I have fallen in love with a gohper tortoise in my backyard. She makes all my days glad, and here I hope this time with her brings joy to your life too!
(Photo by http://www.thephotoargus.com)
Last week news broke stating the strong possibility that nonhuman animals have spiritual experiences. Kevin Nelson, a professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky, told Discovery News that since we cannot communicate in human spoken language with nonhuman animals " it is unlikely we will ever know with certainty what an animal subjectively experiences."
"Despite this limitation, it is still reasonable to conclude that since the most primitive areas of our brain happen to be the spiritual, then we can expect that animals are also capable of spiritual experiences," added Nelson, author of the book, "The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain," which will be published in January 2011. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, finds common ground with Nelson. Dr. Bekoff defines spiritual experiences as those that are "nonmaterial, intangible, introspective and comparable to what humans have." By way of example, he writes about chimpanzees dancing when seeing a waterfall or a thunderstorms. "The actions are deliberate but obscure. Could it be a joyous response to being alive, or even an expression of the chimp's awe of nature? Where, after all, might human spiritual impulses originate?" Dr. Jane Goodall has also written of primate spirituality (in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature) and has wondered, "If the chimpanzee could share his feelings and questions with others, might these wild elemental displays become ritualized into some form of animistic religion? Would they worship the falls, the deluge from the sky, the thunder and lightning — the gods of the elements? So all-powerful; so incomprehensible."
Of what importance, you may be asking, is this question of whether nonhuman animals have spiritual experiences? Is this news nothing other than curious and fascinating material for dinner table conversation? For me, it is much more than food for thought, it is nourishing for the flourishing of all beings on this planet.
For too long we humans have felt separated from existence. Perhaps it's having too big a frontal cortex, but for whatever reason we humans have felt "different" from other animals. This results in perceived human superiority and risks that we treat other animals with less respect and compassion. Indeed history has borne out, and current practices support the idea that because we humans operate from the stance that we are so fundamentally different from nonhuman animals, we may use them as we wish. Great harm arises from this thinking, not just for other species but for our own kind. When we think we are apart from creation, we suffer from feelings of fear and angst, for we cannot trust that we belong and all others belong on this planet. Suffering and injustice knows no species boundaries. Humans and nonhumans fall prey to the results of believing that our we need only extend compassionate action to our kind and not to our kin of many different species.
I resonate with Marc Bekoff who writes, "I like to think that the bumper sticker for evolutionary continuity between humans and nonhuman animals would simply be: "If we have something they have it too." I wrote about this recently in my other blog, A Year's Rising with Mary Oliver:
We are here not to be separate from others, from animals, from earth, or from God. In fact, we cannot be. We are God’s body. We are the earth's body. So if we are all one body together, so is our monkey mind – imperfect yet perfect, and fumbling and bumbling, yet graceful. We have no climbing towards an external perfection to do. As my favorite poet said (Mary Oliver), "We only have to love what the soft animal of our bodies love.
This love flies free in many ways, but can also be constrained, sometimes subtly, other times not. A recent report describes how an Anglican priest spontaneously and graciously gave a dog a communion wafer during a service. She received criticisms for her action and was compelled to offer an apology.
I wonder if there was greater good in sharing a communion of love between humans, nonhuman, and God/earth/existence than in adhering to the finer theological points that frankly over the millennia have contributed to our feelings of separation, superiority, and its counterpart, inferiority. Aren't we all of one body? Doesn't communion affirm that? I'm not saying the dog had the spiritual resources to understand the grace of communion, but right now, in this moment, I like to think that you and I do.
In Romans 8 (New Revised Version) we read:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
From my experiences and understanding of the text, all life (creation) is here to be liberated. Hope, as the text invites us to consider, comes from things we cannot see, such as our own spiritual life and longings, which includes our deep faith in the interdependence of life. This leaves us open to the possibility that we are not nearly as alone on this planet as we think we are, nor separate, nor better.
Mark Bekoff, writes, "Meager as it is, available evidence says, 'Yes, animals can have spiritual experiences,' and we need to conduct further research and engage in interdisciplinary discussions before we say that animals cannot and do not experience spirituality."
