Nature Feeds the Spirit

A poem by Mary Oliver

Some Herons

 

A blue preacher flew

toward the swamp,

in slow motion.

 

On the leafy banks,

an old Chinese poet,

hunched in the white gown of his wings,

 

was waiting.

The water

was the kind of dark silk

 

that has silver lines

shot through it

when it is touched by the wind

 

or is splashed upward,

in a small, quick flower,

by the life beneath it.

 

The preacher

made his difficult landing,

his skirts up around his knees.

 

The poet’s eyes

flared, just as a poet’s eyes

are said to do

 

when the poet is awakened

from the forest of meditation.

It was summer.

 

It was only a few moment’s past the sun’s rising,

which meant that the whole long sweet day

lay before them.

 

They greeted each other,

rumpling their gowns for an instant,

and then smoothing them.

 

They entered the water,

and instantly two more herons–

equally as beautiful–

 

joined them and stood just beneath them

in the black, polished water

where they fished, all day.

 

The other day I sat outside with my binoculars for a long time. I peered out at the other side of the pond and noticed a few mallards gliding along the water. For some reason they are not coming as often to “my” side – perhaps word is out that a person is regularly checking them out. I don’t know. But as I was watching these ducks, I noticed movement from my peripheral vision, so I turned slightly to see what it was. A great blue heron was inching its way to the pond on its spindly legs. I was so excited! I’ve seen one before, a few times here, when I first moved to this place, but that was years ago.

 

As I watched, it stealthily tip-toed this way and that, peering into the water, hoping for something to eat. Very patient, waiting. Then it walked behind some cattails and I couldn’t see it anymore but sensed its presence. Just like it did, I watched and waited.

 

And it paid off! Within five minutes, to my amazement, it emerged from the water with a large fish in its mouth and after a few awkward tries, gobbled it up. I was awestruck. This I had never seen before. I couldn’t believe my luck that I was able to be a witness to the private, scared world that this heron lived in.

 

With all the stress around COVID-19 we all need something to calm us down, give us focus and feed our spirits. A friend of mine, who loves to sew, is happily making masks and handing them out. Another is going through boxes of old family photos and letters and archiving them.

 

For me, right now, it’s nature that gets my attention and supports my well-being. When anxiety rears its ugly head and wants to take over, I step outside and listen to a neighboring quail, watch turkey vultures overhead or I lie directly on the earth and look up at the oak tree next to me and watch a tiny wren land, its tail twitching. I take in the smell of freshly mown grass. I watch pollen float through the air, a lizard doing “push-ups” in the shade.

 

It’s all simple stuff, but it helps. It really does.

What are you doing to nourish your spirit during these uncertain times?

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Five minutes after writing the above, a young buck appeared in the yard, no more than ten feet away from me. We were both a little startled, but stayed still, watching each other. He then turned and walked slowly through the tall grass, then leapt into the woods below, leaving me to rest in the stillness of his wake.

Remember: There are beautiful surprises everywhere. Slow down. Pay attention. Listen. Watch.

 

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

 

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