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Whales and Starlings

Excerpt from my upcoming book, Letters From the Hedge.

Dear Reader,

Today a deep and aching tiredness spreads through my bones and settles heavily on my eyelids. The sky is thick and gray. My heart is aching in the temple of my chest. A deep ocean of grief laps against the shore of my consciousness. I know this ocean well, and I have spent years of my life in the grip of its icy black depths.

Here is the shipwreck of my early childhood dreams. Here is the giant gleaming white skeleton of what I believed was true about humanity. Here is the barnacle covered wreckage of who I was before I knew betrayal.

Before I visited these abandoned places intentionally, they would reveal themselves in my dreams. Many years ago I dreamed of a moonlit beach where a wooden sailing ship had been deposited by the sea. I venture into the broken hull to find it filled with my childhood toys and treasures. An eerie soft white light, moonlight, enters through the cracks in the ship as the only light I have to see by. This ship is haunted by the lost and abandoned parts of me. The sea has brought them home to be seen, sifted and sorted. It is my duty to give them proper homage, and to grieve them.

Today the ocean is filled with living, singing whales. It is not offering me death and wreckage, but life and hope. This is almost harder for me to bear. The invitation to dream, to imagine, to find community with these enormous sentient beings with whom we share this Earth, offers a jarring reality. I am real. I am here. I am alive. My life does not belong in the depths of loss and grief. I have survived. Life still burns through this clay vessel loaned to me by the Mother herself. How shall I spend this borrowed life? This treasured incarnation? Will I spend it staring into the bleakness of what has been taken, and what will undeniably be taken? Or will I spend it dreaming? Living? Tasting? Dancing? Singing?

Somehow, it is harder for me to receive the beauty and the miracle of it all. It fills me with a sensation very much like grief. Is this because we do not see it? Because we desecrate this holiness with almost every choice we make? Because we stumble blindly through a field of pure miraculous beauty while leaving a wake of destruction? Is it easier to focus on the destruction, rather than to allow myself to be touched by the tremendous beauty that remains? Is it safer to grieve the losses than to give my energy to hope?

As I hold these questions, my attention is pulled out the window. The starlings have come. There are thousands of them, coming in waves. They move through here every spring and fall, feasting on cedar berries. These European native birds, brought here by our immigrant ancestors, have flourished all over the world in huge numbers. Called drudwy in Welsh, the starling was the messenger of Branwen when she was held captive by Matholwch, King of Ireland. In the second branch of the Mabinogi, the story is told of Branwen teaching the starling to carry her message back to her brother Bran in Wales, who then comes to rescue her from torture and abuse at the hands of the Irish King.

Her rescue comes at a great price. A war is waged between Wales and Ireland, leaving very few survivors. Branwen, though rescued, dies of grief for all of the destruction and suffering her rescue caused her people.

Even though she survived, she could not find hope. Even though her life was saved, at a great price, she was drowned in her grief.

As I listen to the starlings, I sense that they are still carrying Branwen’s message. If our efforts to survive cost us so much destruction, so much death, how can we live with our grief? If our technologies of survival wage a war on the very creatures to whom we are bound as kin, if our pesticides destroy them and our earth moving destroys their homes, and we are left in a sterile world of few survivors, will it be a world worth living in?

Is there another way? Is there a way to be rescued from our fate without war and destruction? Perhaps the starlings themselves carry the key. A murmuration of starlings moves as one organism. They share a collective will, vision and destination. They move swiftly and easily around obstacles and evade predators. If we humans can gather a collective will to move toward beauty, toward relationship, to allow ourselves to hope and create and dream, could we leave war and destruction behind? Can we birth another way?

I can hear the starlings chattering about a new world. I can feel the whales sending their dreams of community and cooperation. I know that things look bleak, and much has been lost already, but not all has been lost. Hope remains. I choose to dwell with the starlings and the whales, in the dreaming of a new world. Will you join me?

From the Shore,



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