Wild Life Sanctuary

Winter arrived, with a blast, overnight, and the view from my morning window is suddenly filled with shivering leaves on the winter-dressed oak and a dusting of white on the field. The force of the gusts on the house causes the windows to rattle and the bones of the house to creak, while outside flurries of snow swirl, like so many dervishes, their white skirts spinning, defying gravity’s pull. Following them, my gaze is drawn to the far ridge, its black silhouette beneath the blanket of gray, and I wonder if the geese have retreated beyond, for a few days, just a little ways to the south.

‘Dónde. Dónde. Dónde’….’Where? Where? Where?’…. I have been taught to hear their call like this. I wonder what it is like to have such wings as those, to follow one’s instinctual pulls and tugs, to pick up and move when the weather outside becomes too oppressive.

I have been following my own instinctual call of sorts these days- to be near them. Last evening, at twilight, I drove to the wildlife sanctuary 20 miles east of where I live. It’s the 3rd time I visited this week. I needed to be there at day’s end. I sensed that they would also require that, that sun’s fall would be a time of incoming, of gathering.

My sense was accurate.

They’ve been flying over my house in increasing numbers and frequency all week. Early arrivals or winter residents, I can’t say, but I like that they pass my way. Singing, calling, crying, seeking, whichever interpretation of their vocalization I discern matters not, I just need to hear them.

They remind me to pause.

To listen.

They also remind me to find my own voice. To send forth my own summons, or song, to let it be carried by breath, like the wind. I note that this particular winter I’ve lost my voice 3 times. Now what’s that about? I know I stopped singing once long ago, fearful of the attention it drew, but also, if I am honest, just as fearful, when I heard other voices more beautiful than mine, that my particular song wasn’t quite good enough. My introverted silent nature perhaps became a too-convenient path.

I remember reading a book as a child, The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White, about a trumpeter swan who was mute and his quest to find his voice. I was not an avid reader at all back then, and this was not one of his better known books, but I was drawn to it for some reason…..This week, there was a young lad at the library during yoga, and while we were behind the screen practicing ‘corpse pose’, he was on the other side roaring like a lion. I was so drawn to the power contained and expressed in his vocalizations as I lay on my side of the curtain being quiet.

Arriving at dusk at the lake, I pulled my car to the side of the road. The last mile or so the fog had become dense and now I was blanketed in it. So were the geese. There had been a small flock  that I had paralleled enroute to the lake, but they too had disappeared into the fog. I thought for a moment that I’d come all this way to see nothing. But then I rolled down my window.

‘Aquí. Aquí. Aquí’, a cacophony of welcome surrounding me. Billows of cloud held bellowing geese, ‘Here we are. Here we are. Here we are! Welcome home! Here is the water. Here is the water. Right here. Here we are. You belong here. Here with us. Here with us. Come.’ Like those disembodied voices in a dream, they offered deep welcome and comfort.

I could not discern a single being, not one wing nor bill in the dusky veil, could not distinguish the low lying fog from the great flocks of white on the water. Sitting in my car next to the water, the windows rolled down, I let their voices enter, envelop, fill me. I breathed in their welcome. I breathed in their song.

Embraced by the ensuing dark, perhaps I need not a clear distinct vision in order to know the way. Once again comes this call to listen- listen for the beckoning call, beneath the fog, within the cloud of unknowing. Come into the dark, down to the water.

I recall how it was all the years ago (well, it was perhaps only 10 or 11 though it feels like a lifetime ago), another mid-winter summons that I couldn’t ignore. Each morning, for those six weeks of prayer, which turned into a lifetime, I’d drive to the chapel to sit in the silence. Then, like today, I didn’t know what I was ‘doing’, had no techniques given nor instructions to follow on how to be there. I just was. I went because there was something in the silence that drew me to it, something of enormous comfort, of great power and deep safety. That was a different kind of sanctuary. What was I listening for then? Help, I suppose, along with some quieting of the chaos that was my life. Finding the Deep Silence beneath the surface noise.

This drive feels in some ways much the same. I just need to be there, somehow, with the birds, in the silence and sound, listening. What am I listening for this time? I can’t really say. Oh, I suppose that I could, but I don’t need, nor desire, to make it so small as to fit into words. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Clarissa speaks of needing some fire, by which to see in the dark. As I sit listening to the wind this morning, I am reminded of that Phoenix again. Perhaps some wind is required to stir up these embers, to inspire me to follow this call, to create a new life. Jean Shinoda Bolen speaks of Hestia’s hearth, around whose sacred fire we gather not only for warmth and for nurture, but also for sanctuary and light. Light to see in the dark. As woman moves from being the center of other’s lives to finding her own center, she needs such a hearth-within in order to warm herself, to shed light on herself, around which the diverse aspects of herself can gather.

Clarissa also advises that meditation, prayer, is not at all about becoming quiescent but about becoming enlivened. It is an aligning practice that sets one rightly into the heart and soul of one’s being, into the seat of one’s creativity and passion. It is about tending the fire, after all.