We do not know for certain about the spiritual experiences of others, but we do know what love is. We can use that love to lead us into an open and unconstrained relationship with the holy other, so that we may grow love beyond thought into word and action. Isn't that what faith is? That we don't go it alone, meager as the evidence is?
Painting by Cindy Capeheart (Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville)
What if a hundred rose-breasted
blew in circles around your head? What if
the mockingbird came into the house with you and
became your advisor? What if
the bees filled your walls with honey and all
you needed to do was ask them and they would fill
the bowl? What if the brook slid downhill
past your bedroom window so you could listen
to its slow prayers as you fell asleep? What
the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds? What
you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerful sang
from its painted branches? What if you
that the silver of water was brighter than the
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all
and every day -- who knows how, but they do
it -- were
more precious, more meaningful than gold? - Mary Oliver
Just this week I had a conversation with someone who asked "What is it you want?" I answered: "I would have that singing cardinal come down to the screened in porch where we are sitting and ask to be let in. Then she would come sit on my arm and allow me to touch her." My friend suggested this would be against the bird's telos and if a bird did such as this, we would lose his or her's wildness. I believe my friend was arguing that the bird is so very precious just the way she is, if we could but just see her as such. I believe that I too was arguing the same thing. I just did so by telling a fantasy story about a bird who desires to be with me, for that is all I desire - to be with birds, to be birds. To be centered with such heart centered awareness in every moment, that's how I would live!
How would you live if you could see the beauty around you in every moment as if it were a fantastical dream, so very wondrous because it is not a dream, but reality?
Such Singing in the Wild Branches
It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves -
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness -
and that's when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree -
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing -
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky - all, all of them
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last
for more than a few moments.
It's one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you've been there,
you're there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then - open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.
The Wood Thrush of North America has a song some describe as hauntingly beautiful. As a child I walked frequently alone in the woods and though this bird sang just for me. Whenever family confusion got stirred up on our home and my soul needed comforting, to the woods I went to hear a reprieve. I'd enter the doorway of trees with heavy feet and after a walk singing I'd leave the woods flying. The song of a bird tells us all that we all have a chance for liberation, even the most tortured, even the torturers. Within the deepest recesses of the fractured human dilemma of competition versus collaboration, and care versus harm, we are hauntingly beautiful. May you hear such a song of freedom today.
If you could give yourself a new chance today, what would it be?
...Going to Walden is not so easy a thing
As a greet visit. It is the slow and difficult
Trick of living, and finding it where you are.
I'm all about green visits. I lead Nature Spirituality trips to our local prairie walk of La Chua trail to see Whooping Cranes and every spring I head to Central America to work with endangered parrots. In these places I fill up, for they are the Mecca of my heart, the hajj where my self blurs into the masses of species and experiences. Indeed it is a trick to see the glory in urban and devastated areas, for my mind wants to categorize this vision as not possibly "right" and not part of the whole.
In the summer of 2001 I visited Manhattan and one evening I lay on a bench looking up the lighted trunks of those twin towers. In that moment a healing took place, for I saw the world of cities, high economy, and a dearth and death of species as integral to whole. I came to a sense of fondness for the art of humanity that creates blights as well as lights upon the night.
That urban forest is me, and it became in a few months a scene of destruction. Does the tragedy negate the beauty? If the world contradicts itself, very well, it does, for it is large, as am I. I am the world, and I contain multitudes (a la Walt Whitman, acquaintance of Henry David Thoreau, resident of Walden).
As I am the world, and I am here to gain faith that I am whole, then I am the ashes of the Twin Towers, of Treblinka, of sugar cane monoculture killing tropical lands, and the ashes of quake produced fires in Haiti. I am also the phoenix who rises out of the ashes, me, the world, the universe, here temporarily now as the ashes of old stars. Would that me, the old, could see the new that is always there beyond apocalyptic nightmares.
What in you or the world or you do you reject or resist? Is there anything you are running from, and in the business, do not see the beauty and the tragedy of this moment?
