Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Heron Story--Part Five

What had begun as a lovely day had rapidly deteriorated into one of the worst I’d experienced in quite awhile, despite what I thought was a valiant effort on my part to keep some semblance of peace and balance while I processed some major life changes. Still, all day long, Mother Earth had been sending me a message, a message I vaguely acknowledged but could not assimilate. At the end of the day, alone with my thoughts in my place of convenient retreat, She could not have made it any plainer that the appearance of herons had special meaning for me.

Since I’ve begun to truly embrace the idea of shamanism, I have had notable encounters with eagles, spiders, pelicans, squirrels and crows. These were spirit guides; each of these appearances was designed to bring me a specific message. And though I have been seeking a revelation of my Power Animal, I came to the conclusion that none of these was it. Perhaps my confused and none-too-focused method of going about my quest was to blame for the fact that I had yet to encounter my Power Animal. Or maybe I was simply never destined to have an adequate connection to things beyond the visible, beyond the corporeal, to move forward on a spiritual path that was all about mysticism and realms beyond perceived reality.

But I figured Heron must have a message for me. I consulted my tomes to try to puzzle out what that message might be. None of what I read resonated with me. Nothing seemed to apply specifically to any of my most recent struggles. All the exhortations were for doing things that I already did all the time. Sometimes more than what might, to others, seem healthy. That in itself should have been a clue…

I expanded my research a bit. In a dictionary of bird totems, the first words under the heading of “Heron” jumped off the page and smacked me between the eyes:

MOST SIGNIFICANT ESSENCE: aggressive self-determination and self-reliance

Heron was not bringing a message for me. Heron was me.

"…those with this totem [need] to follow their own innate wisdom and
path of self-determination. You know what is best for you and should follow it,
rather than the promptings of others.

"Heron medicine is the power of knowing the self by discovering its gifts and facing its challenges. It is the ability to accept all feelings and opinions without denying emotion or thought...

“You are a person who does not need the security of a 9 to 5
job, pension plan, group insurance and the assurance that every day will be the
same. You are one of those rare breeds that can live on the razor's edge of
life, and have an in-born instinct about what will and what won't work for you.
You are happiest when you are exploring many things, learning many skills, and
are often known as a "jack of all trades". While this may give the impression
that you are flighty and irresponsible, quite the opposite is true. If one thing
fails you, you have an assortment of knowledge and skills to fall back on. You
are never without, and adapt into new working situations with ease.

“While you enjoy a social life, it is not a necessary part of your
existence for you are quite at home alone, with your own thoughts and devices.
You are comfortable with yourself, and have no need to be surrounded by people.
You are not impressed with status symbols, or accumulating "things", and have no
need or desire to play the game of "keeping up with the Joneses".

Heron medicine is strong and courageous. It is not afraid to take responsibility for
every aspect of life. It will never pass the buck, or deny an act or deed. It is
the totem of character and strong will, but it will never use those gifts to
bully or take advantage of others.

“It is important for anyone with a heron totem to explore various activities and dimensions of earth life. On the surface, this may seem a form of dabbling, but those with heron totems are wonderfully successful at being the traditional ‘jack of all trades.’

"Most people will never be able to live the way heron people do. It is
not a structured way, and does not seem to have a stability and security to it."

As I read, a picture began to take shape. A picture of a person whose knowledge of herself, and stubborn determination to conquer the next new thing, coupled with a tendency toward solitude and “aggressive self- reliance,” may have made her a force to be reckoned with; but may also have made her life more difficult than it might have been had these traits not been an essential part of her being.

A picture of…me. Of the “me” I realized I had always been. My mother’s favorite story about me was how, as a toddler, I used to rattle the bars of my playpen and holler “Get me out of dis darn t’ing!” Some of the earliest evidence of that “aggressive self-determination,” I would say. And I can see now, it has never changed. Or got any easier.

Many of these traits were ones I had discovered (through my characteristic—some would say obsessive—self-examination) were the very things that seemed to complicate my life almost beyond endurance. I have never felt like I was on the same page as the rest of the world. I thought there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I change? Be more willing to follow? Less of a maverick? Be happy with the 9 to 5, the house in the suburbs, the 2.5 kids and the two cars in the garage? Oh, my life would have been SO much easier!

