No, I wasn’t having a seizure. A flock of goldfinches chased each other from tree to tree, pausing briefly, little bursts of color, zipping here and there. Such beauty! All thought ceased. I became all eye, all ear, all here.
And just as unexpectedly, a great blue heron rose from behind the brush beside the creek, its huge wings whisking and beating the silent air. Moving upstream to a less disturbing spot to fish. The smile spread ear to ear.
As I continued, at least a dozen goldfinches, high in the newly budding branches, set up a “musical battle,” as Mary Oliver describes it in her poem “Invitation” (Red Bird, 2008), striving “melodiously . . . for sheer delight and gratitude.” I’d never seen so many in one place before.
What were they saying? “It is a serious thing / just to be alive / on this fresh morning / in this broken world.” Yes, I thought. It is.
Their song, their dazzling flight is an invitation, the poet adds: “Do not walk by / without pausing / to attend to this / rather ridiculous performance. / It could mean something. / It could mean everything.” Yes, I thought. It does.
Awake now, I strolled on down to the edge of the lake, reeds rising, filled with red-winged blackbirds, calling to one another. Out on the waves, a cold breeze rippling the water, the slender black-and-white periscopes of Western Grebes, newly arrived, turned this way and that. Disappearing stem to stern beneath the lake’s green surface, torpedoing unsuspecting fish.
Shortly, it began to snow. Light flakes, a shower of petals from the dark sky.
So much beauty, I thought. Just waiting out the door. Flashing, flitting, fishing and falling beneath the heavy clouds of cognition. Calling us back to nature. To our true nature—not separate from, but an intimate part of the earth itself, our true home.
“Nature is our home,” writes Piero Ferrucci in Beauty and the Soul (2009). “To go back to it is to get in touch again with ourselves, to rediscover what we are made of.”
This morning, for a few minutes along the creek and by the lakeside, I was made of air and cloud, birdsong and branches, green buds and damp soil. I had wings, and roots.
I understood what an 11th century Chinese official meant when he posted this inscription on his wall, to remind himself daily: “Heaven is my father and earth is my mother. And even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in its midst. That which extends throughout the universe, I regard as my body. And that which directs the universe, I regard as my nature. All things are my companion, and all people are my brothers and sisters.” (Earth Prayers, E. Roberts and E. Amidon, eds., 1991)
This, I thought once again, is the religion and poetry of nature. Startled by beauty, I returned home. Glad to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.
For now. If only for now.
—Jay E. Valusek