Friday, October 31, 2014

Of Books, Leopards and Birds

The Snow Leopard is Peter Matthiessen's story of a 1973 epic trip to Nepal with field biologist George Schaller. They were going to study Himalayan blue sheep and, if possible, catch a glimpse of a snow leopard. Matthiessen was studying Zen Buddhism. Trekking across mountains in winter snows for five weeks, he also hoped to find the Lama of Shey at a Buddhist Shrine on Crystal Mountain. So it was a spiritual quest for him as well. His wife died the previous winter of cancer. He had some shit going on.

The Snow Leopard is also a book I didn't finish. I got 80 pages in, dug the hell out of it, and chased some tangential SQUIRREL! thought and haven't gotten back around to it. And yet Matthiessen is a rock for me. I've read essays, I've read about him, he and Gary Snyder are the models of the kind of writing life I aspire to live. Not that I can write like they can, but that they experience the great and full lives they write about. Matthiessen died earlier this year. If you don't know him, Men's Journal did a phenomenal story about him that is well worth your time to get a sense for one of the truly great writers of our time. More on Matthiessen and his snow leopard in a bit.

Herons are a spirit animal for me. A totem. That's about the best way I can put it. We've been over it on here a few times. Seeing a heron in flight or on the river both calms and inspires me. Seeing one while out on a run gives me instant energy. It's weird, but it's there. I have a heron tattoo on my right forearm both to acknowledge my connection to and fascination with herons, but also, selfishly, so I can look at one whenever I need to.

I was recently talking herons with a friend, who pointed me to Ted Andrews book "Animal Speak." Among other things, Andrews goes into characteristics of different birds and the people who are drawn to or connected to them. When I read what he had to say on herons, I was a bit dumbstruck.

In places, he describes my personality, my life, and how I operate, when I listen to my heart. It's pretty intense stuff to read someone closely describe you based on an animal you feel connected to. Herons are the big, integral bird for me, but this spring and summer, I noticed I was being seemingly stalked by cardinals when I would go for a run. Andrews says that cardinals pop into our lives to point us to "renewed vitality through recognizing self-importance." He goes into more, but during that time, and what I was going through, that was a pretty big message.

Over the last couple months, both at home and on runs, it's been blue jays. Yesterday there were blue jays starting in through the fu**ing front door at me, directly outside the door, and then one who swooped with me on my lunch run. It was like a Hitchcock movie. Alright Andrews, out with it:

The blue jay is a reminder to follow through on all things--to not start something and then leave it dangling.... The blue jay reflects that a time of great resourcefulness and adaptability is about to unfold, You are going to have ample opportunities to develop your abilities. The jay does not usually migrate, staying around all winter, so look for there to be ample time to develop and use your energies to access new levels.

I constantly leave loose ends dangling. I got you, blue jay. Point taken. Resourcefulness and adaptability. Today is my last day working for the Coast Guard. It's the second job I've had there, working there the last almost five years. This last job was not the writing, public affairs, communications fit for me that the previous one was. It sapped me, as has the four plus hours of daily commuting. It's time for a change. What that change is or brings, remains to be seen.

Don't start something and leave it dangling. Finish what you start. Look for my life's direction. Like a journey. Like a spiritual quest. Like finding a snow leopard. This is a good time for me to re-start, to continue, to finish, to find the snow leopard on my own. I don't mind taking Matthiessen as a guide:

Amazingly, we take for granted that instinct for survival, fear of death, must separate us from the happiness of pure and uninterpreted experience, in which body, mind, and nature are the same. And this debasement of our vision, the retreat from wonder, the backing away like lobsters from free-swimming life into safe crannies, the desperate instinct that our life passes unlived, is reflected in proliferation without joy, corrosive money rot, the gross befouling of the earth and air and water from which we came.

Bring on the books. Bring on the birds. Let's go find a snow leopard.

1 comment:

Joel said...

I hope that the steps steps on your journey take you somewhere amazing. Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country is amazing. I've heard very good things said about Far Tortuga as well.