Only recently have I come to appreciate that my personality—the essential “me”—has been as much a blessing as a curse. And now, seeing this image of myself in black and white, words on paper—words with a distinctly positive spin—has been invaluable. It has answered desperate questions, some of which I had not yet thought to ask.

On this day when I felt that my most recent incarnation of myself had been yanked off like a mask, exposing the hurt, confused, questing spirit who had been trying to hide herself behind it, Mother Earth offered me a most amazing gift: The gift of who I really am. The knowledge of the Animal Spirit with whom I am inextricably linked, and what that might truly mean. The opportunity to celebrate that discovery, to revel in it, to explore it for the good thing that it is.

And, incidentally, the answer to why I have been so drawn to herons, for years.

One of my reference books suggests that, once you discover your Power Animal, you should consider acquiring images or representations of it to place around your home, to remind yourself of your connection to it. I had to smile at home already looks quite like a shrine to Heron.

Now I know why.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Heron Story--Part Four

In my recent travels, I’ve discovered some truly sacred places…places where the spirit of Mother Earth is so strong that even the most mystically-challenged could not help but feel her. A windy rainswept beach. A forest of gnarled, centuries-old trees. Given the time and the resources, I would have flown to one of those places. The desire to do so was almost overwhelming. But with our battle declared “over,” it would hardly have done to pack my bags and drive off alone. The option open to me was the trail on the dike five minutes away. So that is where I went.

“I’m going for a walk.” I flung this information over my shoulder to the husband—comfortably ensconced in front of the television—as I grabbed my keys and headed out the front door. Moments later, I was climbing out of the van and up the short hill to that familiar trail. I was almost disappointed that I was not immediately greeted by the four eagles I had met on that magical Sunday morning a year ago.

Absent such a blatant show of support from Mother Earth, I abandoned my characteristically purposeful stride and just ambled down the trail. The questions that I had wisely set aside for a time when I should be stronger and less prone to flog myself with them crowded to the front of my brain and pushed more anguished tears out my eyes and down my nose. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do anything right, ever? Yes, the restaurant was a disaster…but how much lasting damage was it going to do to my life, to my heart, to my marriage? Why couldn’t I just shake it off and keep going? And why did my life partner seem to have absolutely no tolerance for my turmoil, nor take any notice at all of what I believed was my herculean effort to maintain a façade of sanity and control, while what I was and what I will now be duke it out just behind the curtain?

The beauty of the evening cast a sunset glow on my pity party, but I was not inclined to notice. I was in full demon-wrestling mode; I could have as easily been walking down a crowded aisle at Walmart. Then, ten yards ahead, a large, dark shape rose from the water, aimed toward the sinking sun, then seemed to change its mind in mid-air, just above my trail. The bird twisted and hovered, then silently sailed back into the dark depths from which it had come.

“Heron! Heron…hmmm. I guess it truly is Heron Day…”

I raised my head and looked around me. The sun had disappeared behind the hills in the west. There were no flaming clouds showing off blazing sunset finery, but the whole sky was suffused with a soft apricot glow. Now and then, a gull or a cormorant would fly by. In silhouette, they looked like something out of a coffee table photo atlas. There was no wind, and the voices of geese and cranes rose from their evening roosts. I didn’t completely abandon my pit of sorrow, but the heron encounter had pulled me up far enough to at least dimly recall why I had come here. For peace. For healing. I scraped a few slivers from the peace that surrounded me and buried them in my heart.

Quieter and calmer now, I continued on to the turning point—the osprey tower—turned and headed for home. I didn’t feel healed or renewed, just…hushed. I was done wrestling demons for the time being, but I was tired to my very bones. I let the evening sky wrap around me like a robe as I strode into the dusky orange light of the day’s end. A comforting light. A hopeful light. And once again, a heron appeared from the invisible depths of the channel to my left, made as if to head off to the fields to my right, then twisted, hovered, and disappeared back toward the water. All silhouetted against the Hollywood-worthy backdrop of the sunset sky.

A chill tingled my spine, a tiny firework went off in my brain.

“Okay. Herons. This is for me. I get it.”

Now I had to go figure out exactly what it was I got.

For anyone still interested, it looks like there will be a "Part Five"...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Heron Story--Part Three

The frayed edges of our bubble flapped around us. We didn’t argue, not immediately. Instead we (ridiculously) continued to get ready for our outing. We got in the car, drove north; me attempting casual conversation, him grunting one-word answers or answering not at all.

