The Luxury of Looking
How moments and memory coalesce
"The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free."
— Maya Angelou, poet & civil rights activist
Evening, and I’m sitting on a bench my husband made from a 5’ chunk of driftwood, Douglass fir, hauled up with the help of our friend Dwayne from nearby Clam Beach. Most of the day in dense fog, it’s clear now, a blue over our redwoods. I’m trying to remember why angled sunlight is always cooler than overhead rays, when I notice a mangled mass of Himalayan blackberry canes, an invasive we’ve been trying to contain, trembling.
A chipmunk is climbing, one well-thought-out step after another, up a prickly shoot, balancing to reach up to a higher shoot and pluck then munch blackberries, some almost as large as her head. The thorns are treacherous, especially in proportion to her body. I’m humbled by her determination, risking pain to take in the sweetness. She stands up, wiggles a berry loose, then sits on a leaf-covered shoot, the berry in her hands like a purplish-black soccer ball, disappearing bit by bit into her mouth, cheeks puffed out as she takes in more than she can chew.
I realize how happy I feel watching her, not an oh-how-cute fleeting sort of pleasure, but a sublime joy, the kind that comes with being fully in a moment, or letting the moment unfold fully into you.
Then I remember Fataba, my colleague and friend in Sierra Leone. We stood under leaves in a passing downpour waiting for our 4x4 to be repaired. I had my binoculars, and scanned the trees for rainforest birds. She was puzzled, “So do you look for birds in your life at home?” “Yes, I answered,” as fog collected on the eyepiece, softening the view.
I lowered the binoculars, wiped the lenses with a saliva-dampened thumb then a corner of my shirt, and offered Fataba a look, asking, “Do children learn about the birds, animals, trees, and the nature around them here?” She handled the binoculars awkwardly, trying to see through them, turning her body 360 degrees, then trying to focus down the red-mud road to where the vehicle was being coaxed out of a rut. “A little,” she answered, “but we are too busy working—it is a luxury this looking at birds and animals.”