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?

 

“The Peace of Wild Things”

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day – blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

                                                   ~ Wendell Berry

 

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Envy

A Climb at Hongshou

I am seriously envious. My sister just came back from China. She went to a huge Chinese wedding. She climbed a mountain that looks just like the pictures you see; swirling fog at the base of the mountain, steep inclines, wild orchids growing on the side of the cliff. She hiked the Great Wall. She ate exotic foods and met all kinds of people. My sister is 52 but has the energy of a 20-year-old. She lives in Massachusetts and in five days will fly out here to California for 5 days!

I’m bright green with envy. Glowing. You can see me from miles away. I want to travel too. And often. And go just about anywhere. She sounded upbeat and as full of enthusiasm as a puppy. I told her “I wish I had about 1/3 of your energy!”.

I grew up in a family where travel was our middle name. We lived in California 9 months out of the year and 3 months on the east coast. Before I had problems with seizures and severe sleep deprivation, we went to Europe: Denmark, France, Italy, Greece. I went to Jamaica with my parents and Trinidad and Tobago. Guatemala and Honduras. Traveling is in my blood. And now? Now I don’t drive outside of my hometown. If I go anywhere else, I have to have a caregiver take me, and then usually for a doctor’s appointment a half-hour away. I did manage a trip back east last year with two caregivers, but it was brutal getting there: I felt like I had to slay a few dragons to get there.

In my fantasies, I’d like to live back east part of the year. I’d like to travel to Asia – Bhutan maybe? Thailand, Nepal? I’d like to go to Africa, too, but I’m not sure which country. Europe: pick a country, any country. I’d like to go to Alaska and see the Denali National Park. I’d like to go to Nova Scotia – just ‘cause. Costa Rica for sure. Australia and The Great Barrier Reef. Tahiti. The Caribbean. I want to see the Taj Mahal. Machu Pichu. Findhorn. Stonehenge. Victoria Falls. I’d like to hike, swim, zipline, snorkel, scuba, snowboard, hang glide, surf and kite surf.

So… I’m just a tad envious.

Which brings me to the topic of complaining. As someone with chronic illness, I feel like I’m not supposed to complain too much. There are always others worse off than me. So, I should be grateful for what I can do. As a society we love the “super crip”- the differently abled people who not only never complain but are able to do extraordinary things. Someone without legs managing to run a marathon with prosthetics. Someone who is blind who climbed a mountain. Someone who has Crohn’s disease becomes a medical doctor. These are all commendable achievements to be sure, but what about the rest of us who don’t accomplish such feats?

Personally, I think for most of us, it’s a feat just to make it through the day. For someone who suffers from depression to get out of bed. Another to walk from the bedroom to the living room. To get through one more day of pain without thoughts of suicide. To be able to balance a check book, make a meal, sweep the floor. Hold down a job.

In the middle of writing this, I took a break and walked outside. It’s been raining lately, and everything is so green. There’s the dark green of the pine trees that line the driveway, the ends of which are lighter from new growth. Cattails below the house shimmer a soft green that sometimes darkens when clouds pass by. The tall grass in the meadow is a shiny lime green. Green is a beautiful color with so many shades.

So, are there various shades of human emotion: fear, irritation, rage, excitement, sadness, and yes, envy? It’s human to have and feel emotions. To get stuck in them and have them eat a hole in your stomach or heart is something we want to avoid.

When I came back from my short walk, I felt something inside shift. I sat down and listened to the rain that started falling – a beautiful sound. I glanced at my cats who were sleeping peacefully. And I sat with my envy, green and glowing. It’s a beautiful thing too! A human thing.

And so, when my sister comes to visit, I will hug her hard, and squeeze her hands, and ask her more details about her adventures and look at her pictures on her iPhone. And I will be happy for her. And I will be grateful I have a sister who I love and loves me back.

And I will probably bring with me a touch of green envy. Emerald? Perhaps ivy? I’ll decide then.