Happiness first came to me in my adult life when I was almost 30 and living in New York, crossing busy Madison Avenue to deliver a manuscript. A flock of geese flew overhead on their way somewhere for the winter, so close I heard the flap of their wings. A chill went through my body. My heart thumped hard in my chest. Looking up, my eyes filled with tears and a stupid grin spread across my face. I immediately felt at one with the world. What was this unfamiliar feeling?
The other night I went into our back office, resentful about having to work late. The night was uncommonly still, and the full moon shone its silvery light over the yard, which was filled with the scents of jasmine and wild fennel. Usually it’s too windy or cold to appreciate this in the evening, and I stayed out on the back deck, savoring the rare pleasure that washed over me. The house finches called sweetly and insistently to each other. The plump red-breasted male and his pale brown prospective mates flitted around the trees, never venturing into the open. As soon as I tried to get a better view, quietly so as not to startle them, they flew deeper into the great masses of ivy encroaching on all sides of our yard. I had to look carefully in order to see them, in order to uncover what could only gradually be revealed.
[Be sure to view Cornell Ornithology lab’s 2011 State of the Birds report, the nation’s first assessment of bird distribution on public lands, helping identify species in need of conservation in each habitat. It’s a great measure of our progress as environmental stewards.]