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.

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