What’s Your Spirit Bird?

 

I sit at the kitchen table preparing to read the NY Times. I separate the front section from the rest of the paper, and then pause.

I get up, go to the fridge and grab the remains of yesterday’s leftovers.

I turn to the Opinion Pages, my first stop, and scan the titles. My eyes spot an essay by Margaret Renkl.  I’m a fan-boy of Margarets. I see that her piece is titled “Spring is Coming“…well that’s a bit aggressive on January 5th, no Margaret? 

I read on.

“There’s a New Year’s tradition among bird-watchers: The first bird you see on New Year’s Day is your theme bird for the year. Your spirit bird, the bird that sets the tone for your encounters with the world and with others, the bird that guides your heart and your imagination in the coming year. It’s hardly a serious ornithological exploration, but there are plenty of birders who will wake before dawn anyway, no matter how late they stayed up on New Year’s Eve. They will drive off to some wild place teeming with avian life, all to increase the sunrise odds of seeing a truly amazing first bird. Who wouldn’t love to be matched for a year to the spirit of the snowy owl? What a gift to be guided for 12 months by the soul of a Bohemian waxwing!”

I pause.

Yea, OK, it’s January 5th, it’s well beyond New Year’s Day but there’s no reason I can’t find my bird now. I need my spirit bird Now.

I stop nibbling on my sandwich. Get up. Step out the back door, watch, and listen.

Silence.

I wait a few moments longer, in my short sleeve t-shirt, in 38° F temperatures.

Nothing. 

Perhaps some encouragement. Come on Red! Where’s that Red Cardinal? There are four bird feeders in the backyard. All hang on their poles silently. No breeze. They don’t swing. They are Still.

Nothing.

I step back into the house, pull the sliding door closed, and finish up Margaret’s essay.

No Bird. Wonder what that means.

I reach for the remaining quarter of my sandwich, and look down…

Chicken Sandwich…

What a gift to be guided for 12 months by the soul of a Bohemian waxwing!


Photo: Ostdrossel

Big Baby

A rare black rhinoceros calf, born on Dec. 9, is seen with his mother Maisha at a zoo in the Czech city of Dvur Kralove nad Labem. (David Tanecek, wsj.com January 4, 2018). More on the story here.

T.G.I.F. (It’s been a LONG Week!)


Notes:

Lightly Child, Lightly

Goethe’s final words: “More light.” Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that’s been our unifying cry: “More light.” Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlelight. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier’s field. Little tiny flashlight for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and foot-candles. Light is metaphor. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom – Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home – Lead Thou me on! Arise, shine, for thy light has come. Light is knowledge. Light is life. Light is light.”

— Chris Stevens (played by John Corbett), “Northern Exposure” (TV Series 1990-1995)

Notes:

  • Portrait of John Corbett. Quote via Schonwieder
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

True story: One summer, years ago, I went tubing…The sun was blazing, and the water was cool. It was a perfect day to close your eyes and let the current carry you. I was enjoying myself, until we rounded the final bend and saw the parking lot. I leaned back to get my arms in the water and I started to kick and paddle. In a froth of churning water, I passed my mom, my sister, my boyfriend and my brothers, and as I reached the dock, I shouted out, “I won!”

That’s me. All my life, I’ve made lists and set deadlines, never content, or even able, to just glide.

That kind of drive has served me well when aimed at challenges within my control, like writing a novel…I never stopped hoping that if I worked hard enough, wanted it badly enough, I’d finally get the acclaim that I craved…

That did not happen. And my brain, which had propelled me toward so many successes, could not push me past disappointment. Instead of focusing on everything that had gone right, including how lucky I was to make a living as a writer, it got stuck on what had gone wrong. Let’s think about it! my brain suggested, like a Roomba endlessly butting itself into a corner. Let’s think about it a lot. Especially at 3 in the morning. Let’s go over every single choice. Let’s dwell.

I tried yoga. I attempted meditation. Nothing helped. Instead, each spiritual setting and inner-growth-focused class presented new opportunities to compete: I held that pose for longer than anyone in the class. I’m way more Zen than she is. Finally, I remembered reading about how learning something new — creating new neural pathways — was a way to send your thoughts in different directions.

And so, after a 35-year hiatus, I started taking piano lessons again.

I had been an indifferent piano student as a kid…By high school, I had bumped up against the limits of my natural abilities. So I quit. I turned my attention toward activities at which I could excel…


Photo: videvo

To go back home, never more to roam, is my dearest wish of all.

