Coming to the end of a snowbird visit to Phoenix, I reflect on looking back, looking ahead, and being in the moment.
Off to my left, four mourning doves explode from cover and I jump involuntarily. My heart pitter-patters from the unexpectedness of it all. As they flap awkwardly off to what they evidently see as better cover, I mutter a bit. After all, I hadn’t even seen them before they exploded. Just how exposed were they?
Tramping across the undeveloped piece of land that borders four Town of Gilbert water reclamation ponds, I am, of course, watching for birds. Northern harriers alternately soar overhead and swoop low over bushy patches. Killdeer scold, practically at my feet. Yellow-rumped warblers and house finches hubbub in low, scrubby shrubs. Unidentified hummingbirds sway in the breeze atop the highest branch of mesquite bushes. Kestrels perch all still-like in trees: Go about your business, little lunch-size creatures. There’s nobody here but us chicken(hawk)s.
Usually I am entirely relaxed on this walk, allowing for small intervals where those stealthy doves practically make me swallow my tonsils. But today, some part of my brain is anxious, regretting the impending end of these morning walks.
Since finding this artificial bird habitat in February, I’ve been making the six-mile return trek several days a week. It’s a win/win, adding to my daily Fitbit step tally while offering me a fun destination. But our stay in Phoenix is coming to an end and, with it, these walks. And so it is that my pleasure in these walks is overlaid with the pain of knowing they are almost at an end, at least for this year.
Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
With due respect to Forrest Gump’s mama, sometimes you know exactly what you’re gonna get in life: bittersweet chocolate.
On our annual two-month sojourns in Phoenix, the first month is all sweet, as activities carry the promise of time enough for repeat engagements. The second month brings the bitter, as the end nears. Like my own mortality, the end of the sojourn was always implicit in its beginning, but my awareness of it comes only with time.
Picking my way across the scrub land, I reflect ruefully that I would not make a good Buddhist. How could I ever be ‘in the moment’ when half my brain is focused on coming changes?
Am I cheating myself by not staying in this moment? Maybe I would do better to ignore the future barrelling down on me. Yet awareness of one’s own mortality seems to be part of the human condition. I see no way to put it out of my mind entirely, any more than I can see a way to forget that one of these walks will be my last, at least for this year.
As I get to the crushed-rock walkway along the desert wash — the path to what passes for home these days — I stop to look back, literally and figuratively. My memory does not hold each walk as a separate, shining thread; instead, it has woven them into a single tapestry that somehow brings together the entire range of light and temperatures, the breezes some days and the still, almost suffocating air on others, the swarming aphids and the drifting tree pollen, and the birds of the day, varying with the level of water in the ponds and with migration schedules.
Each walk since my first has benefited from the previous walk and then paid it forward, adding to my appreciation of — my love for — this small patch of land and its denizens.
As I turn homeward, I relax again, secure in the knowledge that for me at least, past and future do belong in this moment. Just as the past flavours the present, the bitter foretaste of the end of things, large and small, adds to their sweetness now.