Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hoping for Death and Roseate Spoonbills

Ever since the BP oil disaster, I have been listening to the news and especially listening to Grandmère Mimi. Add her to your blogroll, if you haven’t already.

By the way: It’s not a “spill” or a “leak.” It’s a full-fledged cataclysmic disaster. No matter how the BP executives or others may want to spin it.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been a hiker, bird-watcher, lover of nature. I used to live in Atlanta, where those lovely habitats were an easy drive from me. Better yet, my Atlanta job let me travel to some of God’s most beautiful areas.

If I could turn back the clock 30 years and re-enter college, I’d pursue a degree that would let me become a park ranger or some similar career as a naturalist.

In my hiking and amateur naturalist avocation, swamps and marshlands have been my favorite habitat. I have spent much time in the ecosystems along the Gulf coast. They are – or used to be – beautiful, delicate, subtle, and unspeakably rich worlds. They were worlds in which I spent time with God, even when I was very far estranged from Church and from God.

I remember spending nearly an hour in the Everglades with a friend and a great blue heron … quietly … just watching the heron be itself. Had I been a churcher then, I would have removed my shoes, knowing I was standing on holy ground. I have seldom had such holy moments. Far from church in those days, I knew I was with Some Holy Thing.

Of course, I didn’t have liturgical language in those days. And I wouldn't have talked about "God" in those moments. The "church" had beat God out of me -- had convinced I was dirty, unworthy, "not fit matter."

Another time, and later, in a “dark night of the soul,” hiking alone in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, I wanted only two things. I wanted to see a roseate spoonbill. And – full of despair, and at the end of my rope – I wanted to die. I intended to realize both on that trip.

In those days, my work took me often to the swamps and glades where one might expect to see roseate spoonbills. But they had eluded me for years. They weren’t present, or they were nesting just beyond the focal length of my binoculars. … So I went again to Ding Darling, hoping to see some roseate spoonbills and plotting my death. I walked and walked, seeing many of the creatures I loved in the habitat I loved. But, of course, yet again … no spoonbills.

It was getting on toward dusk when I heard a call above me and looked up. Though I couldn’t see them clearly, I knew it was a pair of spoonbills.
Photo credit*

I changed course, moving in the direction they were flying. As I walked, I saw more and more pink forms in the evening sky, moving in the same direction.

Pretty soon, I came to the marshy pond where they were landing, and I sat upon the bank. At first, I tried to count them. Ten. Twenty. Forty. A hundred. Wave upon wave of spoonbills came landing in that little pond, in pairs and small groups. I quit counting when it got over 140.
Photo credit*

And they kept coming. Filling the little pond … almost close enough to touch … though I would not have tried to touch them. I sat silent and motionless on the bank … watching them … grateful for that experience … and literally weeping at the beauty and grace that was spread out before me. Though they were simply doing what came naturally – eating at the end of the day – I was transfixed by their beauty and grace. Especially by their beauty. And by the simplicity of their lives: eat, fly, enjoy ... I might now even say "exult." And I was transfixed by that gift that had been given to me – I who had hoped to see one or two spoonbills, now sitting on the waters’ edge with hundreds before me.

In that evening, Nature brought me back to God … after church had beat God out of me.

As I sit here now in flyover country – very far from the lands that I love to walk – all I can do is watch and listen to news of the devastation happening along the Gulf coast. I still remember that evening with the spoonbills, who delivered me from death. And I wonder if we have destroyed that world forever.

* About the photos: I did not have a camera at the events I described here. The photographs I used here are from the Web, with credits.

6 Comments:

OpenID eighthsacrament said...

What a beautiful illustration of God's abundance!

6/29/2010 12:21 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh Lisa! I am so grateful that you saw the spoonbills. And by the hundreds! They saved your life! TBTG.

An egret visited in our back yard yesterday. The bird came nearly up to the patio. That egret or another have been around before, eating bugs off the vines on the fence, but never inside the fence and never so close. We scurried to get Diana in the house before she chased the bird away, and I was able to get photos, which I will post.

In our present catastrophe, it's the afflicted birds that get to me the most. Poor birds.

6/29/2010 6:58 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Elle. It was indeed. Mind you, I'm not much inclined to believe that God intervenes to micromanage the universe, but I certainly received a marvelous gift that evening.

[BTW, God: If you do decide to micromanage, please do so for Kirstin.]

Me, too, Grandmère.
How lucky you are to live in a place where an egret might visit! Would you adopt me? ;-) I'll look for your photos.
Yep, I'm with you: The photos of the animals get to me the most deeply.

6/29/2010 7:26 PM  
Blogger it's margaret said...

Powerful, Lisa. God bless you.

I, too, hope and pray we haven't absolutely blown it....

Love this post.

6/29/2010 9:23 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I take that as high praise, Margaret ... for your blog typically blows me away. Thanks for the kind comment.

6/29/2010 9:29 PM  
Blogger JCF said...

It's way less interesting than a roseate spoonbill, but there's a nesting dove two doors down from my dad's place (where I'm currently living).

I check on her whenever I'm outside (I've already noticed that she nests all day, and takes a break at dusk. Feeding then, I'd guess?)

All of us petroleum-users are going to have to face judgment some day (and whaddaya bet God will appear to us as a Brown Pelican? Or Roseate Spoonbill? Sigh. Lord Have Mercy.)

6/30/2010 12:29 AM  

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