Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

I am just settling down to work at the big sitting room table, when I hear a tick, tick, tick.

It’s loud. I look through the French windows, wondering if there’s a bird out there on the terrace, pecking up loose grains dropped from the feeder. But no, there’s a wee bird inside the room.  It, for I don’t know if it is a him or a her, has an up-tilted, chevron marked tail and a pale chest and it hops so quickly across the polished floor that it appears to skate. I expect it to escape through the open patio door, but instead it explores the room, pecking at the wooden floor. It works its way into the kitchen, accompanying itself with short, monotone peeps.

I go back to work, tapping quietly on my keyboard while it taps on the kitchen floor.

After a silence, I turn to look for it. Its little triangular buff body on spider thin legs has reached the back porch. In profile it has a long, curved beak. I watch. I am glad it is here, but I don’t want to interfere in its life. It occurs to me that I could open the back door from outside, so as not to alarm it, and then it will be able to get away. By the time I’ve walked round the house, though, the little bird is in the back bedroom. It flies up to perch on the ledge above the windows, but it’s not frightened.

I leave it to itself while I look for the  bird book. I want to know what it is: a wren, perhaps? Ah, a canyon wren: “white throat and breast, chestnut belly. Long bill aids in extracting insects. Typical call is a sharp, buzzy jeet. Fairly common in canyons and cliffs; may also build its cuplike nest in stone buildings and chimneys.”

Jeet, jeet. I’ve been taught its language.

Jeet it goes as it enters the bathroom. Tick, tick. Peck, peck. Jeet, jeet. Quiet. Then a long silence. . . Now it’s in my bedroom. It seems so unconcerned. Flies up, pecks at something in the joints of the wainscoting, lands on the bed. Skis down the counterpane onto the floor, inspects under the bed, skates out. Seems to prefer ground travel when indoors. Not desperate to escape. Now it’s back in the sitting room with me. Passes the open door, circles the sofa, bows to the fireplace, and finally, with no fanfare, skate-hops out of the open door.

Jeet, jeet. I can still hear it. Jeet, jeet.  Jeet, jeet…softer and softer.

This morning, for the first time in this house, I sat with the koan, “Freely I watch the tracks of the birds.” I thought how often I watch birds unfreely by attempting to name them, or trying to understand what they are doing and why.

Freely, a canyon wren visited me
Freely, a canyon wren visited
Freely, a canyon wren


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