Bob Simon: Is it possible to be socially acceptable to be a teetotaler on this island?

Ailsa Hayes: Yes.

Bob Simon: Are there any?

Ailsa Hayes: Yes. But– I’m not one of them.

Over the years, the island’s people have learned how to entertain themselves, often at gatherings called Ceilidhs which feature traditional dance and sad songs, mostly about leaving Islay and yearning to return.

[Man sings: “To sit with my love on the bridge above the rippling waterfall. To go back home, never more to roam, is my dearest wish of all.”]

If this looks and feels a lot like Ireland, that’s no coincidence. It’s only 25 miles away. They come from the same tribe, share the same Celtic culture and Gaelic language, not to mention a love of good whisky that gets them through stormy weather and the long winter nights.

There are no movie theaters on Islay, no dry cleaners, no supermarket, and no McDonald’s…at least in the fast food business. Jim McEwan says there is a long list of things that Islay doesn’t have…and doesn’t want.

Jim McEwan: We don’t have any crime, we don’t have mugging, carjacking, house breaking, rape, just dope, drugs, we don’t have that. You can keep that. You’re very welcome to it.

Bob Simon: How do you explain the fact that there’s no crime here? There’s crime everywhere else.

Jim McEwan: There is no crime. If you commit a crime in a small community, you’ll be ostracized and have to leave. Not only that, your family, your children and your children’s children will be remembered as the children of the man who committed the crime.

~ Bob Simon, excerpt of an interview on 60 Minutes in a segment titled Whisky Island. Simon visits Islay, a magical place in the Hebrides islands off the coast of Scotland, known for making some of the great single malt scotch whiskies in the world.  Find full report here.

Miracle. All of it. (This Year on Earth)

In 2018,

  • Earth picked up about 40,000 metric tons of interplanetary material, mostly dust, much of it from comets.
  • Earth lost around 96,250 metric tons of hydrogen and helium, the lightest elements, which escaped to outer space.
  • Roughly 505,000 cubic kilometers of water fell on Earth’s surface as rain, snow, or other types of precipitation.
  • Bristlecone pines, which can live for millennia, each gained perhaps a hundredth of an inch in diameter.
  • Countless mayflies came and went.
  • More than one hundred thirty-six million people were born in 2018, and more than fifty-seven million died.
  • Tidal interactions are very slowly increasing the distance between Earth and the moon, which ended 2018 about 3.8 centimeters further apart than they were at the beginning. As a consequence, Earth is now rotating slightly more slowly; the day is a tiny fraction of a second longer.
  • Earth and the sun are also creeping apart, by around 1.5 centimeters per year. Most of the change is due to changes in the sun’s gravitational pull as it converts some of its mass into energy by nuclear fusion.
  • The entire solar system traveled roughly 7.25 billion kilometers in its orbit about the center of the Milky Way. This vast distance, however, is only about 1/230,000,000th of the entire orbit.
  • There were two lunar eclipses and three partial solar eclipses, each a step in the long gravitational dance making up the roughly 18-year saros cycle. During one saros cycle, eclipses with particular characteristics (partial, total, annular) and a specific Earth–Moon–Sun geometry occur in a predictable sequence; at the end, the whole thing starts again. This pattern has been repeating for much longer than humans have been around to see it.

I like knowing these bits of cosmic context because they link me to a larger world. I can echo the words of Ptolemy: “Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.”

Mary Hrovat, from “This Year on Earth” (3 Quarks Daily, December 24, 2018)

Don’t miss the rest of her essay here: This Year on Earth


Notes:

  • Photo: Phys.org.
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Lightly Child, Lightly


Notes:

  • Photo: “The return of cold temperatures helps to create ideal outdoor skating conditions in Freeport, Maine.” (Robert F. Bukaty, AP, wsj.com December 26, 2018)
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Stir the Soul


Notes:

  1. Attendees at Christmas Eve Mass in Surabaya, Indonesia. (Juni Kristwanto, wsj.com December 25, 2018)
  2. A man stands inside a damaged church in the village of Tel Nasri, Syria. (Rodi Said, Reuters, wsj.com December 25, 2018)
  3. An elephant wearing a Santa Claus costume performs for Thai students during Christmas celebrations at Jirasart school in Ayutthaya province north of Bangkok. (Chaiwat Subrasom, wsj.com December 24, 2018)

Merry Christmas!


Photo: Erin Vey (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

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