At the park, we collected the dog and headed down the hill to the trail. Continued stony silence issued forth from the husband. Finally, I sighed and said, “Are you going to be mad at me all day?” What better place to air your dirty laundry than right out in front of God and everybody?

Luckily, “everybody” was not in attendance. But God—the Great Spirit, the Universe, All There Is—was.

The walking trail at this park goes around a tiny man-made lake. We hit the trail arguing. But comfort and distraction came only a few steps into our mobile squabble.

Where our path neared the shore of the little lake, a huge heron floated up from the water, where it had obviously been fishing. It rose above us, crossed our path, crossed it again, then landed in a tree about fifteen yards away and looked down at us. This is not usual heron behavior. Disturbed, they will emit one of their characteristic hoarse croaks, gather themselves up and take themselves away to where the intruding humans are no longer in evidence. It briefly crossed my distressed mind that this one seemed more interested in being noticed, in making sure I knew it was there. After all, it could have just stayed in the water, where a mounded bank had kept it out of our view. It was odd…special. I couldn’t help but climb out of my pit of despair long enough to say, “Wow!”

Husband and I argued/walked on for another twenty yards or so, and the exact same thing happened again. Another heron rose from the shore, crossed our path just ahead of us, and lit in a tree a short way up the trail. “I am here,” it seemed to be saying.

“Wow!” I sputtered between my tears. “It must be ‘Heron Day’ at the nuclear park!”

We walked deeper into the park, and sank deeper into our conflict. I tried to explain that my prime focus the past several months had been to talk myself up, to convince myself that I had not failed. It was the only way to keep getting out of bed in the morning. And I tried so hard to keep my peace; to appear as if I was okay, going through those motions every day. All for naught, evidently. All at once, my façade of peace lay in shards at my feet, and the dam behind which sloshed five years of disallowed tears began to crack. I prepared to wash away into the crater of depression which I had heretofore somehow managed to skirt

We rounded a corner, though I was so awash in despair that I don’t know how I stayed on my feet. Scant yards ahead, yet a third heron rose up out of nowhere and flew across the trail in front of us. It, too, landed in a tree and watched us walk away. "I am still here. For you."

At a point about three-quarters of the way around the lake, we somehow managed to fashion a patch over the hole in our bubble. Husband took my hand and we walked in truce. We drove home in a more amicable silence. Once out of the car, we went our separate ways. We were done arguing, for now, but it didn’t seem important to spend any more time in each others’ immediate presence. Once again, my job was going to be to gather up the shards of my shattered peace and act as if it were no sweat at all to put it back together.

I spent the next couple of hours listening to music and playing solitaire on my laptop. This is my go-to decompression mode. It occupies just enough of my brain to keep it from diving into the depths, analyzing and re-analyzing the argument ad nauseum. The sun sank on what was supposed to be our beautiful fall day. Gazing out the window, I knew I had to get back out into it. I would go to Mother Earth. She would help me puzzle my peace back together.

Looks like this is going to be at least a four-parter...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Heron Story--Part Two

It’s no secret that, since closing the restaurant, I’ve been treading water, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Or maybe not treading water—that would take too much energy I do not have. I’ve been floating. Lying back and allowing myself to be upheld by an energy which is not my own. A force that I vaguely recognize as the Great Spirit—All There Is.

I’m aware that in the depths above which I am now floating are questions that need answers, feelings that need outlets, destinies to be fulfilled. I’m also aware that I am simply not capable of grappling with any of that…yet. I have silently communicated this to the Spirit; “Not yet. I’m not strong enough yet. I need some time.”

As if this prayer is really necessary. All There Is knows what I need, and It knows when I will be ready to do what needs to be done. But first, It has to gently direct my focus to what really does need to be done. About which, I suspect, we currently have conflicting opinions.

As I float above the tough issues, I have tried to conduct my life as if nothing is really going on. I cook, I clean. I mow my lawn. I shop, go to movies, sit and watch TV with the husband in the evening. I do the best a naturally transparent person such as I can do to mask my personal turmoil. That in itself is hard enough work, for me. And I thought I’d been doing a creditable job.

The husband and I have existed in a relatively peaceful, amicable bubble. I’ve come perilously close to patting myself on the back for my newfound ability to ignore the elephant in the room. I’d even begun to think the imposing pachyderm may have slipped out the door while we weren’t looking. I’m usually not one to indulge in such wishful thinking, but it seemed the path of least resistance—to which I am so attracted these days.

Last Saturday morning, husband and I shared a cozy breakfast, looked outside at the fine, sunny fall day, and decided to pack up the dog and take her for a walk at the “nuclear park” (the manicured grounds surrounding what used to be the Trojan power plant.) It was a perfect day to stroll through the kaleidoscope of trees and kick through piles of crunchy leaves. Also perfect, evidently, for an unexpected harpy to swoop out of the blue and rip a hole clean through our peaceful bubble. And out we tumbled, right into the lap of the elephant.

We were in the bathroom getting ready to go, and suddenly the conversation just hit a wall. Don’t remember what exactly we were discussing, but I said,

“…and that would not be good for me.”

Husband: “I’m good for you.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. My back was to him. My eyes widened. My mouth opened. Nothing came out.

I decided not to engage. I straightened, moved to go out to the bedroom, ostensibly to get something out of my dresser. He stood in the doorway. Blocking the door.

Husband: “I’m good for you. Right?”

Me: “Ummmmm...”

Husband: “Right?”

Me: “Move.”

Husband (reacting to my deliberate non-reaction ): “Not lettin’ you out until you tell me I’m good for you.”

It sounds more threatening than it actually was. He was begging for affirmation that everything was okay. That the storm was behind us and we could go back to being…whatever we were before.

And I…

Could. Not. Give. It.

I knew the thing to do was lighten the moment. Laugh it off. I could not form the words. I looked at his eyes, and tears began to sting behind my own.

Husband: “What?”

I tried. I really tried. I stalled.

“I don’t think we should really go there, dear…”


I struggled. I hesitated. For what seemed like long minutes. I dug deep for something to say. Anything. With all my heart, I truly did NOT want to “go there.” But as is my way, when I’m stuck for words and a response is demanded, the truth came tumbling out.

“Because we’ve just come out of a place where we didn’t even know if we liked each other. We definitely were NOT good for each other. For a really long time.”


He backed me into that corner, with the idea of getting me to concede that the strife was over and we could now go on as if five years of acid rain on our marriage had never happened. Still, I was not meaning to accuse, not intending to assign blame. I tried to answer honestly, without freaking out, without going ballistic.

“So I think we need to concentrate on being good TO each other for awhile, and then we can talk about being good FOR each other again.”

What is it about the truth that it possesses such power to wound? I’ll never understand it, but honesty in my hands becomes more the sword of an avenging angel than the magic staff of calm and reason that I expect it to be. I hurt people with it, every single time.

The bubble had burst. The day was ruined. He was deeply wounded. And angry.

What has all this to do with herons? All will be revealed in part 3...

The Heron Story--Part One

yellow heron jpicture

To be continued...

Friday, November 11, 2011

You Wanna Piece o' Me?

Position Wanted: Burnt-out former restaurant owner with too much time on her hands and lingering debt issues looking for work. Punctual, dependable, strong work ethic. No drama. Open availability, but would prefer not to work early mornings, evenings, weekends or holidays. Position cannot require interacting with the public, other employees, or management. Current skillset evaluation indicates this person is uniquely suited to sitting in front of a laptop for hours playing solitaire. Available immediately. Please call…

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ten Things...From an "Empty" Mind

I used to do these lists.

They started out as “Ten Good Things.” By nature, I tend to dwell on the negative, so it never hurt to spend a few hours a week dredging up the positives. I felt the lists nudged me somewhere toward proper balance.

Then we bought the restaurant, and…well, that was essentially the end of “Ten Good Things.” It was often all I could do to scratch up ten things that hadn’t totally sucked. Didn’t make for very edifying reading, so I didn’t bother sharing those too much. I think I might have sunk so low as to post a list of “Ten Things That Bug The Shit Out Of Me” at one point during the café days.

Recently, at the end of a rough day, I fled to the dike and wrapped myself in the soft orange light of the setting sun, stitched with silhouettes of water birds, as if it were a ceremonial robe. As usually happens when I try to empty my mind, it filled with random thoughts. Ten things.