Last weekend I was walking along a small lake in Orlando Florida and came upon a dead wren suspended by it’s beak from a cattail reed. It was somewhat bloated and desiccated, its feathers disshelved making identification of it difficult – perhaps a sedge or marsh wren. What was more perplexing was how the bird came to be in this position. Did it get its beak jammed in the reed, unable to free itself? Did a shrike do its impaling thing by stuffing the bird by its beak into the small crevice? Or did a human come by and find a dead bird or even an injured one, and hang it by it’s beak as a unbidden, subconscious ritual harkening from million years of primate evolution? I walked away from the bird with more questions than answers, for the life of the wren and for my own life.
How do we get to be in the positions we find ourselves? How do we live in the unknown, mysterious liminal world where we hang between birth and death and knowing and not knowing, unable to affect the outcome or know what the outcome will be? There are moments in our lives where we are suspended from our daily concerns, often in times of confusion and pain, and we can but swing in the wind like the wren, beauty caught in some mysterious pattern with decay and death all around. Will your end come from bad luck or unfortunate accident, a force or natural process of nature, or from intentional mal intent from our own species?
No matter where we find ourselves I wonder then if in the unbidden tragedies or our life, we can let go to the mystery, so deeper connections of beauty and compassion can emerge.
A wren on a reed
Signals we all have a need
Longing to be freed
Cowritten with my sister Linda Joyner
The Sufis, which I also consider myself, recite names or
divine attributes of God as part of their spiritual practice. These
names are archetypical qualities that exist in our species and with work, each
of can manifest these attributes in our self, which is a reflection of the
entire realm of Existence and possibility.
If we can "see reality" in all its beauty and tragedy, we will
be able to reflect that beauty that exists within All, and that gives every
being a chance for healing with just our very existence.
This past week Dr. Caleb Gordon, a member of my Unitarian
Universalist congregation led the regular Sunday morning birding group to
sighting it's 100th bird species. In
seeing the list of bird names they seemed to me to be the most beautiful names
I've had the gratitude to recite. These
flying birds are divine attributes of our world and in holding them in mind and
heart, they enable me to reflect more of the beauty that connects us all.
What helps you see the best in yourself, others, and the world? What do you do to reflect this knowing outward for healing?
My cominister Rev. Meredith Garmon delivered this sermon on September 27, 2009 at the Unitarian Univeralist Fellowship of Gainesville (audio below for listening or for downloading. Written manuscript available upon request or for UUFG members on the website: UUFG). I followed his sermon with some spontaneous comments; the written excerpt follows below.
For me the "downside of spirituality" is that our various practices often do not tell us how to deal with the pain, hurt, and suffering that exists in the world. If spirituality means we are to open our hearts and minds to all that is, this means that we must make meaning not just of beauty, but of tragedy, and the tragic choices each of us makes, or that our communties and species makes. How do we do this?
I got a glimpse how one person answers this this past weekend. I had the honor to officiate a godparenting ceremony outdoors at Payne's Prairie State Park. Before the ceremony began a park ranger walked up with a whip on his belt, "to control gators" he replied when asked about it's function. He watched the ceremony and at the end he said:
"I don't know if your bible is my bible. But my bible says 'to walk circumspectly.' Out here at night walking around under the stars you never know what is around the corner - lizards, snakes, gators, bison, horses, feral pigs. There is much that can harm you and you've got to be careful. I mean, I don't think we can stop what's coming, the bad stuff, but we can walk carefully to ward off some of it. And as we go, we walk under those beautiful stars."
So maybe spirituality helps us walk open to beauty and to tragedy, and my guess is that there is so much beauty that it might just be harder to make meaning of the incredible beauty than the immense tragedy."
How do you hold the pain?
Is it worth trying to grow your awareness of interconnection, to both beauty and tragedy when you can't stop the tragedy?
How can you grow your sense of interconnection and meaning with others?
Download Downside of Spirituality
Is there a bird inside of you? Yearning for freedom, for meaning? DH Lawrence wrote, “Birds are the life of the skies, and when they fly – they reveal the thoughts of the skies”.
There’s more to bird watching than meets the eyes. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but now and then the choir likes to hear a song it knows.
Do you know the song of a bird? Well then, maybe a story like this has happened to you.
A Buddhist master is walking with the disciple and accuses the master of hiding the secret of Zen from him.
