Our Balcony

Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. — Britain Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice

From our balcony, we can see the sun, the moon, stars, planets, sunsets, and storms; trees, bushes, flowers, birds, bugs, cats, and dogs; people of all ages—in couples, families, and just by themselves; cars, trucks, motorcycles, planes, helicopters, and trains (lots of trains).

We can hear the animals, traffic, aircraft, and trains (lots of trains), along with wind and thunder and the laughter of our neighbors.

We can be luxuriously comfortable, hot, cold, wet, or dry—sometimes all in the same day.

You’re probably thinking, “Well, that’s no big deal; I can see and hear all of that where I live too.” Exactly.

My wife and I have lived here for almost three years now. We have been infrequent balcony users at best. But with the coronavirus pandemic, we are spending a lot of time inside our 1,100-square-foot apartment. That by itself started to make the balcony very inviting, but add in the arrival of warmer weather, and we have become daily balcony sitters.

And I started noticing all those things: what I can see, what I can hear, what I can feel.

My favorite time to sit there is in the morning. A few weeks ago, I paid attention to the bird activity that was going on: bluebird and cardinal couples going about their business; a crabby mockingbird harassing them; and a brown thrasher singing from the top of the tallest tree in a loud, beautiful voice (I call him Luciano).

My in-laws have been birders for years. They were excited when I told them how much I enjoyed my rookie birding experience. Next thing I knew, they’d sent me the National Audubon Society field guide and a book about birds by David Allen Sibley. I purchased a pair of binoculars on eBay.

Now, instead of checking emails on my phone with my morning cup of coffee, I watch the birds. I leave my phone inside.

I thought the red-bellied woodpecker wasn’t very smart because he pecked on the aluminum downspout from the gutters on the roof. What a dummy. He wasn’t going to find any insects on aluminum.

Then I read in Sibley’s book that woodpeckers do something called drumming: making loud pecking noises to attract mates. That woodpecker wasn’t a dummy. He was a genius! Drumming on aluminum is much louder than drumming on a tree. I hope his ingenuity gets him the mate of his dreams.

A red-tailed hawk flew right in front of the balcony, an amazing sight. He was being chased by a bluebird about one-tenth his size, which was perhaps even more amazing. How was that tiny bluebird intimidating the hawk?

There are three cats nearby: one tan, and two black (one skinny, one not). As much as I love cats, I find myself hoping they don’t make prey out of any of the birds. So far, they have not.

My wife and I sit out on the balcony in the afternoon and evening. We watch the birds and the people and the traffic and the trains. We do an extensive amount of speculating on where they’re going and what they’re doing.

It was during one of our evening sessions that I started to realize that I had a front-row seat to some truly wondrous sights. And they really are wondrous, even while they are very common. It reminded me of a quote attributed to Confucius: “A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace.”

Things have changed because of this virus. Businesses have been impacted. People have lost their jobs. People have gotten sick. People have died. I’m truly sorry.

Yet I hope some of the things that are changing don’t go back to “normal.” People and businesses are finding new ways to get things done, with less of the busyness we used to think was necessary. Families are staying in touch with each other more frequently.

We are expressing much-deserved appreciation for first responders and healthcare workers—appreciation they deserved long before this virus hit. Our air and water are getting cleaner.

And maybe we can become more aware of, and take the time to truly appreciate, the spirit of God in the commonplace miracles all around us. Miracles like the daily chores of a pair of cardinals, the drumming of a woodpecker, the operatic song of a brown thrasher. They—or other miracles just as wonderful—are all right there, today, outside your balcony.

Leave your phone inside.

Top Image: © Artur Aleksanian/Unsplash

Glenn Boylan

Glenn Boylan is a freelance writer and rookie birder in Georgia. He is an occasional attender at Peachtree Meeting in Atlanta, Ga.

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