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.
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.
A single snowy egret sits on the lowest branch of a long barren tree, where hours from now a thousand birds will arrive for still another evening and night.
He stares at me as I am mindfully vacuuming, watching carefully.
I pause and ask if by chance he is a Buddha and he lifts his long neck and peers around in all directions.
I repeat my question, and he lifts one wing, which I know to be his way of saying, “I, like you, am imbued with Buddha nature, and I with mother nature as well, and if you doubt me ask one of the countless Bodhisattvas who will arrive in hours to study the Dharma well into what will be a wet night.
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.
The pelican hasn’t been around for a couple of days, and we miss his akimbo dives into the pond, surfacing and throwing his head back to show he’s swallowing his catch even though we suspect some of the time he caught nothing at all, but knowing we’re as gullible an audience as he is likely to find any time soon. We hope he is off breeding somewhere, making little pelicans that will be able to entertain us next fall when we return, birds of our own sort, not snowy egrets but snow birds nonetheless. We don’t want to know any more about the mating ritual, some things ought to be private. We learned that painful a few years ago, when my brother thought it was important we see thoroughbreds bred. We prefer our breedings like good French films, suggestive but ultimately leaving it to our memory, like so much of our youth.
Mockingbirds greet the morning
Great Blue Herons stare
imagining their voices
night sweetly welcome the dawn
The great temple bell
awaits the morning, the monk,
its daily purpose
cast deep within the metal
always verging on release
Smoke of incense too
prostrates itself to Buddha
soon a morning breeze
or the freedom of the sky