Just then a bird called from the riverside.
The master asked, do you hear the bird.
Yes said the disciple.
Well then you know I have hidden nothing from you.
Yes said the disciple.
And then he was enlightened.
In watching birds not just a lightening of the spirit is possible, but something fiercer and not all that comfortable to behold. For when birds tell us of meaning, they tell us not just of life, but also of death. And it’s in that crucible held by feathered wings that we can be held in both beauty and tragedy, and make meaning of our lives.
Jonathan Rose, author of the ministers’ book of the month, The Life of the Skies – Birding at the End of Nature, says the reason why there are some 50 million bird watchers in this country is because birds are the last remaining wild animals that are abundantly visible to us. They are the windows into all of wild nature, our own wild nature as well.
Birds link us back in time to evolution, where creative life constantly arises out of death. Each year it’s increasingly clearer that birds evolved from dinosaurs. If the movie Jurassic Park were made today, Tyrannosaurus Rex and all the velociraptors would have feathers. It’d be great to see such a dinosaur, but I’m glad it’s a goldfinch that comes to the feeders and not a T.Rex.
Photo by Aarong Gustafason
So we lost dinosaurs along the way for the dynamite soaring birds of today, and now we are losing them too, at our own hands, and it’s not clear what new life might arise. It’s hard as a bird watcher to not be aware of their dwindling numbers, and to despair. How amazing that there are 5,000 Sandhill cranes, but imagine 50,000 here in Florida, hundreds of thousands of Carolina Parakeets, and 2 billion Passenger Pigeons in the U.S. The Parakeet and Pigeon went extinct for many reasons, and tragically the last birds succumbed to collectors. The only nest of Carolina Parakeet eggs, long dead, is housed here at the Florida Museum of Natural History. They were turned in by a poacher who would not reveal the location of this last nest until long after the parents died, and subsequently the entire species.
In our primate minds, the urge to kill and the urge to conserve are so closely linked, death never far from life, as experienced so acutely with a flying bird of life easily dead due to the fragility of their hollow bones, air sacs, and paper thin feathers. John James Audubon saw a monkey kill his parrot. He mused that it is this image that caused him to study and paint birds with pleasure, and to do so he killed thousands of birds.
The wild primate lives inside of us all. We hunt as we look for birds through our binoculars, and we are haunted by a lifestyle that leaves ¼ of Florida’s birds in danger.
In the early 20th Century, President Teddy Roosevelt heard reports about plume hunters wiping out bird populations in Florida, and made Pelican Island the first time the federal government set aside land for the sake of wildlife. Roosevelt was a great conservationist, not “in spite of the fact that he was a hunter, but because he was one. He never discounted the human urge to destroy, since he indulged in that urge so zealously himself. Rather accepting it as a given of human nature, he allowed that knowledge to inform his understanding of the necessity of check and balances of human rapacity.” (Jonathan Rosen).
Knowing who we are and what we might do based on our understanding of our place in communities of mixed species are key religious questions. Birds help us know of our sacred reality, our divine possibility, and how we must arise out of the ashes of our burning human greed.
Harold Bloom who studied American Religious Poetry found in Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Adams, Frost, and Dickinson the image that the risen Jesus is in each of us – that each of us as individual can bring salvation to this world through the blessing of our very being. John James Audubon paintings captured this in his anthropomorphized birds. They don’t look like birds as much as they look like humans with feathers. He melds birds with humans – wild nature, beauty without end, amen.
Walt Whitman perhaps best portrayed nature and birds as lived religion. As a boy Whitman listened to a pair of mockingbirds one summer. Then one of the pair died, and the remaining bird sang throughout the night. The young Whitman went out into the night to listen to this song, and was changed forever. Later he said, “Now in a moment I know what I am for.”
He wrote about this episode in his famous poem, Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking. “It’s fusion of the human and the animal, and in its depiction of an entire country through animal symbols is a kind of poetic extension of Audubon’s paintings” (Rosen, pg. 59).
Emerson too melds human experience with birds. Drawn to Sufism, Emerson writes of the Conference of the Birds, one of the most central of all Sufi texts. In this text, birds undertake a spiritual journey and show us the way of Emerson’s Transcendentalism, a kind of homegrown American Sufism. We are the image of God, and divinity reflects from our souls ever more brightly as we work to polish our inner mirror.
