Archive for October, 2017

At the river’s edge

October 15, 2017

After becoming acquainted with the ravens out west, I find the eastern crows as tiny as grackles.  Still they’re courageously obstreperous.  Outsized by the bald eagle perched on the branches of the hickory outside my window, they still insist on its immediately withdrawal.

Don’t get me wrong:  I love the bald eagles.  I can’t believe that I can sit here at the dining room table and watch them wheel through the sky or hop across the lawn that stretches down to the bluff over the Potomac.  Wherever I am in the house, I can hear their cascading cries.  This domain of water and raptors is a kingdom I’ve never known.

The crows, on the other hand, have always been with us, like the poor as the adage goes.  Like their cousins the ravens, they are among the smartest animals.  But its their bravery that’s catching my attention these days.  Sure, they know there’s strength in numbers, so they noisily call in their confederates as they make their cries for eviction, but even before the first reinforcement arrives, I see one tiny crow hopping across the branches toward that massive raptor and wonder what he thinks the odds are.

Power comes in all shapes and sizes.  Most often the destructive power we perceive, the power that threatens to crush us, isn’t emanating from one person, place, or thing.  It could be the institution that person represents or a bogey man we’ve built up in our own mental or bodily memory banks.  Someone, or a host of somebodies, who treated us as insignificant in just the same way and once again we are as powerless as we felt during that first, formative encounter.  The story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby is one that reminds me of how I need to be careful about wrestling with demons I perceive when all they are are sticky messes dressed up in tattered clothes.

Not all power is bad.  The eagles need every ounce of their power to survive.  So do people.  It’s when power is wielded without compassion or for the charge of watching someone vulnerable squirm that it’s reprehensible.  My former landlady wrote out an imagined dialogue as a cue card to help choreograph the event when she decided to end our rental arrangement.  It was like a bad scene spoken by a James Bond villain.  She imagined me whimpering at the news that in 2 weeks time I and my cat would have no where to live:  “Where will I go?” I was supposed to say.  Her response to my caterwauling confusion:  “It would have been wise to have had a plan B before you chose to defy the landlady.”

I’ll never be exactly sure what kind of deranged thinking was involved in her scenario, but it’s become clear over the past 3 weeks that it partakes in a degree of paranoia & bullying that’s rampant in the National Park Service.  I realize that in some ways I’ve participated in dressing up the bogeyman.  My parents’ early dismissal of my capabilities left me searching for validation through my job performance, awaiting recognition through the authority invested in a supervisor who may have received his or her position not through merit but through simple elimination of more worthy candidates.  Once I take away the hat and coat and refuse to wrestle with a ball of tar, however, I can only get so dirty.  I will preserve my power, persevere, and one day achieve my own victories.

At this moment in my life, I guess the crow-bald eagle tussle seems refreshingly free of the destructive properties of human fear.  I can wonder at a spectacle that has played out along these shores long before the first humans arrived and will continue long after I am gone.  Like so much in the natural world, it gives me hope that I will find what’s true and essential in myself and find others who have done the same work and have their own gifts to offer.  On a grey Sunday morning in mid-October, looking north across one of the world’s great rivers, it’s what comforts.