Life and death before our eyes

Take a look at this video that was passed on to me by Al Jessness.

We don’t always see the evidence for it, but Nature does not distinguish between life and death. Both are ongoing, indivisible, a universal duality that is better understood as process than as punishment or reward, beginning or end. I should go further to say that Nature does not admit to opposites of any kind: right or wrong, heaven or hell, pleasure or pain, success or failure. Like time past and time future, they are all one, time present. The great myths, the great religions, all teach this fundamental lesson, though often it is cloaked in mystery and ritual difficult to unwind.

When Al Jesness brought in this video of a great blue heron on its quest for food in the waters of Stony Brook, I was fascinated. First, that he was witness to this moment, had the patience and foresight to keep watching no matter how quiet or still or uneventful it seemed. And second, that he knew enough to train his camera on the scene, as if somehow he recognized its potential for being special or revealing a flash of truth.

It’s as though Al followed the lead of the heron and knew that somewhere within the waters he would be rewarded with nourishment in time. We can learn from the heron, too. What we seek is always there before us, if not at our feet, in the air or in the waters. The heron is fully in the moment. It sees what to others is invisible. Its bearing is graceful and elegant, its stance determined and forthright, not marred by panic or confusion or need so much as guided by experience and a certainty that he will find his mark.

If we are still long enough and willing to observe Nature unencumbered by fear or desire, she will reveal Herself to us. The same can be said of beauty and truth. The video shows us a slice of reality we would miss otherwise. The swallowing of the fish whole seems at first distasteful and ugly, possibly even shocking. But upon a second or third viewing it becomes at once exhilarating and then calming and even beautiful, as though we realize that this is the way life works, that we too will be swallowed some day, and this is both necessary and good. It’s a solemn recognition that we are an integral part of the overall puzzle in which nothing is wasted and no one piece is more important than any other.

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In A Gadda Da Vida

P1120449It’s the smell that first attracts me, and, no doubt, hundreds, if not thousands, of insects on wing. For me it’s an exotic mix of sweet floral bouquet cut by a deep earthy blend of mulch that falls just short of being cloying. On this summer day the odor is irresistible. It must be so for the bees and the butterflies as well. The volunteers from the Norfolk Garden Club have created an oasis within the oasis of the Sanctuary grounds. A living testament to mankind’s need to give order and shape to Nature’s bounty, while at the same time paying homage to her seasonal rhythms and overwhelming beauty.

P1120451In my ignorance I have passed by this spot countless times without ever taking the time to sit, to observe, to breathe. I urge others not to make the same mistake. Today I hear bees before I see them, and then spot a lone white butterfly fluttering about the path as if to find the perfect flower upon which to alight. The breeze is gentle today and the sun is hot, but tempered by cool air coming down from the north.

P1120452What I thought might be wasps are actually several varieties of bees, now attracted to the Common Milkweed, its pink and white flowers literally bursting off its stalks. One can hardly take a breath deep enough, the smell is so intoxicating.

P1120457The path of crushed stone is so artfully laid out that what actually is a closed circle seems a path one could follow to some magical spot in the woods. The benches are inviting, either shaded or in full sun. This is a quiet haven where birds call one another playfully and celebrate summer’s endless fruits. Where children and grownups stroll by, soothed by the deep purple Spiderwort or brought to new life by the radiant pink Cranesbill.

P1120455My attention, however, is caught by the sharp contrast of the Shasta Daisy, white and yellow so proudly understated, and yet bold as it sways back and forth as if to wave at me. Then my eyes wander to the Butterfly Weeds nearby, their tempting orange blossoms eager to burst into flower. And I look down to see Bugle Weed, an understated purple flower tucked beneath the Gayfeather and almost lost to the orange lily with its garish yellow interior blazing, stamens reaching out from the interior, beckoning all lazy serpents into its lair, their black tips brushed with yellow gold.

P1120454Another surprise! A small watering hole has been dug out of rock to quench some foraging visitor’s thirst, and then to draw his gaze to the delicate white clusters of Astibe punctuating the green Hosta and Siberian Iris nestled around it as if to listen to another story.  It’s the balance of color and green, of twist and turn, of quiet and water tumbling over the falls! It’s the rise and fall of the landscape, the illusion of depth, tucked into a slice of larger trees and picnic grounds. It’s the swell of lazy fence rails in contrast to the perfectly manicured garden. The fact that everywhere I look there’s something new to see.

P1120456This is the forest primeval brought into focus for the rest of us. Eden as human nature would have it. Gated and fenced in and yet feeling as though it is wild, attainable and available always if only the opportunity is seized.