the curator of the museum couldn’t help but ask the fellow why he wanted it. “I like to look at it” he said. “It causes me to wonder about such things.” The NYT responded: “It was given to the right person!” “I like to look”. “It causes me to wonder.” Simplicity and wisdom!
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Lovely (from a kindred dodderer)! Isn’t admiration a whole lot like gratitude?
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Need to think about admiration and gratitude — certainly on the same team!