The melody arose from the most unexpected place. They heard it deep within the woods and even the birds fell silent peering around, searching for its unrevealed source. It carried on for several verses and then, as quickly as it came it was gone, the final note carried off by a spring wind. No one entered, no one left the woods that day and though many searched no instrument was found and the trees of the woods grew silent at the searchers’ approach.
My granddaughter is intensely concerned with the growing loss of species, and rightly so, and I share her fears, though I feel largely powerless to do anything.
She has the faith of youth, a belief that she and her peers can, with work, effect a lasting change, climb up the slippery slope which we have cast them down, and save other species from a fate nature never could have intended.
But she cannot fathom the losses that I have seen, things I knew rendered extinct by her generation, and that of her parents, the cassette player, the typewriter, carbon paper, and stationery and a writing desk, to name only a few, but at least the haven’t outdated my Blackberry.
The abiding Buddha nature of birds is demonstrated by their calm ability to carry on conversations in the presence of interacting humans, who are too often deaf to the sounds in which nature immerses them.
But when we speak to the birds in a crude facsimile of their native chirp, caw and trill, they pause to listen, strain to understand us, wishing only to let us know their thoughts, their love of nature, and just how shocked and disappointed they are at our inability to exercise our stewardship.
The clouds well up over the foothills casting a gray pall, bearing the angry spirits of the chindi who dance amid the scrub juniper. Brother Serra, was this what you found, wandering along the coast, tending the odd sheep, Indian and whatever else crossed your path?
The blue bird hopping across the dried grasses puffing its grey breastplate and cape sitting back, its long tail feathers a perfect counterbalance. It stares at the oppressing clouds and senses the impending rain. The horses wandering the hill pausing to graze on the sparse green grasses. The roan mare stares at the colt dashing among the trees then returns to her meal, awaiting the onset of evening.
The chindi await the fall of night when they are free to roam and steal other souls. Was your water rite more powerful than the blessing chants? Did you ward off their evil and purify the breeze of the mountains?
So many of the late arrivals tonight are egrets, the Cattles long in among the reeds and brush sharing space, only reluctantly, with the ibis.
It is their snowy cousins who arrive as the horizon is a fading band of orange gold dissipating under the faint, unyielding eye of Venus, and seem shocked when they are turned away with flap of wing and cry, warned by the perching anhinga that in this preserve the inn fills quickly, and in January there is no nearby manger to be found, so you’d best make avian friends, for morning arrives all too quickly enough.
As I stare out the window and watch the snow slowly build on the limbs of the now barren crab apple, painting it with a whiteness that bears heavily, giving the smaller branches a better view of the ground in which their fruit of the summer lies buried.
I am forced to wonder if the tree continues to watch me, if its vision is clouded by the snowy blanket in which it wraps itself this day, and if it does, what must it think of someone so sedentary when it, bearing its winter burden can still dance gently in the morning wind.
The sun slowly climbs up onto the mountain’s minaret and announces the call to prayer. The waves in the quiet Lake dip their heads watching trees with the reverence reserved for morning. The loon sits on the altar and intones the sermon, the waves stilling for a moment, then ebbing into the day.
As winter closes in around us, even here, the Great Blue Herons go about building a nest, inviting us to watch as they make a home of gathered branches and twigs, oblivious to the state of our world, of the pandemic gripping us.
We watch respectfully, knowing that in this darkest of seasons, we are about to witness our own little miracle and will soon bear witness to the simple joy of birth.
The birds look at us as though we had two heads. They cannot, they say, comprehend how we can stand to live in boxes, to travel in metal containers, to be stuck forever to the ground. They say that food should be picked then eaten instantly, not packaged and half thrown away. They say they cannot see how we are supposedly more evolved than they, for they have the sort of freedom about which we only talk endlessly. But most of all, and saddest of all, we know they pity us as we pity ourselves.