It was a beautiful day and I savored some very sweet memories. Two days ago a little toddler (whom I’d never met) burst away from his father and raced directly toward me, and just as I knelt, leapt into my arms and hugged me, fiercely, as if he never wanted to let go. It was a profoundly moving gift. Since then, some physical and heart memories kicked in big time, reminding me of a very similar race of someone to greet me from around a counter and “never let me go” hugs in my recent past. Those hugs were also most meaningful, heart-lifting gifts.
I have come to learn that when a big part of what you consider your “identity” is wrapped within helping or being of service to others, and this is further enhanced by an upbringing that emphasized (in a positive and good way) that communal support for anyone is what one simply does, it becomes a fairly potent aspect of your being. In this year of following my heart, I’ve gone through some powerful emotional challenges and feel potential future changes in my life. Among other explorations, I decided to get my astrological charts read as well. I had two different folks read them. Each knew different things about my life, however both came to very similar conclusions, and without getting into the many details, prominent among these was I define my sense of purpose by being in service to others.
Couple all this with being involved with someone who joyfully shared many values and interests, and was at a place in need of support, and the unexpected ending of that relationship really rattled my sense of self. Hence, the great appeal of my literal and symbolic relinquishing of control via the floats in the local Roanoke River. The river time had an immediately heartfelt attraction, and I loved being utterly immersed within the water’s ecosystem. It reconnects me to the strong bonds I’ve always felt I feel in the non-human made world. Time outdoors renews my being. From the time I was a self-conscious teen, being in nature was the most comfortable and comforting experience. It remains a balm; a way of centering without thinking.
In tandem with this awareness, I’ve been consciously trying to pay extra attention, and, however one wishes to define it “listen” to this non-human world: the critters, trees, river, flowers, warming sunshine, the slippery mossy rocks, the birdsongs, leaf smells, cool breezes, the whole scene — whatever parts may “speak” to me in a given moment. I liken it to what I have come to believe many non-writing cultures “tune in” to for wisdom and guidance, which I label “other ways of knowing.” It makes complete sense to me since we ARE entirely integrated parts of this vast whole. I think of it as an intelligence that comes via other forms of energy our culture barely acknowledges, and really struggles to articulate or identify. I feel our science has simply not quite caught up to validating it, but suspect one day it will.
My river floats have become my own form of meditation. So during the last 36 hours, as I felt some heart strings being tugged a little, I again “put it out there” to accept what is now, and that i was open to embrace whatever might come. This was somewhat in my mind this evening entering the cool water on yet another warm end of September day. Straight away I saw a few monarchs, and immediately felt both awed and led. They seemed to hover near the banks every few hundred feet, occasionally swinging out toward me and gliding in smooth arcs above me for a bit, then returning to the bank foliage, no doubt in search of food supplies.
The first furry critter I noticed was a fat ground hog, laying atop some rocks along the bank. I actually thought maybe it was sick because it barely moved when I paddled closer. However, when it finally heard my light splashing, it slightly lifted it’s slumbering head toward me, and comically looked with one eye half closed, reminding me of my old Uncle Joe when Aunt Stella used to nudge him and interrupt his nap when he was snoring away in the Lazyboy. The evening shade had begun to cool the banks and he was enjoying a nap on the rocks which were undoubtedly still warm from the sunny day. Just a few moments down, I came across a brighter, more colorful groundhog, (perhaps “Aunt Stella”) nimbly ambling across several boulders in search of fresh green stalks near the water.
I cascaded carefully over some falls, as the water level is very low right now and rock hazards are everywhere. I have two patches on the tube I was using (four on another one), plus bruised human bottoms are no fun to acquire. Crossing the falls and drifting just beyond the walking bridge, I saw a doe. I had heard deer several times on other floats, and they always disappeared before coming into sight with a flurry of unmistakable twig-snapping noises as they dashed up the woody banks. She saw me (likely heard and smelled me long before) and warily continued sipping from the river. As I very carefully came near, she watched, cautious and on alert. I took a deep breath and let her decide. Internally I said hello, and thought how we all have fears inside that make us want to run. Externally I acknowledged her as I held my place against the currents by clutching some rocks. She sipped more, stayed and watched. I slowly and steadily maneuvered my tube cross-current toward her, very conscious of her fear. She watched. I spoke in a soft voice, she stopped, looked me square in the eye, and then sipped again. I came within about 12 feet, held still a bit, admired her lean flanks as she took me in, then after a few moments I let go and allowed the flow to carry me onward. She never fled.
Almost immediately I saw the magnificent Great Blue heron standing atop a rock near the river’s center. It too saw me (it always spots me right away from afar) but this time it stood, apparently more comfortable, possibly because of the trust of the deer. I slowly drifted in its direction. Coming within about 30 feet, far closer than normal. My hand splashed to avoid spinning on a rock, and off it flew, with a burst of its amazing broad wings. Rather than alight in a distant tree or around the bend of the river as usual, it went only a short way to the near bank. The currents carried me toward it, and as I approached this time it graciously held still as it pointed its penetrating gaze at me. I took in the shear beauty of this stunning creature: The slate blue colors, those all-seeing yellow iris eyes, the glamorous tufts on the feather tips, that elegantly powerful neck. We came within 15 feet (!) of each other, very rare for this species. I felt in the instant after, as I floated on, that it was offering me its presence as a gift.
More monarchs. Then the female black crowned night heron, who patiently stood on the bank as I slipped by. Then soon after, that small flock of robins I’ve encountered for the last week were busy on their usual pebbled bank, poking for food and squabbling as they chased each other on foot and wing. A few swallows treated me to some zipping aerobatics. And once again at the end of my float, there were several monarchs, all carefully spaced apart! I had the sudden impression they were guide lights and the river was a runway, and I was taking flight.
As I walked from the river, I wondered about the heron — that “cautious, wise, noticing all, makes its own way” creature. I also considered the delicate mindset with which I had approached the normally skittish deer. I thought about how I might learn to better sense my own insecurities, and also apply a more sensitive, less selfish, less impatient approach in supporting the people for whom I care. I followed a solo monarch toward my home.