Groves of Symbols

“Nature is a temple, where the living

Columns sometimes breathe confusing speech;

Man walks within these groves of symbols, each

Of which regards him as a kindred thing.”

The Flowers of Evil, Charles Baudelaire, trans. by James McGowan

"Fragment of the Last Judgment," detail; by Hieronymus Bosch 1450-1516 BCE

"Fragment of the Last Judgment," detail; by Hieronymus Bosch 1450-1516 CE

Once, walking up the steep steps home, a small pack of ravens seemed to be following me.  They shifted trees, light-poles and rooftops, one of them alighting next to me by a stone wall.  I looked straight at him and wondered at his appearance.  Quick, clever glances darted across me and took me in.  I felt a certain affinity with the fellow, breathing the same air and inhabiting the same mountainside.  And the slight upturn of his beak where it met the jaw, combined with the shining dark eyes that gazed directly at me, gave me a distinct impression of direct communication.

I’ve heard two arguments for this tendency.  The first as many years ago as I worked on a carpentry crew.  One of the journeymen was a Cherokee named Charlie, and one day on the roof of a job site tinkering with a dormer, he looked up suddenly and made a strange high wheezing sound with his lips.  A hawk swooped past us to investigate.  I asked him how he did it, and he showed me- so I proceeded to try and call the hawk again.  It was still nearby circling dinner and when I made the call he came again, swooping down to check out these strange beasts making hawk calls.  I remember Charlie saying to me that I could always get messages from the wild if I knew how to listen.  Everything around us, communicated with us, always has.

Many years later as I mentioned this clever raven smile and the portents it may have held for me, I was called crazy, even egocentric and narcissistic to presume that the wilderness would deign to communicate with the likes of me…that the random behavior of wild birds should not be considered as a lesson taught, or a message transmitted.  It was just chance, circumstance.

There is often a hasty assumption that the wild things around us are monstrous, demonic, or useless to us.  Their behavior is irrelevant to us unless they crap on our cars, fly into our planes or windows, or smear the road with their carcasses.  They are the untouchables of our world, dirty dangerous things that may bite or scratch.  How they speak to us is irrelevant because it is assumed that they have nothing to say.

I for one feel that the messages are there, but not like placards or teleprompters.  It is a much, much more subtle language, where the unbridled freedom and danger of their existence itself can show us a certain perspective, and their peace in being what they are fully and uncompromisingly is a peace that we as people rarely know, even when pretending to.  Sometimes the mystery of the gulf that separates us leaves so much empty space for us to interject our thoughts or conclusions, that it may actually act as a catalyst of sorts for nameless epiphanies or realizations.

And so, thinking that these ravens had a secret, I continued the walk home that morning and recieved a phone call that left me with some personally devastating news.  I almost think that the ravens knew somehow, looking up and seeing one last bird squalking out into the morning air on top of a church steeple.  It reminded me later that morning of a time when a possum skull sat in the middle of my path through the woods many years ago, the time an empty wasp nest appeared on my front porch and I cut it open to find a large female black widow inside, and the time an owl buzzed my head at the top of my driveway.  All of these strangely coincided with significant emotional events in my life.  Maybe in the flat obscured fields of extended memory, they serve as signposts or triggers, symbols of a much larger situation. 

But are they demons, monsters, irrelevant nuisances?  I don’t feel so.  Am I crazy, egotistical, narcissistic?  I don’t feel so.  But I do feel that the idea that we are separate or independent from all other sentient beings is simply an illusion.  And the fact that all existence finds itself in this spot, in this time, brings us all closer together.  We are all in the same boat, seeking food, water, sleep, safety, and we all watch the weather with wary eyes.  And if they ever have something to tell anyone about emotional events, tight situations or powerful changes, the person must be quiet enough, careful enough, open enough, to learn from this life-reflecting mirror.

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One Response to “Groves of Symbols”

  1. Loyd Dillon Says:

    Magnificent writing! This should be published. Your entire blog production should be.

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