When We Were Birds

It’s been a lovely, fall-like day, with the kind of broken cloud cover that makes for fine sunsets. I had planned to be out and about now with my camera, but about an hour ago thick clouds began building in from the west, obscuring the low hanging sun, so here I sit at the keyboard. Even so, there are hints of burnt orange sunset, and patches of blue where the cloud cover is broken.

On our front porch the eggs have hatched and the robin parents are working quite hard to feed the small ones. Jennie tells me the young have begun to put on feathers, and I imagine they will fledge in a few days. For now, mom rests periodically on the nest, riding noticeably higher than before.

Yesterday we visited a local farm for a dance performance that explored When Women Were Birds. From the beginning we were captivated by the dancers’ ability to mimic the expressions and movements of birds as they flitted through the farm landscape. There was something deeply satisfying about the performance, about the dancers’ ability to make visceral some instinctual connection between us and avians, and us and the rolling, flower filled late summer landscape. During the performance, fledgling barn swallows watched the goings on with great interest, and chickens playfully interacted with the audience. At the conclusion, a raven flew over the dancers, croaked once, and was gone.

It was Fools Fest here in town this weekend, and the streets were filled with performers, musicians, and eager audiences. As is very often the case, I was most drawn to clowns and clowning, and I had repeated opportunities to laugh unabashed while appreciating the performers great skill, both as clowns and as entertainers.

Although the summer has been wet, and the landscape is surprisingly green for August, red is appearing on more trees. The swamp maples are showing bright foliage, as are a couple of trees on our upland street. It appears we will have an early autumn, although a hot, dry spell might still change that.

On Friday I spent several hours in the basement of the hospital undergoing some routine testing. The test involved periodic imaging with long periods of waiting. After I finished the second half of the book I was reading, I took advantage of the long intervals and went outside where a lovely, warm, sunny day was unfurling. The hospital has lately created several nooks where one can sit among flowers and trees, enjoying the breeze and the company of birds. I was yet again reminded that I crave contact with the outside world, that I only feel whole when I am engaged with the processes and heartbeat of the Earth.

When I lived in New Mexico it was customary for most everyone in the village to sit, chairs leaned back against their houses, and watch the sunset. I lived at the top of the hill and deeply enjoyed looking down on the village, and the folks, and animals, relaxing into the growing evening. I learned much from the Chicano and Native elders who insisted on being out year round, in health and illness, and who knew themselves to be inseparable from the landscape we inhabited. I now know that as fundamental as those experiences were, they are alien to many; this is a tragedy, both for those who experience alienation from Nature, and for the landscapes that sustain us.

As I write, I am thinking fondly of the elders who, even when gravely ill, insisted on spending the day outside, perhaps in the shade of a tree or arbor, watching the sunlight and clouds play across the vastness of the Indiana hill country or the western landscape. As I age, I am coming to recognize their wisdom, and the Medicine they held so close, even as they shared it with us youngsters who had not lived long enough to truly understand their teachings, or comprehend that our spirits can literally take wing and fly as birds.

I imagine many of us, as kids, no matter where we grow up, had experiences of being One with the World. As we age, reconnecting with Nature becomes increasingly important as it shields us from alienation, hopelessness, and fear. I believe that the  magic of childhood and the subtle teachings of our elders are not lost: we can, like the dancers, revisit them and the power that arises from embedding ourselves in the processes and beingness of the Natural world, and we can invite others to do the same. Much healing and hope may come from that, even in these troubling times.



12 thoughts on “When We Were Birds

  1. I read When Women Were Birds less than a year ago. Marvelous book! My brother was at a hospital in Sacramento this week, watching over his wife’s niece and feeling very sad, angry, confused. I asked if there was some park or courtyard or place outside where he could take a break. He said it was too hot to go out. I told him that when my husband was ill, I always sought out a place in the hospital where I could look out a window. But so often you do get stuck in a basement or interior space. Healing would improve, I think, if more hospitals invested in gardens, bird feeders and courtyards. And mental health services. You’d think a 27-year old undergoing his second brain surgery would get some kind of counselling help in navigating issues of rehab and mortality. Sadly, it wasn’t offered in this case.

    1. Our hospital has many rooms with great views. Just not exam rooms and most of those in the basement….. Sad to hear there was no support. I must admit I do not understand that.

  2. I am reminded to look for signs of an early Autumn. (Or early signs of Autumn?) Very heavy rain last night, kind of spoiled our Italian student’s trip to Liverpool for the day, though she has learnt already to always take an umbrella with her!

    1. Andy, last evening as I was ready to leave the office the rains descended. Of course, there was no umbrella in sight…. There was a reason the colonists termed our region New England.
      Perhaps we are looking at the early signs of an early autumn>?

  3. That daily contact with nature is something we would all do good to remember. I enjoyed the mental image of everyone gathering to watch the sunset. And I loved the idea of the performance, set among the actual birds.

    1. Andrea, I find I need that immersion in the world of nature just to get by. Last evening the first robin left the nest, causing a lot of drama, and drawing me into the immediacy of the parents’ experience. This morning calm has seemingly returned, along with nice weather. (Last night as chilly and rainy.) Our lives are not that different from those of the robins, a fact I find greatly humbling and comforting.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post, Michael. It reminded me of how much healing takes place when I am outside in a beautiful, natural area. I hope you have an early autumn because we are heading for Nova Scotia in a couple of weeks and will spending some time in Maine, NH and VT, also upstate NY. We camp and are able to go at our pace, taking up to 5 weeks. I am so eager to go. So far in lower Michigan there are no signs of fall color, but it sounds and feels like late summer. Wellness and peace to you and Jennie.

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