Archive for September, 2017

Of herons and hermits

September 9, 2017

Too often my new landlady behaves like a scared bird.  When a creature is scared, it forgets all knowledge of itself, reacting only to the demands of survival.  The voice of accumulated wisdom that might chart an easier path can’t be heard above the din of raucous fear.

I guess I’m thinking in terms of birds more now that I’ve moved to the shore of the Potomac.  Wide and brackish with the salt water riding up the Chesapeake, the river draws life with which I’ve yet to become familiar.  Sure, I’ve seen bald eagles in Virginia and in Yellowstone, ducks and gulls everywhere, and even blue herons most recently who roosted in the field adjoining my adobe in northern New Mexico.  But here they have a presence that quickens my attention more than the transplanted retirees and natives who’ve never left this sleepy small tourist town.

The past 2 mornings, under clear-ish skies, I’ve ventured out well before dawn to watch Venus, Mercury, Mars, and Regulus rise.  While I skipped seeing the totality of the solar eclipse from fear of the crowds and have so far been cursed not to see the aurora borealis, I’ll be damned if I won’t drag my ass out of bed to at least glimpse Mercury before it starts to slip below the horizon.  Today I stopped beneath the shadow of an oak, straining my eyes east as the approaching dawn began to tint the horizon.  The houses behind me were mostly dark, and only the wind provided sound and movement.  Then that changed.  The darkness next to me shift slightly and I realized I wasn’t the only sentinel awaiting dawn.  Some 20 feet away from me was a blue heron who accepted my company silently.  The two of us stood as close to each other as humans and birds can be expected, sharing the same primeval impulse to gather ourselves in order to face the day.

When my landlady reacts, when she makes declarative statements and implicit commands, I think of how she’s reacting to a threat that’s echoing from her dim past, not from what’s in front of her.  No matter her insistence on Jesus’s love protecting her from colds and other disasters, what her behavior suggests is that she’s afraid this putative boundless protection will dissolve in an instant and she’ll be left alone and defenseless.  She hoards food, clothes, tchotchkes, photographs and other souvenirs of her past as if it will keep her safe.

I’m far from the calmest person in the world, and the force of her fear has thrown me off center enough times that I’ve gotten angry, mostly at myself, for forgetting what I know matters.  Still when I retreat from her clamor and get right with myself, mostly in the middle of night, I remember what I’ve learned about the importance of stillness, and this gives me just enough strength to handle the stresses of the day ahead.

I did a tarot card reading soon after I arrived here.  My journey back to Virginia involved one major disaster, small disappointments, and a lot of exhaustion, and I arrived to a situation I’m not sure I would have signed onto if I’d known all the details.  In the middle of my reading was The Hermit, with the card that followed being the High Priestess.  How dispirited I was, learning that once again my life would comprise solitude and self-reflection.  But when a site I go to often suggested that one must be alone with one’s self (The Hermit) in order to access the wisdom offered by the High Priestess, I tried to reconcile myself to more deep journeying.

This morning, bidding good day to the heron, I returned to face my landlady’s impending clamors and the stresses of my new work situation with another image to set beside that of The Hermit.  A blue heron awaiting dawn, full of the knowledge of what it means to be itself, giving another the space to stand quietly by and know herself.