Colleague to Emerson, Emily Dickinson compared birding to church, and preferred birding. It’s a tough call. The point is birds and church-like activities are just some of the ways to grow more connected, more aware, and more whole, which is the eternal light ever shining in the darkness.
Robert Frost wrote in the 20th century, a time of darkness, death and extinction. His poem, The Ovenbird poses this: The question that he (the bird) frames in all but words is what to make of a diminished thing.
What are we to make of our diminishing lives through age, illness, death, and the loss of biodiversity? Hope isn’t the thing with feathers – it’s us. We are the ones who can learn to know ourselves and the world around us, and take intentional steps forward into a future of abundant life.
In the U.S. there is a unique chance to know who we are through birds and to respond accordingly because of our long history with birds and nature religion. We’re the Republic of Feathers. We could also probably call our congregation the Unitarian Universalist Feathership of Gainesville because so much of our country’s nature/bird traditions come from those with UU ties. Whitman, Dickinson, Thoreau, and Frost had strong Unitarian Universalist connections. Unitarians clearly claim as their own Emerson, the two Adam Presidents and Thomas Jefferson who kept a pet mockingbird in the White House Study.
So here we descendants are today, helping one another face the darkness around us and in us, seeking to free ourselves from senseless suffering through joy. Birding is but one way to take up an intentional practice that asks us to look within at our inner demons and look outward in acknowledgement that though we may be alone or feel it, we are interconnected to all of life.
Thoreau, the patron saint of backyard birders, exhibited the paradox of birding and our kind by loving isolation and craving connection. He wrote:
Each new year is a surprise to us.
We find that we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird, and when we hear it again, it is remembered like a dream, reminding us of a previous sate of existence.
The voice of nature is always encouraging.
In a bird we meld the past with the dream of the future.
Birding is the synthesis of individuals and communities, of art and science, and of secularism and religion. Watching birds allows us to live in a symbolic world that is also scientific. We do not lose our rational mind, but find our wondrous mind in seeing wonder around us. Birding perhaps seems such a small thing to do, but small gestures can save the world, as can small groups upon wooded or sandy trail. For it is there on the path where beauty is all around us, as is death, that we can let loose our joy. Joy does not lead us to “escape the world, but to fly free in it, to embrace it with all its suffering and all its wonder and creative powers.” (David Spangler).
It’s not an easy path. In the middle of preparing this sermon yesterday I went for a short walk to get my mail. There flew across me a Cooper’s hawk carrying a red-bellied woodpecker screaming it’s final song. The hawk could barely fly so burdened was it with the crying pitiful bird. I wanted to run after it and tear the beautiful dying thing from its talons, and yet was also mesmerized by the beauty of the successful hunt. In me was a turning of the gut, a heart-wrenching glimpse of reality where all moments consist of inseparable life and death. In that one moment, I knew what I am for.
We all are burdened with dying things. For a good part of my life I have been a bird veterinarian and I know the stark truth that that the desire to have bird beauty in our homes is killing off the wild birds, and causing much suffering to those held captive. I’ve handled Spix Macaws, which are now extinct in the wild, due largely to collectors who desired these startlingly blue beings. In my career as a bird veterinarian, I worked for 3 of the four largest bird collections in the world. I did this so I could be close to beauty and hence I captured my joy, binding the world to my desires with resulting loss and suffering. I am the monkey with parrot blood on her hands, the hawk with a dying bird in its talons, the dove with a rising spirit of joy that cannot be caged.
In the movie The Thin Red Line based on John James novel the hero says, “One man looks at a dying bird and sees nothing but unanswerable pain, and another looks at the same bird and feels the glory, feels something smiling through it.”
Before Christmas I was in Puerto Rico where I reunited with the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Project. Once there was nearly a million of this parrot species on the island and by the 1970s, only 15. Two weeks ago there were 40 in the wild and I witnessed 20 more captive raised birds released into the wild, increasing their numbers by 50%. To see those birds fly free, prone yes to hawks and the ravaging reaches of humankind, death ever before them, creates a smile that did not end that day and I believe echoes the eternal smile in each of us that is born in each sunrise.
I wish I knew how to live more constantly like that, to free and feed the bird within and the bird without.
Do you know how?
Please let me know. Let us share this life of the skies together.
I have a daily spiritual practice that includes sitting on my back porch in silence, pondering the lives of birds while also keeping my eyes roaming through the multi-layered habitat of my backyard. There daily dramas play out among the complex social systems that don’t really have a lot to do with my own ego concerns. A few days ago a movement in one young Magnolia tree revealed an immature Red-shouldered hawk that flew to an adjoining tree. There, in a newly fledged way of beholding the world, he or she watched the ground closely. Following the hawk’s eyes I saw a Florida Box Turtle ambling along the edge of lawn and woodland, his bambooed patterned shell well worth my gaze, and perhaps the hawk's as well. After several minutes the hawk flew away and the turtle disappeared into the ground cover, perhaps bored with one another and the terrain of our lawn. (I say lawn although that is liberally applied – it’s more like mowed “whatever that wants to grow here, may.” From that same Magnolia tree a Mourning dove fluttered to the ground, followed by a Ruby-throated hummingbird who hovered over the dove and then flew away. A minute later another dove joined the other, this one too chased by the hummingbird, who in one still moment was the apex of a relationship triangle formed by doves and hummer. As I considered my role as observer in this geometric biologic form, the Red-shouldered returned, and as it flew across the back yard, the doves erupted into a whirlwind of wing beats. Now alone I wondered about my place in this drama playing out between the chaser and the chasee. Am I just an impartial watcher? Am I part of their world they create with each other? I believe that I am. They respond to each other, and in my distanced voyeurism, I create a beautiful world with them, and now with you. We each take into our holy interiors stimuli from shared exterior worlds, actors, directors, audiences each of us in every moment as we both chase after beauty and life, and are chased by tragedy and death. Seeing these winged wonders play out this ancient chase game, I imagine myself as if a little girl squealing in a game of tag, fearful of the chase yes, while also half wanting to be caught by the fierceness of life and death so that I may remain free. Tag, this moment is it. Florida Box Turtle (photo by Jonathan Zander)
I have a daily spiritual practice that includes sitting on my back porch in silence, pondering the lives of birds while also keeping my eyes roaming through the multi-layered habitat of my backyard. There daily dramas play out among the complex social systems that don’t really have a lot to do with my own ego concerns.
A few days ago a movement in one young Magnolia tree revealed an immature Red-shouldered hawk that flew to an adjoining tree. There, in a newly fledged way of beholding the world, he or she watched the ground closely. Following the hawk’s eyes I saw a Florida Box Turtle ambling along the edge of lawn and woodland, his bambooed patterned shell well worth my gaze, and perhaps the hawk's as well. After several minutes the hawk flew away and the turtle disappeared into the ground cover, perhaps bored with one another and the terrain of our lawn. (I say lawn although that is liberally applied – it’s more like mowed “whatever that wants to grow here, may.”
From that same Magnolia tree a Mourning dove fluttered to the ground, followed by a Ruby-throated hummingbird who hovered over the dove and then flew away. A minute later another dove joined the other, this one too chased by the hummingbird, who in one still moment was the apex of a relationship triangle formed by doves and hummer.
As I considered my role as observer in this geometric biologic form, the Red-shouldered returned, and as it flew across the back yard, the doves erupted into a whirlwind of wing beats. Now alone I wondered about my place in this drama playing out between the chaser and the chasee. Am I just an impartial watcher? Am I part of their world they create with each other?
I believe that I am. They respond to each other, and in my distanced voyeurism, I create a beautiful world with them, and now with you. We each take into our holy interiors stimuli from shared exterior worlds, actors, directors, audiences each of us in every moment as we both chase after beauty and life, and are chased by tragedy and death.
Seeing these winged wonders play out this ancient chase game, I imagine myself as if a little girl squealing in a game of tag, fearful of the chase yes, while also half wanting to be caught by the fierceness of life and death so that I may remain free. Tag, this moment is it.
Florida Box Turtle (photo by Jonathan Zander)