Tales from a River Bed

I stood there one morning, the serenity of the surroundings mirrored in my face. There, ahead of me, in the river bed with just a trickle of water making its way to the bay in the west was a snowy white egret. It stood there relishing its solitude. I have never seen them in groups in the riverbed. There are a few of them I spot every once in a while, but never together. Further in the distance stood a great blue heron – also alone, its regal grey neck craning to see I knew not what.

Great blue heron – when this grey beauty flies, one’s spirit soars too

This riverbed is an interesting place. Of late, I notice a little red fox darting quickly especially as the sun sets. How one fox cub managed to make its way into the suburban area so far removed from the hills on the other side of town is beyond me. I’ve seen coyotes up in the hills before, but never a red fox. There are many cats slinking around the river. I’ve seen water rats, geese, ducks, ducklings, deer. One some days, we see sheep grazing there, tended lovingly by a horseman with a cowboy hat who eclectically raises his hand in greeting, “Hola Amigos!” , and his shepherding dogs. 

On warm evenings, I am accompanied by cricket songs, and croaking. I read in a non-fiction book by Peter Wohlleben , The Weather Detective, that crickets only chirp when the temperature is above 54 degrees Fahrenheit. That is most summer evenings in California. 

The squawking of geese, the flapping of small wren-like birds, the beautiful chittering of birds, the blackbirds songs, the swooping of the sparrows, and cawing of ravens as they make their way home are all harmonious against the setting sun. The autumnal equinox is here, which means that the sun sets are getting earlier and earlier. Soon, by the time we are done with our host of meetings, life in the riverbed would have quietened down or is at least not visible.

The more time I spend in corporate worlds, the more I relish the simple pleasures of the creatures in the riverbed. True, they are affected more than we think by our lifestyles and the effects. The river -bed is a sad reminder of global warming. The Earth is hot and thirsty and is forever parched. The ribbon like strand of water is heavily regulated and trickles by not so regularly. The river bed itself is fully grown with reeds and tall grasses, creating the perfect camouflage for all the creatures that seek to make this place home.

A distant palm tree reflected in the river

I think the kind of landscape that you grew up in, it lives with you. I don’t think it’s true of people who’ve grown up in cities so much; you may love a building, but I don’t think that you can love it in the way that you love a tree or a river or the colour of the earth; it’s a different kind of love.

Arundhati Roy

But the river bed never looks the same. A trick of the light, the clouds scattered differently, the moonlight, the houses along the banks, and the creatures therein. There is constant change and yet, a constancy in its charm.

This trail near the new nest has become my own version of The Wind in the Willows. I stroll by there, sometimes yearning for the peek at the crane, or the heron, on other days just to catch a glimpse of the deer. Most days I go expecting nothing but come back fulfilled all the same. Some little thing has always worked its magic, and I come back refreshed.

Our Attention, Our Imagination, Our Opinion

Poetry has seeped into our lives yet again. At times I wonder whether poetry, music and art are all luxuries that only dare to raise their heads when the busyness of our pointless existence relinquish their clutch, or whether poetry, music and art enable us to go about our busyness with joy and acceptance.

Either way, I am simply grateful to experience the effect of these soothers to our lives.

The news can be a whirlpool, not just pulling those who happen to float nearby into its swirl, but also sending a whirlwind to attract those on land. Of late, every week seems to be packed with a year’s worth of news. All of this of course results in an enervating tug of emotions. 

We do not know whether the farm worker in the 17th century had this many opinions he needed to have, or whether the soldier in the Dark Ages had a semblance of control in his fates. All we have experience of, is this time, and this age, when we are being called upon to not just have an opinion, but also to voice them and defend them almost relentlessly. 

How the world clamors for opinions and stands? Having a world leader who takes pride in swirling the world around for his endless rollercoaster is exhausting. This is Gaslighting we are told, that is Egotism. Here we are, endlessly naming, categorizing, instead of just appealing to an inner sense – Yes? Or No? Which is it?

It is also deeply instructive for us as individuals. A lesson on ourselves. How much do we want to dragged into the endless show put on for us; how much do we want to rectify things, solve problems with creativity and resilience; and how much do we want to be pulled here and there, like specks in a whirlwind?

The other day, I saw a heron standing patiently in the shallow waters of a river, waiting patiently. I was out for my evening walk, and I had to stop and admire the heron. The heron was going about its business of living, observing quietly, waiting patiently, and if in the process of being, a wandering soul got a lesson or two out of it, that was good, but that wasn’t its purpose.

I chuckled to myself thinking of what the heron would say to me if I asked it about any of the world’s problems. Would it laugh at me or with me at the problems humans have created for ourselves?

The heron in that moment taught me the simple act of keeping still and untangling the strains of thought. That this isn’t a luxury, but a necessity.

Sometimes, sitting and reading a piece of poetry evokes the same feeling. Take the poem, Yes! No! By Mary Oliver for instance. 

How necessary it is to have opinions!

I think the spotted trout lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I think serenity is not something you just find in the world, like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly, looking at everything and calling out Yes! No!

The swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppyrocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.

How often I have stopped to look at the heron taking a short flight from the river nearby and wondered whether its opinions were sought, and whether it mattered. They should, for our opinions and actions have definitely resulted in less than ideal living conditions for them. 

Mary Oliver in one short sweep of her pen was able to capture all this and more in the poem, Yes! No!

P.S: I love how the swan in her poem wants to live in a nameless pond. Our planet is just that isn’t it? A nameless, priceless habitat that we have bestowed a name upon.

Heron flying
%d bloggers like this: