Posts Tagged ‘sandhill cranes’

The Touch of Time- Stories Told by the Man of True Grace

My friend and colleague Jackson Gillman sent me birthday wishes a few days ago, and as always with Jackson, there was both levity and depth, and an annual assortment of quotes… this year about time and aging.  I spent my birthday, soaking in hot springs with a vantage that allowed me to watch the Rio Grande River flow by.  Sunset found me 100 miles or so upstream, at a wildlife refuge, and witness to the fly in of thousands of Sandhill cranes… a migration that scientists believe have been uninterrupted for tens of thousands of years.  So Jackson’s missive, along with the inevitable reflection of an amateur elder with another year over the dam, found me particularly tuned in to meditations about time.img_0359

wbbv4fyvm5zjkk718uxw2oipxdqqopfpygrqbkjcwjb8ozm5snib0agdu_aorztm9d3o3qs130The first time I heard Jackson tell, he told, mimed, and completely astonished me with a portion of an intricately nested Hasidic tale; Rabbi Nachman’s story of the Seven Beggars.  Stories, within stories, within stories!

That was 25+ years ago and I am still trying to learn this story not so much as to be able to tell it, but much more importantly to understand it more fully.

Here, in my own words,  is a piece of what he told that night, and what I have returned to so many times over the years.  Each of the Beggars appears to have an infirmity which as the story unfolds is revealed as a gift, and shared with two orphans who are about to be married.  Here, the Third Beggar speaks, the Beggar who had earlier appeared to be a stutterer.

“In truth, I am the greatest speaker and singer that there is.  Every living thing in the world will stop to hear my words.  The Man of True Grace, will tell you that I speak the truth.

At the top of a high mountain there is a waterfall.
At the top of another mountain way across the earth is the heart of the word. Yes… the world has a heart!

The heart of the world and the fountain love each other and want to be together forever.

The heart thinks… If I cannot see or be with the fountain forever-  I will die.

And God forbid that the heart of the world should die… because if it did… everything would die.

And this is why the heart is afraid. The heart is afraid that there will be no tomorrow.  Because, every day is the last day of the world.  Every day is the last!  Unless!  Unless a new day can be created and this is the part I play…
Because of me, each new day is created.

At the end of each day, I go about the world, gathering all the acts of kindness- large and small from that have been performed that day.  From these acts of kindness I use my great power of speech and compose a story or a song. maya heart 1

Then, I tell this story to The Man of True Grace, and from this story,  The Man of True Grace creates a new day.  Then he takes this new day and presents it to the Heart of the World.  The Heart of the World presents it to the Waterfall… which is in fact the Water of Life.  And so their love continues, and so time itself continues.”

Today, I am here to share how many of the days of our lives have been created.  I went to Jackson’s web-site after I received his message, and read a recent story that he shared there.  Here is the link, and if you read it, you will understand why the Man of True Grace has made many a day from Jackson’s acts of kindness.


The short story here is that he has been going into children’s hospitals and tuning in deeply to the children he visits there… children who are struggling to live, often isolated in their rooms.

Here is a quote from a mother of one of these children.

“Once a stranger and now a fellow traveler on this ride with our Special One.  He gave Aidan his first smile of the day as he sang silly songs and used Aidan’s body as an instrument. Tapping on his fingers, playing his ribcage, knocking on his knees.  He used Aidan’s hands to tell a story using each finger as a member of a family who ended up living in Aidan’s heart.”

bronx2Now let me tell you about another touch.  If you are old enough you will remember the Vietnam era photo of a terrorized 9 year old child, on the road, fleeing naked, her skin seared and melted in places from napalm dropped from the sky by American planes.  We want to turn away from these images, and let time heal the wounds of war.  But time is not always that generous.  And certainly “humanity,” this flawed sum that we are, is not that kind because 45 years later children are still burning in their homes and on the refugee roads.   Perhaps it would be better some think if the next day for our species should cease to come.trangbang

But the Man of True Grace undoubtedly will hear the story I just read in today’s newspaper and give us another day.  Phan Thi Kim Phuc who has been living with the pain and scars all these years heard about a new laser therapy being pioneered by Dr. Jill Waibel at a clinic in Miami.  Dr. Waibel offered Phan Thi free treatments there. They are almost complete.
Read  now the words of Phan Thi and rejoice for at least a day…

images-11“Before, somethings would touch me and I wouldn’t know what it was.  Now I can feel my little grandson’s hand on my arm.”

