THE BEST OF TIMES, THE WORST OF TIMES


13 March 2021

  I’m often up for several hours before the rest of the household comes awake. I putter around a little bit, getting things ready for the business of the day. I read the rain gauge (if we’ve had rain), turn on the solar-powered fountain-bird bath (if we’re going to have enough sun to keep it going), and put out a little more bird seed. Then I get a cup of coffee, settle in my chair by the patio door, and watch the morning unfold.

   This March morning, it was 33 degrees, with a little skim of ice on the bird baths, but with no wind and with blue skies. As I was replenishing the bird feeders, my dependable song sparrow was singing his usual slightly off-pitch tune. (The song has sounded just the same for a dozen years or so. Can it possibly still be the same bird?) A couple of robins had joined the morning chorus, new arrivals this past week. As I settled in my chair, the first Oregon juncos arrived for the new food. (They’ll be gone soon, retreating back to a little higher elevation for the breeding season. Most of our winter visiting pine siskins have already departed.) A fox squirrel made an early entrance, as did Norman, the scrub jay. (All of our adult scrub jays are “Norman;” if more than one arrives together, the second is Isaac. An immature jay is Norman, Jr.)

   As I watched the activity build, I found myself thinking about times past. What was my best day ever? What was my worst? What events stand out most clearly after eighty years of life? I was surprised to find that my quick review of eight decades didn’t turn up a “best” time. It wasn’t that I didn’t remember a lot of great moments and entire great days – sometimes alone, sometimes with family or friends; in the mountains; by the seashore; at our New Hampshire “camp; even in my chair watching morning skies turn pastel with the rising sun. It was that a plethora of riches wouldn’t let me select just one as the “best.” That’s good, I suppose. Everybody should be so lucky to have so much to choose from.

   On the other hand, I had picked out my “worst day” even before I had sorted through all the candidates for “best.”  I was forty years old, and after ten hard years my team and I had completed and had approved a program that most people hadn’t believed could be done. Invited to our headquarters for what I assumed would be formal congratulations and a discussion of plan implementation, I was told – without preamble or discussion – that I was no longer head of the project. In fact, I was no longer any part of the project! I still can remember that devastating feeling of unbelief, made even more insane by my boss explaining that the decision had nothing to do with my work. “Nothing personal,” he said, “Just Politics.” Just Politics??

   I didn’t stay for the meeting, but immediately began my 300 mile solo drive back home. Not too far down the road, my mental anguish joined my physical state, and I had to stop for an hour or so until my jack hammer headache subsided somewhat. It was a long 300 miles.

   That was half my life, ago. Life went on, I got other jobs – some of which I think were pretty worthy for human endeavors. I had lots of good days, some great days, and no days that I felt were anywhere near as bad as that one. Due to confusion and mismanagement, my project languished for several years, until  more competent workers were able to salvage it, and make it a success. I was happy for the success, but sad that neither I nor my hard-working team ever received any credit.

   A few years ago, I mentioned the project to a friend who had been part of the original team. “I don’t think about those things,” he said. “That’s water long gone under the bridge.” “Yeah, I don’t, either,” I said.

  Usually.

*  *  *

   Outside, the juncos had made a pretty good dent in the food I had put out for them. The squirrel had eaten most of the loose sunflower seeds, and retreated to the ash tree for the day. My song sparrow had made a quick trip to the deck to grab a snack, and was back on his courting perch. Norman and Isaac had both had bites of suet, as had a female flicker. A male Anna’s hummingbird had found the front fountain, and was enjoying a bubbly half-bath in the spouting water.

   It seemed like a pretty good day had begun.


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