Horseback on Sunday morning, harvest over, we taste persimmon and wild grape, sharp sweet of summer’s end. In time’s maze over fall fields, we name names that went west from here, names that rest on graves. We open a persimmon seed to find the tree that stands in promise, pale, in the seed’s marrow. Geese appear high over us, pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear, in the ancient faith: what we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here. ~Wendell Berry “Wild Geese”from Collected Poems 1957-1982
I hear them coming before I see them: the wild geese flying overhead, noisily honking their way across an autumn sky, drawn to the harvested cornfields to glean after the machinery has left.
Soon they will leave altogether, pulled to be content somewhere else.
I remain as witness rather than move on, reminding myself, my heart quiet, my eye clear, what I need is here until it is my turn to leave.
A book of beautiful words and photography, available to order here:
There comes a time in every fall before the leaves begin to turn when blackbirds group and flock and gather choosing a tree, a branch, together to click and call and chorus and clamor announcing the season has come for travel.
Then comes a time when all those birds without a sound or backward glance pour from every branch and limb into the air, as if on a whim but it’s a dynamic, choreographed mass a swoop, a swerve, a mystery, a dance
and now the tree stands breathless, amazed at how it was chosen, how it was changed. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub “Turning” from Wing Over Wing
…yesterday I heard a new sound above my head a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air
and when I turned my face upward I saw a flock of blackbirds rounding a curve I didn’t know was there and the sound was simply all those wings, all those feathers against air, against gravity and such a beautiful winning: the whole flock taking a long, wide turn as if of one body and one mind.
How do they do that?
If we lived only in human society what a puny existence that would be
but instead we live and move and have our being here, in this curving and soaring world that is not our own so when mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives and when, even more rarely, we unite and move together toward a common good,
we can think to ourselves:
ah yes, this is how it’s meant to be. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub from “Blackbirds” from Wing Over Wing
Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared, then another, and another. It was the starlings going to roost. They gathered deep in the distance, flock sifting into flock, and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke. They seemed to unravel as they flew, lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. I didn’t move; they flew directly over my head for half an hour.
Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced. The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye. Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff. Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig, right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.
Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now, birds winging through the gaps between my cells, touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet? ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Watching the starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me. I feel queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.
Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions. It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t. It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t. They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound of air rushing past wings.
We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA. Yet we don’t learn from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks. We have become frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, each going our own way bumping and crashing without care.
We have lost our internal moral compass for how it is meant to be.
The rustling ruffling quiet of wings in the air is actually muffled weeping.
Vast whisp-whisp of wingbeats awakens me and I look up at a minute-long string of black geese’ following low past the moon the white course of the snow-covered river and by the way thank You for keeping Your face hidden, I can hardly bear the beauty of this world ~Franz Wright from “Cloudless Snowfall”
A psalm of geese labours overland
cajoling each other near half…
The din grew immense. No need to look up.
All you had to do was sit in the sound
and put it down as best you could…
It’s not a lonesome sound but a panic,
a calling out to the others to see if they’re there;
it’s not the lung-full thrust of the prong of arrival in late October; not the slow togetherness
of the shape they take on the empty land on the days before Christmas:
this is different, this is a broken family, the young go the wrong way,
then at daybreak, rise up and follow their elders again filled with dread, at the returning sound of the journey ahead. ~Dermot Healy from A Fool’s Errand
We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house. ~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life edited by David Friend
I am overwhelmed by the amount of “noticing” I need to do in the course of my work. Each patient, and there are so many, deserves my full attention for the few minutes we are together. I start my clinical evaluation the minute I walk in the exam room and begin taking in all the complex verbal and non-verbal clues offered by another human being.
How are they calling out to me as they keep their faces hidden?
What someone tells me about what they are feeling may not always match what I notice: the trembling hands, the pale skin color, the deep sigh, the scars of self injury. I am their audience and a witness to their struggle; even more, I must understand it in order to best assist them. My brain must rise to the occasion of taking in another person, offering them the gift of being noticed and being there for them, just them.
This work I do is distinctly a form of praise: the patient is the universe for a few moments and I’m grateful to be watching and listening. When my patient calls out to me, may they never feel they are playing to an empty house. May I always look for the beauty in their hidden faces.
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity
I reveled in being the good egg.
Smooth on the surface,
gooey inside, often a bit scrambled,
ordinary and decent,
indistinguishable from others,
not making waves.
It’s not been bad staying just as I am.
Except I can no longer remain like this.
A dent or two appeared in my outer shell
from bumps along the way,
and a crack up one side
It has come time to change or face rot.
Nothing will be the same again:
the fragments of shell
as useless confinement.
my home becomes
the wind beneath my wings
soaring an endless horizon
that stretches beyond eternity.
When it feels like the world is rent in two,
and the gulf into which I topple
too wide and dark to climb without help,
I can look to the sky
and see the stitching there
the careful caring line of connection
drawing me out of my hole, startled and grateful
to be made whole. Hope is borne on wings:
may I fly threaded to others.
There’ll be turbulence. You’ll drop
your book to hold your
water bottle steady. Your
mind, mind has mountains, cliffs of fall
may who ne’er hung there let him
watch the movie. The plane’s
supposed to shudder, shoulder on
like this. It’s built to do that. You’re
designed to tremble too. Else break
Higher you climb, trouble in mind
lungs labor, heights hurl vistas
Oxygen hangs ready
overhead. In the event put on
the child’s mask first. Breathe normally
~Adrienne Rich -from Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, 2011 National Book Award Finalist
We just got off a very turbulent flight from Chicago to Seattle due to thunderstorms much of the way, particularly in the northwest. The brief times when there wasn’t shuddering and bouncing and metal trembling were gifts. I could breathe normally for awhile, not gripping the chair arm, gritting my teeth and silently praying.
I’ve become less and less brave about flying. I know all the statistics about safety but they don’t reassure me in the clinch when hanging at 35,000 feet as if on a thin bungee cord.
Now safely on the ground, I wonder about the next flight, and the next. Like the stomach sinking drops that life can inflict unexpectedly, I know there is nothing to be done but endure what is uncertain. I can’t pedal fast enough to keep a plane in the air so I depend on others who build and maintain and fly planes to do that for me. I can’t prevent bad things from happening in life, but I can depend on the truth that goodness will prevail. I must trust solely in grace given as a gift and never earned.
I must put my oxygen mask on first and breathe normally. Then and only then can I help save others.