Saturday, October 18, 2008

Finding the beauty in the small moments

My life has been considerably hectic over the last two or three months. A lot of portions of my life have seen an end, opening up a whole new world of experience. The task of moving out of one apartment and into another was overwhelmingly exhausting. I have had to reflect on its affect on me at several points, because, it's just moving. Everyone has to do it. I can't explain exactly why but for some reason, for me, this one was tough. But it's done. I live in a small room, with hardwood floors, and a loft bed that the kitten bounds up the ladder and into at least 6 times each night. Sometimes she comes up to say hello, sometimes she stays and awkwardly sleeps on some portion of my body. The kitten, and her emotional state have become an outlet for my emotional state. If she cries, I get to comfort her, instead of listening to myself cry with no one around to comfort me. It's a fair trade off.

Even in this transitionary time, there have been moments of absolute, pure joy in my life. If I can say something positive about myself and who I am, it is that I can recognize and appreciate these moments no matter what else might be going on in my life. This was not always the case with me. There are moments where I witness some small part of human experience that seems so real, so honest, that I instantly grasp that moment and savor it. It can be something as simple as a witty political quip from "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" to a touchy and heartfelt story from "This American Life" that makes me tear up as I drive down the freeway.

Last night I had one of these moments, and it lasted for ninety minutes. My old instructor from Fullerton College, Charles Leavell, was giving a presentation to the Sea and Sage Audobon Society in Irvine about his trips to Australia. Sitting in the auditorium I am faced with fellow students from that class, and other instructors from the Life Sciences Department with whom I shared many weekends out in the Southern California Deserts. As the director opened the meeting with a joke about birding field guides, a smile so wide forced itself onto my face and I distinctly felt a sensation of place and purpose that has been missing from my life. Hearing Leavell tell of his adventures, often utilizing jokes and puns for the next hour or so left me feeling better than I have in months, since being in Italy really. The ease and grace with which this man educates people, with no front or pretense, is absolutely inspiring to me, and it has been since I first took his classes, and followed him around the desert and the mountains.

I remember the first day of our first field session inside Joshua Tree National Park. We stodd on a hill overlooking a small gully as he told us of plants, birds, reptiles. It was all so serious, and so exciting. The next thing that came out of his mouth endeared me to him instantly. It was about kit foxes, who, as he said "are threatened with extinction. Which is a good thing, (several students look puzzled at each other) because their face is so cute, that if you saw one your brain would melt and run out of your head." I am sold on this over 6 foot Scandanavian man with a paunch.

Last night I revisited this moment over and over as he describes the mating habits of Australian birds, and always ends with "and the ladies really love this dance he does" or "he collects blue things to put around the nest cause he knows that is her favorite color". Always anthropomorphizing, frowned upon by much of the scientific community, but also a clear and beautiful reflection of this man. And you can find these things in almost anyone if you take the time to look. Even the people who annoy you. Even people who are into Rockabilly. Maybe.

The point is that I left last night invigorated on my studies. Still unsure of what it is I want to do, other than knowing that I want to teach history, and I want to teach Natural History, and I want to do it in the field. I have spent so much time being concerned with trying to get out of Southern California, but there are parts of this place that resonate with me so strongly I don't know that I ever want to leave. Maybe I just need to get to where I can be surrounded by those parts more often. I digress. Last night was one of those moments, and it stretched out over time. It was beautiful, and it was yet just another reminder that life is beautiful, and the end of it is always around the corner. So instead of sitting inside the office today, I am going to go sit outside and listen to the birds sing, and see if I can sing back.

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