Stoned on birds
It’s fall. I was thinking today about the few times that I’ve be stoned without use of drugs or alcohol, or any the substances that we usually rely on to blur the line between subject and object. They are, for me, moments that are characterized by other-worldliness and arrested time. I wrote about one occasion here. The other was in the fall. It was my first year of seminary. I was at a park with a girl I was dating. I do not remember the scene as vividly as I wish, but I remember that the early fall sun was still burning, in the clear, orange-red way that it does in the northeast between the months of September and October. It’s beautiful. There is no other weather quite like it. The corn was all harvested. There was only stubble left. The leaves were brown or falling. We were standing in an exposed field. I saw a flock of geese fly by overhead, and then it was like everything froze in time for just an instant. Colors were suffused with another quality altogether which I can not quite explain. I never lost a sense of where I was, but I very simply beheld that the world is a unique, marvelous place. I suppose what was arresting about that experiences was the immediacy of my knowledge of the world as unique and marvelous. I’ve thought, many times, that the world is unique and marvelous. I’ve said it many times. But at that moment uniqueness and marvelous were simply presented to me, without any of the adornment or accoutrement that normally accompanies our knowing.
Now I wonder, why birds? Why are they, for me, bearers of the divine? As I write that, I immediately think about other bird experiences. The cardinal outside my window whose song pierced the heaviness of my depressive fog, and seemed like an angel, as though his voice, sonorous and sweet, was carrying mine and letting me still have a place in the world. The catbirds, whose jazz-like demonstrations I feel in love with as a child. The northern saw-whet owl (known for not being hesitant about letting people approach it) that shared late-night prayer with me in the lamp-lit woods of Grove City College. I never felt so lucky as when I got to see her (or him) fly with ethereal soundlessness. No other animal has the elegant beauty of the great great blue heron, regal in its solipsism. The first time I saw a pileated woodpecker, I nearly fell of the ladder I was standing on. Perhaps it is the rule rather than the exception that birds are for me tokens of a deeper majesty. I do not think I am the only one. Birdwatchers abound. For I long time I was one of them, until I found that the focus on spotting and identifying ran counter to my desire to let the world open itself up to me, rather than demanding knowledge of it. But I know many people for whom an unexpected bird-sighting is news to share, and exciting news at that! I do not think I want to probe too much into why this is case. At least not right now. I’ll simply let it be, and hope that I will be a recipient of the world’s gifts again.