cairn

It had been a nice morning.

Woke up early and walked over the hill to my predawn swimming workout. I could traverse the back way, even as early dark as it was at 4:45am; a bright full moon, directly overhead, illuminated. Cross-country, as the coyote goes; night owls flying silent on the hunt.

Enjoyed a great workout in the diving well, set up as it was for short-course meters. Even though the team is on taper workouts leading up to a meet this weekend, there were some challenging sets. Several 200’s pace, followed by four fast 50’s had my chest heaving. I was alive with exertion and consumed by the effort. The usual people were going faster than me, and the usual people were chatting up a storm between sets. Par for the course – like I said, a great workout.

I chose to walk back home, this time taking the “urban route,” i.e., on the bike path alongside Golden Valley Road. A longer route, but being paved in asphalt, it’s an easier walk, especially after the hard swim. Slow and steady, up the hill – traffic whizzed by frantically.

Halfway up the hill, after the point the redwood post fence takes up, I saw a small creature, still and lifeless, right in the middle of the bikeway – a little bird.

I don’t know how long it had been there, but I doubt it was long. I suspect it had been flying fast and low, swooping down. Unaware of the bustling traffic, it must have struck a windshield. I imagine it stunned, and upended. Then tumbling out of the sky and landing, coming to rest in my path, not too long before I got there.

I noticed the bird, but walked past – in the habit of being anxious to start my workday, soon to be pounding a computer keyboard at Starbucks – I steadied on.

Then it occurred to me that this little bird deserved more consideration from me. What would it take for me to pay some small respect? Not much, so why not? I turned back.

I pulled a paper napkin from my pocket (editor’s note: Michael never travels without paper napkins) and used it to grasp the bird by its legs, and I lifted it gently. Past the edge of the bike path, and beyond the post-fence, I leaned in and pried up a good sized rock. The void left by the rock, where it had rested in the soil, was the perfect size to lay the bird. Back went the rock, gently. I found about six other stones of varying size and I used them to shore up the edges of the site. On top I placed a nicely shaped, medium sized rock. The memorial was complete, a cairn that enshrines a small bird; I continued with my walk.

So what is the point? If nothing else let his be a reminder to pay attention to the cairns. They are all purposeful, whether to mark a waypoint for fellow travellers, to serve as an impromptu work of art, or as in this case, to be a memorial. You never know what may have prompted a person to stack rocks one upon another, but maybe it is worth contemplating. Also, what things in our lives deserve attention, but don’t get it? I don’t have the answers. All I know is that this small bird got some consideration from me today, and I am the better for it – I am enriched by not letting its passing go unnoticed.

As I said at the beginning, it had been a nice morning, and now – yes – it still was a nice morning. It was simply not the same morning it would have been had I not looked down and built a cairn.

 

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