Paying Attention

I get lost in my head too much. I fail to notice interesting things around me because I’m thinking about how I’ll tackle an assignment, planning what to pick up at the grocery store, or worrying about whether my IRA funds will ever grow back to where they used to be.

When I can shut down my mind, there’s so much to look at.

And looking is important, because powerful writing includes the right touch of detail. Yesterday, driving to an appointment, I watched a twenty-something in a blue tie and yellow rain slicker pop wheelies as he pedaled a mountain bike over the Spa Creek bridge. Gold pansies and purple petunias spilled from baskets hanging over Main Street’s historic brick storefronts, brightening an overcast day. A red-haired mom in black spandex jogged past, pushing a green stroller and trailing a chocolate lab puppy on an expandable leash.

Those few details put you onto the scene–and it’s surely more interesting than me fretting about my to-do list.

In April I noticed a robin’s nest in the plum tree near my guestroom window, at eye level.  When the momma disappeared to find food, I glimpsed three eggs the color of Caribbean water. The next week, pink dabs of skin appeared, which soon grew grayish fur and poked the air with open, yellow-rimmed beaks. I loved watching their mother inject chewed worms (or whatever newborn robins eat) into their relentless mouths.

Some days I forgot to look. Friday, after a hectic week, I dashed to the window and was relieved to see the mother feeding the babies,now plump and coated with fluffy feathers.  I always feel a pang when a nest I’d once seen pulse with life is suddenly empty.

Before dusk I sat on the porch with a glass of wine and, bluump, a young robin landed on a bunch of irises, then hopped and flapped to the porch railing. It looked at me and flew toward a tree. I leaned out to check the nest and another bird fluttered away, then another. The mother swooped, guarding them, perhaps, and then busied herself bringing food to the three separate trees where they perched.

For the first time, I’d witnessed the whole cycle, from egg to chick to departure. Maybe I’m getting better at paying attention.