I’ve been on a writers’ retreat these past few days, staying with an old friend on the hill above Homer. And I’ve also felt like the guest of a flock of Sandhill cranes who migrate here for summers. These tall, elegant, rust-colored birds have delighted me as they stalked the yard, flew past the large plate glass windows that face Kachemak Bay, and wobbled in for a landing in the clearing in front of the house. I’ve listened to their garbly call to one another and watched them take off with a odd beat of their wings. When they stop, they sometimes balance on one leg, standing motionless and serene. But most often, they move deliberately, looking down in the grass, craning their necks to find food, stepping carefully forward as if placing each foot upon sacred ground.
Sandhill cranes have long been venerated in the realm of spirit. They call forth a regal sense of mystery and in some traditions, they are thought to be the guardian between this world and the next. They are also associated with intuition, creativity and a sense of balance. One source describes their message to us as, “You know what is best for you–do it.”
In February, I had known what was best for me was to take a rest for my soul. I’ve come on this sabbatical seeking a balance between listening and speaking my voice. This meant in part to return to my writing. I know I need to do this as well. Not out of obligation, but in the free sense of birds flying, testing the air, looking for new territory– and also with some wobbly landings. Perfection never saved anyone in the end. It mires the journey with impossible expectations and predetermined endings. I think I have often sacrificed being true to being perfect in my writing–perfect in the sense that somehow my writing will please everyone who reads it. I see the insanity in setting that bar and yet I allowed it to block me from going forward.
The cranes have been true companions with me as I dedicate myself to writing in an unencumbered way. Words are a a mystery in the way that, although they are what they are, they can be perceived in so many ways beyond what I may have meant. They are vehicles to opening the door to the inner world of our unique way of perceiving the world…and why. I place words carefully on the page, like the birds stepping along on the grass, realizing they are sacred in what they may invoke, And I struggle with the balance of saying what is true for me without harm to another. Yet I can’t determine that outcome. As the writer, Anthony Doerr said, “Once the text is out, the author is dead.” The words are no longer mine. They go as fodder for the world.
I leave tomorrow to return home where I have different wild creatures that walk in my yard, but the sandhill cranes will stay with me. Reminding me of persistence, of trusting my intuition and of guarding what is sacred in my writing.
It’s raining but the house is in sunshine and a rainbow arcs across the window to the east. In seeming impossibility, there is also potential to listen deeply within for the words that want to be spoken.