A buzzard standing over its prize takes little interest in having his picture taken. Evidently, the raccoon that was providing the breakfast had selected a bad day to cross the road, but it was a good day for the buzzard. Even so, the buzzard was not vain about it: buzzards are not trophy hunters. Theirs is a more serious business.
Three generations: my father and I, and my three sons were taking a walk when we came upon the bird. The range of expressions on the boys’ faces matched the range of their ages.
David is almost sixteen years old now; in some ways, an adult biologically if you consider the sum total history of humankind. He has seen buzzards before, and is ready to walk on while his younger brothers still gawk. He is an extraordinarily bright young man, but each year he grows less patient with having a parent or anyone else tell him what to do or think. As frustrating as that can be at times for his mother and me, it is a good thing, I suppose. I guess it is to be expected. Seems like only yesterday that I was a teenager; so very grown up, and so very sophisticated.
Mason is eight years old where imagination and fantasy still carry a lot weight. Focus, in terms of the span of time any one thing will hold attention, is sometimes more tiresome outside the world of make-believe for a boy of eight. His curiosity will swell up like a hot air balloon only to be quickly deflated when some other game of interest pops up, and leaves the older curiosity as if it had never existed. What might seem like meaningless play to others is likely to be that special place where dreams outweigh goals if goals are even allowed on the playing field at all. To him the buzzard is a dragon.
Nathan is ten. He is halfway between five and fifteen, and that is a pivotal time in a child’s life: at five, children can barely tie their own shoes, and need to be attended to while crossing streets. At fifteen they are often biologically ready to become parents themselves. He is right smack-dab in the middle. Whatever is going on in a ten year old’s world is going to have a tremendous impact on how they will view themselves, and the world, for the rest of their life.
He stood for a moment quietly observing the buzzard with eyes taking in information to be processed later. I’m sure his brain was forming how and why questions in preparation for solving all of life’s problems further down the road. Also, to him, we were in some way intruding on something in nature that called for no audience, but just the same, he stared long after his other two siblings had walked way.
Momentarily, the subject changed from where we were, to where we were going when Dad said:
“When we get up there to the next road, turn ninety degrees port side.”
The older boys kept walking, but Mason turned with a look on his face similar to a way a dawg might stare with its head cocked sideways if you break into a song for no reason. Thinking he must want some clarification from the sage and the wise, Dad asked him:
“Mason, do you know what ninety degrees means?”
“Yes,” Mason said, “It means it’s pretty hot!”
He was confident with his answer. He had an uncomplicated and simple understanding of the meaning of degrees in his mind. He thought he was sure he understood what his grandfather had said, but what was unclear was why he’d said it. It is amazing how words can work that way so as only to mean whatever it is you think they mean at any given time.
“He means we turn left at the corner,” Nathan turned around and offered.
I think David was a little surprised that his brother knew the difference between port and starboard, But I wasn’t. He’d spent enough time around his granddaddy to hear a lot of things said that referenced my father’s Naval Reserve years, and being a safety instructor with a civilian group called The Power Squadron. And too, there were a lot of other folks in the family with nautical skills learned both in and out of military service.
Even though I had been in the Navy, my own active duty was on land: I was a Seabee. The only ships I went on were docked at deep water piers, and my brief work with them was to get the cargo unloaded before they would come under attack: Naval intelligence said we had precious little time before such prospects would likely become certainty, so we did move quickly. Even so, I found it better to approach port side rather than South China Sea side. Even as land-based as I was, port and starboard orientations were very clear in my mind.
Beyond whatever he may have heard from others, no doubt he’d heard the reference from me. Since Nathan and I are both left-handed, I’m sure to have made a joke more than once that we were “port” handed while the rest of the bunch was “starboard” handed.
When we reached the intersection we turned left, as Nathan had said, “at the corner”. Though there were four corners at the intersection, everybody understood which route to take. With all the confusions that can occur, language (and the perceived understanding of same) does have some benefits.
It isn’t always that the correct turns to take on the pathway of life are clear. There are many crossroads and junctions, and sometimes the pathway just splits with neither direction seeming all that much obviously better than the other. I can think of a few “certainties” among my own choices that might have turned out better had I gone a different way.
But I could not be where I am today had I not gone by the route I took. I stand at the leading edge of a road my feet have just finished paving (at least to a point). And, entirely along the way, I was the one who directed my feet where to go.
In a couple of short years (each one seeming shorter than the one before it), David will go off on an adventure called college. Even after he selects a school, there will still be many matters of courses to take.
Nathan will be twelve by then racing full steam into puberty when parental coaching and training becomes less and less important. In a more rural culture, he would be well on his way to being able to take care of himself.
And Mason? Well, he’ll be ten years old by then, and right smack-dab in the middle of one of the most important crossroads of his life. In the meantime, I stand in awe of the many, many turning points we all have to make in life. It is almost daily that I have some concerns for the influence Brenda and I will have had on these extraordinary young men. Perhaps in years to come, they will look back with some understanding, and overlook a few times when we may very well have turned the wrong way.