I love so many things about birds - I love their feathers. I love how each feather is a different shape, how they all fit together, how they fan out for flying and fold in for resting. I love how birds teach me that life can turn on a very small thing – that a bird can stay warm in the winter for example, with only a thin layer of downy or oily feathers, exactly as they need. I love that the feathers of birds are like the petals of flowers.
I love to watch the swans on Sacchem Pond. Their whole day is out there in the open. They dip their long necks into the mud for tasty morsels. They groom themselves. They compete for their favorite spot with very specific rules about how they do that. They occasionally poke each other. Sometimes they sail, they actually sail, their wings outstretched, rocking stem to stern when they push with their powerful feet. They stretch their necks together. They float and float through the passage of time in a simple, basic day. Their world is defined and known that way, day after night after day, by what the wind will bring through the turning of the sun and the seasons.
My life of course, has more going on, and that has certain advantages. I’m warmer for one thing and I have better food, at least in my opinion. But I don’t know my life the way they do, through utter dependence on nature, with a body perfectly matched to my place in nature, with nothing less and nothing more.
I can still watch the swans and learn that with all my complications, I’m still more like them than I know. I still belong in the day. I’m still defined by the open sky that plays, layer upon layer, with light from the sun and moon and all of the constellations. I can still see it all reflecting / refracting through rain and fog and mist and sea and snow - through all the manifestations of our oldest friend, our ancient, sacred water. I can still trust nature in general and my nature in particular. I can have my own life, and when many things are happening, I can trust that life fits together in many layers and also in beauty, like feathers on a swan.
Today would have been my father's 102nd birthday. He would have loved these swans. My father lived in nature as his mother and father before him, as an old Russian soul, who loved nothing more than to go into the woods and see if he could find some mushrooms. He taught us that nature could feed us with food and also with beauty and wonder. He taught us that we were able - that we could be strong enough and know enough to live in the natural world. Most of all, he taught us to love it, really love it, that everything thing we saw and touched in nature was a gift or a treasure or even something holy. He lived his life that way, tremendously curious, tremendously interested, enthralled with everything he found, and even with all the things that happened in his life, with wars and hardship and illness, I know that he was happy when he was with us and in nature. That pleases me very much.
My mother, who will be 89 this year, has started reading this blog. A few times back, she posted a comment, which I thought was very kind and extremely high tech on her part. My mother says I am my father's daughter, that the way he loved nature is written all over me in everything I do. There are six of us children. (I guess when the youngest of us turns 60 in a couple of years I'll have to stop referring to us as children.) In any case, we live all over the country, but in ways that are always, always deeply connected - to mountains or waterfalls or donkeys or dogs or to gardens or forests or to the ocean. All of us need the natural world and cannot be ourselves without it. That pleases me, too.
With all good wishes and hopes and blessings for each of us and for all of us, now and in the coming year.