Commonplace?

By

It wasn't until I was out of action for two months last summer that I realized how many commonplace miracles I had long taken for granted. Restricted from puttering in the vegetable patch, I was inordinately pleased when my husband brought up the first firm green peppers - sweeter than any I'd ever tasted. And a small bucket of wax beans was a revelation - unexpected since I'd last seen those plants barely beginning to blossom and threatened by rabbits. It was the same with lettuce, chard, and parsley - and that pristine scarlet tomato on its bed of pungent basil. Had I been up and around, the progression of veggies would have been but casually appreciated - a natural routine toward seasonal repletion.

But it was the small, often unnoticed, certainly unexamined miracles that absorbed my attention during that period. All my senses, it seemed, were on overtime alert. I spent hours facing the flower garden, with a broken foot propped on the rail fence. It was there I observed minute wonders, tiny life styles, endless activities of nature's tiniest creatures. I shouldn't have needed a reason to slow down and marvel. From bees to butterflies, hummingbirds to robins - all performed on the stage before me.

Sitting there one hot afternoon, I was alerted to a wee sound almost like a chirp. There, almost within arm's reach, was an iridescent hummingbird casing the fragrant Madonnas. It was actually emitting strange musical sounds as its stiletto beak drew nectar from the golden-throated lilies. Unmindful of me, its wings a blur, it helicoptered over the garden. So slick that dark green body, that scarlet gorget, I wondered: Can they be feathers ? Is it really a bird? In exquisite awe, not daring to move, I watched till arrow-like it was off, and I breathed free again.

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And that was but one of the many miracles of my summer recess. An abundance of black-eyed Susans, spared to fill in the hiatus, repaid me a hundredfold. In the first place, as I watched them expand and become half-domesticated, I noted their dark-chocolate (certainly not black) centers. Actually, they weren't flat like daisies but high-coned to accommodate the tiniest bees. There were many insects around - larger honey- and bumblebees sharing the buffet, shimmering in sunlight.

A hummingbird moth came, too. Horizontally brown-striped, it was a bug-imitation of its jewel-bird namesake, only smaller. Its gauze wings whirred too rapidly to discern, and its modus operandi was the same. I had ample time to marvel and compare while it visited the tubular flowers at leisure.

Great waxen yucca blossoms opened and dropped - and I was there to appreciate. But always it was the little things that entranced, the young of nature that nudged most meaningfully. Feathered neighbors taking turns at the birdbath - finches and sparrows waiting in line, or perching around the rim. Baby robins at the fringe of the garden-hose spray being beak-fed by solicitous parents. A trusting infant cottontail munching plantain. A swallowtail basking on a pine bough.

Then the emergence of a monarch butterfly from a chrysalis attached to a milkweed stalk. The pea-green shell had hung awhile before I noticed. I'd missed the egg and subsequent striped larva. But there was time on my hands to discover the darkening chrysalis. So when it began to display wing patterns through the transparency, and the gold dots glistened, I was primed for the event.

The mummy-case throbbed, swayed. It trembled and silently erupted. Out crawled the bedraggled creature, and began to unfold. With the clutch of a baby's fingers on whatever it grasped, those tiny feet tacked into the wasted casing. With amazing strength the monarch pulled itself up, hook over hook, till it was securely attached to the milkweed leaf. There it stayed, suspended, wings slowly, deliberately uncreasing as they flexed to dry, pumping life-juices to their farthest edges. The colors were vibrant, clean as a special summer's morn.

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