I went to the inner ponds of Great Salt Pond and a Great White Egret had come. I watched as she stood waiting in the grasses, and then stretched, and stabbed, and got her long narrow fish for breakfast. Every time. She never failed.
When I watch the birds, I see how perfect they are for all that they have to do. Their eyes, their beaks, their legs, and of course every feather. They open their wings and the feathers just follow, perfectly formed and fit and open and working together. They know what to do, simply by being in their bodies. Should they fish for a living or take up photography? They don’t ask those kinds of questions.
It’s different for us humans. What if a long time ago, someone just built us and dropped us off and said, “We’ll leave you all here on this winter day. All the other animals will have bodies suited to their survival. They will have claws, and strength and speed and teeth and wings. That will be enough for them, but not for you. If you go out in this weather you’ll be dead in no time. So you’ll have to figure it out. Have a nice day, and I’ll be watching to see how you make out. It should be quite a show.”
And it was. It is.
Or maybe we emerged, step by step, changing or being changed in imperceptible ways that added together to make big ways, just like any creative project. Something moved us, chipped away at us, placed us in a merciless world and then worked out in us, a way to survive. We became exactly as smart as our physical weakness required us to be. And as a result, we have options. The egret had her fish but I had my camera and I could get into my car and go home. I could cook my dinner with fresh produce from California.
Whenever I see the birds, I put more faith in my body. I see I must be perfectly built for something. So I ask myself: “What is inherently human? What is mine to do?” And then I make lists. Short list: “To stay alive.” Long list: “To see, to feel, to walk, to speak, to think, to seek and wonder, to love, to learn, to rest and to build.”
So I try to do that, and sometimes I’m surprised. I take pictures I didn’t expect to take. I watch thoughts I never had before make their way onto the page. Things fit together and organize themselves into concepts and patterns, as they just did right here in this unexpected sentence. They unfold like feathers when a bird reaches out with her wings.
Perhaps the same principle that operates in nature also operates in me. Like, nature creates itself in birds by making beaks and feathers; in me through what happens with my hands or in my mind. The egret is so good at getting those fishes. I’d be good at it too if that was all I could do. I think we make a lot more mistakes than birds, because we’re in a different experiment, pushing forward into things that haven’t been done a million times before. If the world changes, it will take my beautiful egret a long time to make a new beak, but all I have to do is make a new idea. This egret can stay in a certain habitat, and only at certain times of year, but I’m so flexible, so generic, I can go anywhere. I’m free as a human, you know?
It makes me happy to make things. Sometimes it feels like, “This is me. Everything I’ve ever learned is here in this creation.” And it might not be the best thing, but it’s true in the sense that it’s authentically from me. Well, it’s from me and from whatever-it-is-that-moves-and-breathes-me. It’s what we have invented in our making dance together. Maybe it won’t be a Thing That Changes Everything, but at least it can join in the vast project of making a world that is constantly being born because everyone and everything is making that happen every minute all day long.
I know we have problems, and it’s hard to imagine what the solutions will be, but I think it is very human to solve problems, and we’re not alone in this, not alone at all, and the best solutions seem to come out of nowhere, and necessity calls them out, and I think that all of nature is behind us in this, being perfect like she always is, and because there is such need, specifically because of that need, there is no telling what will happen now.