1.) I need a name for the Source of All Things. “The Universe” or “The Almighty” sound too “New Age.” “God” has too much weird history. Perhaps “Teacher”…?

2.) When you actually live in your home, you wake up to the lingering smell of what you cooked for dinner last night…instead of what the pets had for dinner. Or rather, how they processed it.

3.) The current peace between myself and my life partner is as fragile as a hummingbird egg.

4.) Heron. Herons. Another heron. It’s Heron. I get it.

5.) If I breach this dam of tears, I could cry for days.

6.) Fall is absolutely the perfect time of year.

7.) I am precariously perched on the edge of a crater of depression. Can I keep my purchase on the rim and not fall in?

8.) I’m addicted to the wild sound of calling geese. And I live steps away from Goose Central, where I can score a fix any time.

9.) I really do like to cook. I had forgotten. Or maybe I never knew.

10.) The diet will have to wait until I am in a better head space. This should be after the holidays sometime.

Since some of these are rather cryptic, it might be worthwhile to blog about each thing separately, in some future posts...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

History Lesson

I think the adage “Forgive and Forget” must have been coined by a man.

The process of rebuilding my life out of the ashes of “our” entrepreneurial disaster has been a challenging undertaking for me. Our marriage became so entangled in the frustrations and failures of running the restaurant that it has been a monumentally painstaking process to separate the two. And for my marriage to survive, they do need to be separated.

Forty-eight months into the stint, I felt that the intricately knotted mass was wrapping around my neck and pulling me down into…what; I had no idea. But I knew it was dark and ugly and I didn’t want to go there. When the opportunity to walk away presented itself, my first instincts urged me to cut myself loose and run like hell from the whole mess—café, husband, and everything associated therewith. I’m convinced a lesser woman would have done exactly that. Exhausted, burned and hurt as I was, the task fell to me to extract the shreds of my marriage from the wreckage and try to piece them back together into something that was at least peaceful cohabitation, if not happily-ever-after.

Scraping off the business part of the mess has been relatively easy. I don’t have to go to the restaurant every day and try to pretend that everything is fine. As far as the café goes, it’s gone, I’m free, and I can brush off my hands and walk away. With it safely behind me, the sting of any lingering wounds will fade pretty quickly, and I can process the lessons learned at my leisure and move on.

It’s ever so much harder to try to be IN a relationship while attempting to undergo the healing/assimilating/going forward process. One needs to adopt the talents of the proverbial duck—what you see is a bird gliding serenely across the surface of the pond, but under the water, her feet are paddling like crazy.

The husband, however, doesn’t want a duck. He has no patience with a duck. He wants a phoenix. Or maybe that’s not even quite accurate, because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t believe there are ashes from which to rise. In his mind, emotional trials don’t leave anything behind. No lingering effects whatsoever. The principals involved merely forgive, forget, and leave it at that. End of story.

If life were meant to be that way, why should we have memories at all? Why not just flit from episode to episode, always surprised, never prepared? Maybe we wouldn’t be unhappy. But we wouldn’t get anywhere, either. We’d never learn anything. We’d make the same mistakes over and over. And we wouldn’t be allowed to pick what kinds of memories we get to have. If “forget” is the prime directive, we don’t get to keep the good and ditch the bad. No history is NO HISTORY. Period. Not much of a life, for my money.

In real life, if it wasn’t for my memories of the good things about our relationship, if it wasn’t for the fact that I wished to honor our HISTORY together as much as anything, I might very well have become that “lesser woman” and walked away from the whole sinking tangle of our business and our marriage. In this day and age, people do it all the time.

But I didn’t. I considered everything, past and present, and opted for us. For the marriage. For continuing the partnership with the man I fell in love with a long time ago. Good thing I didn’t forget that, huh?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Harbinger of...?

woodpecker '11

This little guy showed up in my yard this morning.

I think I should be worried... The last time a woodpecker showed up at my feeder in November, we had the winter from hell (2008).

I'll have to hope that his behavior spells the difference between this occasion and the last: He wasn't actually eating from the feeder. He was eating the feeder. Or, more accurately, he was pecking holes in the post atop which the feeder is perched. And pulling out grubs, or larvae, or whatever.

Which might more accurately point toward an imminent need for a new post than impending terrible weather.

That's what I'm going to choose to believe, anyway...