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View from My Back Steps

By John I. Blair

February 2021

Now is the season when even in temperate Texas Nature is near to dormancy. Most plants are still sleeping their wintertime sleep; squirrels snuggle deep in their cozy treetop dreys; birds cluster in the hidden centers of holly and cherry laurel thickets; and even the feral cats on my patio spend a lot of time just curled up in furry balls on top of the old towels I spread out for them.


Each morning well before sunup I fill a container with cat chow, then tiptoe down the back steps, hanging onto the railing for dear life, and fill a couple of bowls, then dump the dirty water from the basins I keep there for the wildlife and refill them with fresh from the garden hose (providing it isnt frozen solid). Patio Cat and sometimes Blacky my two regulars will either be waiting for me on the top step or will have come running through the dark toward my ankles, half purring, half complaining that I wasnt there earlier.


Basins seen in this summertime view behind Phlox, Red Sage, and Columbine.


Sometime a laggard possum will be running awkwardly away, giving the impression of speed in slow motion that possums do so well. At just before sunrise, they usually then stay away, going wherever it is possums go to spend the day possibly a pile of leaves deep under a hedge, or the shallow cave beneath my old concrete garden bench over by the west fence. It looks almost cabled to the earth by the thick wisteria stems that have come to clamber over it in the last 20 years.


The air may be fresh and clear at that hour, or it may be thick with humidity, even raining slowly on my hooded head as I shuffle around on my five minutes of focused chores. But none of the animals seems to even notice the drizzle or fog, their thick fur (even on the cats) shedding it like a built-in rain slicker. All of them evolved to live in these conditions and just shrug it off.


At nearly 80, Im not sure how much longer I will be able to continue with these pre-dawn chores, but will keep them up as long as I can. Theyve become part of who I am actions without which I feel I would be a lesser person and in some manner lose contact with my version of reality. When Ive finished, have put the kibble jar away, pulled up the damp towels from the steps and the little cat shelter on the bottom step and replaced them with dry, tossed the soiled ones in the washing machine and started it on its robot chores, hung my sweatshirt over a chair back, washed my hands thoroughly in warm and soap water under the kitchen faucet, then gratefully crawled back under the fuzzy covers on my bed, I feel like Ive accomplished an important purpose in my life and can drift off to dreams with a satisfied mind.


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