And so it is perhaps good-and so very right- that I am drawn to a new kind of sanctuary, a welcoming-home sanctuary that invites both spirit and song. Soul and substance. Essence and form. A Wild Life Sanctuary whose invitation is not to become more quiet at all, but makes some space to welcome my voice home. A sanctuary for me, that is about becoming silent enough- not to notice the sound of vacated space but to discern the homing call- and still enough to open the windows to welcome the fullness of song.

swimming for altheda

Swimming for Altheda

She had wanted to come on the trip again this year, signed up as soon as the ad went to print, but something needful had come up for someone she loved and she had had to withdraw with regret. She promised herself to find a place to swim though. The swimming had been life-giving for her, like re-entering the waters of the womb then climbing back onto land, a new being. I admired her wisdom and grace, her fearlessness, her integrity, her intact sense of herself.  I wanted to honor that in some way and perhaps glimpse something of Herself in myself the way I suspected she had……..

As we entered the week this year, on the eve of our journey, I imagined Turtle again. I saw her climbing over the edge of the bank and into the water the way she had appeared to me on retreat back in May. I’ve so wanted to know what that feels like, following that instinctual call to return to the water. I’ve wanted to trust the homing instinct that calls me from what is familiar to some distant shore, faintly recalled, the place where I’ll lay my eggs.

I have been challenged this week to re-member myself.  I’ve so often heard from Turtle that this was her lesson to me…. to always take my ‘home’ along with me, inside of me, to never leave parts of myself behind.  And this has been my spiritual practice, sometimes successful, often not, throughout these years, to re-member myself, but I’ve struggled mightily this week with it.

I do want to trust myself. I want to taste something of that fearless grace in me, which I project onto others. I want to get into the water.

Last evening, on a paddle across the lake to stash our food barrels away from camp, I dipped my fingers into water, surprisingly warm.  Relative to the blustery air and rain temperatures, the lake beckoned like a bath. Still, I was afraid to get chilled and be unable then to warm myself once back on ‘dry’ land. It was too late.

Much later, as clouds disappeared and stars re-appeared, and temperatures plunged even further, we gathered next to the water’s edge to howl for the wolves.  Perhaps it was the howling that stirred something in me then, something wild and free, inspired by the unconstrained and exuberant expiration of breath, the great release that carried our howling to some distant shore.  Indeed, once upon a time, a wise woman, hearing my story and my deep desire to get into the flow, to follow the unseen currents that I felt summoning me, noted that the word ‘flow’ spelled backwards is ‘wolf’.  Inspiration-expiration both are required for breathing- and for thriving. Nourishment and elimination.  Fierceness and peace.

Perhaps then this was the meaning of the howl of my dream last night, the one that awakened me and everyone else in camp. Perhaps it was both a finding my voice and pushing fiercely away  that which desires to control and silence me, to keep me out of my life’s natural flow.

Today has been a delightful day, a day which began along the shore of the lake, watching the mists hover over the waters like the breath of the Divine, a day which began with our prayerful intention to invite and allow the vast and deep waters of our bodies to be hovered o’er and breathed upon in such a way, to be blessed as good, to be aroused into giving birth.

Fall afresh on me.

I returned to camp this afternoon following a beauty-filled day of paddling and communing, full of energy and desire. It is time to swim. I strip down in my tent, the first time I’ve been comfortable enough to be fully naked since arriving, pull on the swimsuit I had stuffed in the bottom of my pack, and walk some distance away from the others to a secluded spot down the shoreline, to the lagoon beyond the downed tree. The spot seems to invite me in some way, as if teeming with life itself. Nearing the water’s edge, I frighten several frogs into the lake, before wading in myself.

I utter a brief prayer, dedicating my swim to Altheda. ‘This is for you’, I whisper. But I know it’s for me too.  There is something  here I want to claim. There is something here I want to know. Something I want to enter into, be a part of – Life itself seems to be beckoning.  I feel grace-full in a way that is rare for me as I take long strides through the shallows, my feet sinking in with each footfall. I imagine the seasons of life that have formed the soft, yielding layers of nourishment for the reeds that grow here.  I envision the walls of wombs and placentas….

It is a gradual descent and I am far from shore when my thighs first touch the cold wetness. ‘I wonder if you’ll turn back now’ my doubt teases me. But I simply carry it along, ‘We can do this’, and I sink to my knees in the silt.  Being on my knees has not been a place of healing for me in the past, to say the least, but  there is something organic about being on my knees in the water, as if I am rooting myself –rooting myself in the rich, decayed, nutrient rich matter of my life. My arms float out from my body, buoyant and willowy, like lillypad fronds; my fingers  like so many tendrils.

I lie back, turn my face toward the Great Hovering overhead, as my hair billows beneath me, and my arms, seemingly of their accord, continue their sinuous dance. Closing my eyes, I hear the whooshing sound of ancient waters, the thrum of my heartbeat, womblike-reverberations, and  I cannot tell which sounds come from inside of me. I am the water. The water is me.

The song rises in me, ‘Spirit of the Living God, Fall afresh on me’.  I hear my voice rich, sonorous, resonant in the water, though I am singing, humming quite softly. I am perhaps intoning an invitation, for I am truly beseeching blessing. But much more than that, this is, in truth, a song of seduction for I am deeply desiring to be inseminated. Impregnated.  I want to give birth.

I bask in the closeness of the clouds overhead, ancient grays upon gray, waters that have encircled and penetrated this beautiful earth, been contained and released by animal and plant and soil. Wise waters -in which I also swim and which also swim in me.  Waters that give bathe and give birth.

I recall Altheda, how she said the waters for her were like reentering the womb to be born again. I imagine the turtle bearing her eggs through oceans of time, to emerge on some distant shore in new life.  I pray that these waters bless me.

I return to my knees, regain my feet, stride back to the water’s edge, but I am not cold. I am not cold at all.

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