ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

After AROHO and before the Wedding: The Devotion of a Red Tailed Hawk

Twelve hundred years ago (give or take a few) the Chinese poet Li Po wrote a poem with images of a canyon, a path, a creek and an impossible valley, newborn clouds rising over open rock, and guests coming into wildflowers. "I'm still lingering on," Li Po wrote, "my climb unfinished."  This poem found its way to John and me on Saturday, our wedding day, written inside a Georgia O'Keeffe card.  Our guests, too, wandered up a mountain path where wildflowers bloomed. 

Just days before the wedding, I had spent a week at Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.  The week-long gathering, the 2013 women's writing retreat hosted by A Room of Her Own Foundation (AROHO), was filled with powerful stories, shared by a few dozen of the nearly 100 inspiring women who attended. Janet Fitch, author of Oprah's Book Club novel White Oleander, (featured here holding a watercolor of one of the well-known red bluffs), advised us during her keynote to: "Live like a poet. Walk around like a poet. Slow down, wander around. Be a little bit more amazed at what you see around you. 

"You don't have to be the beauty," Janet went on to tell us. "Go out and seek the miraculous and you will catch the beauty."

I drove home through the back roads of New Mexico and Colorado exhilarated and inspired by the other women, but exhausted from doing five book consults and giving a Mind Stretch Presentation, "Inhabiting Our Stories: the Landscape of Writing and Nature." I always over-prepare and this event was no different.  I had spent days thinking about the presentation, and literally hours selecting just the right assortment of mementos gathered from nature over the years - bones, feathers, artifacts, fossils - and re-gathering the stories that went with them. 

"How can knowing more intimately the physical world where the
outer story of our lives takes place," I asked the women, "help us to more fully inhabit our inner landscapes?  If the wind and rain and sun shape the landscape of the earth, what gives our stories shape?  What tracks do we leave behind?" 

As I held the objects up and passed them around for the women to hold, I relived each story - the death of my mare Romie, the old cow who tried to help her crippled old friend rise so she could nurse her newborn calf, the porcupine who danced at dusk beneath the bur oak tree.  These stories live inside me, containers that hold both sorrow and joy, most of them from my previous life on our Wyoming ranch.  But not all of them.  Some of them are stories of a life in transition.  And new stories continue to be born.

As I drove home from Ghost Ranch, with less than three days to prepare for my marriage to John, before family began arriving from out of state, my heart was filled with an overwhelming gratitude for the past, and an overwhelming sense of the richness of the future.  I thought of Janet's words:  "Go out and seek the miraculous and you will catch the beauty."

It was then that I saw, as I sped past, the body of the red tailed hawk lying broken on the edge of the highway.  And overhead, circling, crying, the mate - another red tail soaring above, looking down, not understanding why its mate did not answer, did not lift its wings and rise from the pavement, did not fly in tandem to the nest where they had raised their young.  I thought of a documentary John and I had watched together a few months earlier about the red tailed hawk, Pale Male, his miraculous fidelity to place (a balcony in New York City), and his utter devotion to one mate after another, how he had outlived all of them. 

I pulled over to the side of the road, backed up, and got out of the car.  The hawk's body was still warm, the breast feathers fluffed, the feet and claws soft and flexible as I tucked a finger into their grip.  Overhead, the mate circled, calling out.  I said a small prayer, asking permission to pluck a few feathers.  Back inside the car, I cried, and could not stop.  All the emotions of the weekend, all the stories within each bone, all the old memories and all the new beginnings - all seemed to be embodied in the story of those two hawks - the broken and bereft one, and the soaring one, still hopeful, still with the wind beneath its wings.

And now I think of the words of Li Po, written more than twelve hundred years ago.  "I'm still lingering on, my climb unfinished," he wrote. 

How never-ending are the lessons of Nature.  How much I have yet to learn - about fidelity and love, about devotion and apprenticeship.  Perhaps for now, though, it is enough to simply come to the wildflowers, like the butterfly or the bee, like Li Po coming to his beloved poems, again and again.

Read more of Li Po in Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China.  See a few of Page and John's wedding photos on Facebook. 

10 comments:

Petunia said...

Page, this post is beautiful, heartbreaking, and inspiring. I never cease to be touched by the eloquence and tenderness of your writing. Congratulations to you and John, and here's to continuing your climb together! -Erin

Sharon Corsaro said...

Just beautiful writing full of emotion Page, thank you! ... and so many heartfelt good wishes to you and John... I had no idea before, that you were not already married... saw your pics and what a beautiful celebration it appears you all made... big, big heart to you both for a life full of love and joy together! my very best, to you ~ Sharon

Dawn Wink said...

Simply stunning, Page. Gorgeous. Thank you.

Lesley PK said...

I have lived upon and walked among the sandlands and cliffs of the Ghost Ranch country for more than 3 decades and yet your words shifted my gaze this morning and I saw my familiar world with new eyes. Thank you, Page, for sharing this road of beauty and poetry.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Page,

crying with you. Beautiful post, beautiful mirroring and metaphors and ways you carry the hawk's story forward.

Your careful work and preparation showed in your presentation this year--loved it. I did the same sort of prep for a mindstretch for the retreat 2 years prior, and was grateful this time to "just teach" so I was better able to drop down, ground, and enjoy more "retreat." Loved being part of this group either way and coming to know you.

Priscilla said...

So moving, Page. This brought tears to my eyes. What a tender thing to have happen--and on the eve of your wedding! Thanks for writing so tenderly about it. Here's to a long and happy life together for you and your beloved!

Deb O'Connor said...

Dear Page,

Your new blog piece is so beautifully felt and written. And . . . o my God . . . you're married !!!!!! I can't tell you how much joy I feel for you and John. You are surely traveling by way of light and love.

Deb

Cheryl Charles said...

Hi Page and John:

I am thrilled that you two are together, and that you have celebrated your wedding for others to share!

And Page, I was deeply touched by the story of the red tail hawk pair in the new blog.

Love and blessings to you, with deep respect and affection,
Cheryl

Gail Storey said...

Page, you continually inspire me with your profound sense of the heartbreaking beauty and beautiful heartbreak in the natural world, and your amazing talent for sharing it through your writing. My heart is broken open by this story of the red-tailed hawks. And best wishes to you and John for a long and deeply happy life as wife and husband.

Page Lambert said...

Gail, thank you for your comment - I so appreciate the time you take to read and comment on my occasional postings. My heart was broken open, too, by the red-tails. And perhaps that's a good thing ... to be reminded on the eve of my marriage about devotion and love.

Page