The Canadian (Tex.) Record
In my own version of social isolation, I’ve spent as many free hours as possible studying the birds and squirrels and hummingbirds that inhabit my backyard, thinking perhaps I could learn something of solitude.
Lured by a plentiful supply of seeds and a frequently-refilled bird bath, they have all neatly assembled a life there, complete with its own pecking order and its own social justice system.
These backyard denizens take little note of any human, unless one is foolish enough to invade their space. I made that mistake recently, climbing a ladder to the roof in order to replace a wind-blown vent cap. Truly, hell hath no fury like a grackle defending its nest. I made my repairs, as quickly as the steeply-pitched, hot metal rooftop allowed, and ceded the territory back to black fury.
One weekend, John and I decided to remove a couple of dead tree branches. Hours later, and too many trips to the city tree pile to count, we were still sawing and loading and hauling. That evening, having cleared a small forest and expended every drop of energy we possessed between us, we idled on the back patio, tracking the well-traveled path of the squirrel family in residence.
The hunter/gatherer of the bunch made frequent trips down one tree trunk, sprinting the length of the picket fence, and scrambling up the third mock pear tree and into the branches, where he leapt from one to another with great assurance and ease, and with no small measure of panache. Up to the rooftop, then quickly back down, he retreated along the same route he had just navigated. He sent the songbirds at the feeder scattering and briefly confronted the fat doves perched atop the pickets as they scanned the ground, waiting for seeds to fall.
Wings flapped, feathers flew, the squirrel chattered as the birds pecked. A cease-fire treaty was reached, if not an accord. On went the bushy-tailed rodent, scrambling up the trunk of the old elm tree and launching into the branches, darting and dancing from one to another, until he skidded—claws scraping—to a sudden stop.
Where is that branch I’ve climbed, lo these many years? The one that led heavenward, back to my nest, my sanctuary? He retraced his steps, searching for an alternate route, a detour. There was none to be found. Down to the sun-scorched carport roof, where he skittered and scratched, not daring to stop. Alas, there was no escape. He ascended again, returning to his familiar path, hoping it had all been some terrible mistake.
Finally, the decision was unavoidable. He eyed the supple, still-green branch several feet away, accelerated and leapt, flying through the now-empty air and reaching—grasping—for that thin lifeline. His sudden weight bowed the branch. As it bent, he lost his purchase and slid, still clutching, until the branch suddenly sprang back. Propelled through the air, he reached—with all his small might—for the rung above, and lifted himself to safety.
I’ve not seen the squirrel take that same path since, but he did survive and seems unscarred by the grave danger he momentarily faced.
It made me think of how we, too, have been dislodged lately. Confronted by what Canadian High School Salutatorian Melody Hood referred to as “an evil protein capsid with destructive genetic material,” we have been forced to abandon our well-worn routes and are finding new patterns and approaches to old tasks, facing unknown perils and feeling that fleeting exhilaration when we succeed at something we once feared. Testing ourselves. Realizing we can and will survive—or at least, many of us will.
Our students and parents and teachers and school staff and administrators—removed from the familiar and safe and known—have leapt and risked falling, rebounded and soared higher, and found new ways to cross the cavernous void of time and space that seems always to loom ahead. They have relied on each other in ways they had not known they could. They have discovered strength and knowledge within themselves, and risked going it alone. They have worked harder, learned more, exceeded their grasp, and prevailed. Talk about class.
Yes, you are all the Class of 2020. And however much we hope to resume some semblance of normal next year, we no longer doubt our ability to meet and surmount the challenges ahead.