Thank you Jackson Gillman, thank you Phan Thi and thank you Dr. Waibel.  If there are more like you and I know that there are, among them those reading this, the world may go around and continue for another 365 years, and god willing, spirit willing, inshallah, I may soak in the springs and watch the cranes arrive from the venerable vantage point of 70!


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IMG_1006Attention Walmart Shoppers!

There’s  an Aesop’s Fable where a dog, lucky enough to have found, a juicy bone, crosses a stream, sees his reflection in the water and thinks he sees another dog carrying a bigger better bone. He drops the bone, jumps at the dog in the river and has to swim like crazy to save his life.  A sad episode for Rover, but at least he doesn’t get trampled.

It has been said by a Siberian elder that if you don’t know the trees, you might get lost in the woods, but if you don’t know the stories you might get lost in life.
This Aesop’s fable might be a good one to help you stay found and keep in mind as Black Friday approaches.  If you don’t have a copy of Aesop handy… no home should be without one but they are not on sale… Google Black Friday Trampling and there will be no shortage of cautionary tales  to be found, lavishly illustrated by You Tube clips of frenzied shoppers and barbaric yawping.

No doubt someone’s handicapping the odds that there will be more mayhem and deaths again this year.  Place your bets ladies and gentleman.  Win big then turn around and buy the latest steroidal  HDTV screen that money can buy.  But wait, there’s more!  This year we don’t have to wait until Black Friday for a better bone.  We can trot home with our bounty beginning at sun-up Thanksgiving Day courtesy of Walmart, and a host of other American companies who are drafting their ‘associates’ to assist us in the Big Grab.

Yes, Grabitude has replaced Gratitude on the 4th Thursday of November.  Perhaps it’s only a natural next step in the evolution of Homo Corportus and I should put aside my dismay, and pick up my credit card.

But I will stay home on Thanksgiving.  I’ll be with friends and family enjoying the meal, the company, and the stories not the stores.  Same on Black Friday, but I’ll add a walk in the woods and watch the river flow, the cranes dance in the sky and the last of the cottonwood leaves flutter to the ground.

Some of the Sandhill Cranes that winter here in the Middle Rio Grande of New Mexico have migrated down from the Yukon Delta in Alaska.  They’ve been doing this for about three million years.  I used to make my own yearly migration to and from Alaska and one year while kayaking on the Yukon River I met an old- timer,  Meska Savage, and Athabaskan man who at the time was 85 but looked no older than sixty.  I was fortunate enough to have been invited into the village sweat bath and even more fortunate to have met Meska there and heard this piece of advice from him.

“Never rush, live long time!”

So what I’ll grab on the 27th and 28th this year is time.  Time with friends and family, time to chop and peel, and cook and talk and reflect, and time to appreciate every blessing that I can think and feel.

Time is NOT money.  Never was, never will be.  Not money earned or money spent.

Carl Sandburg had this say-so about time…
“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

Barbara Bush said it well another way…

“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”
Barbara Bush

To this I would add, you won’t regret missing that Night Bargain Super Quartz Analog Handyman Thingamajig Sale on Black Thanksgiving.

But if you are drawn to the Big Box Store, as inexorably as the crane answers the migration call, may I suggest this.  Don’t rush, you have all day, and when you get there, don’t buy a thing.  Just bring a gift, a treat or a thanks to the person who has had to give up their most precious time to keep their job and show up for the hoped for National Day of Grabitude.  Then go safely home in gratitude for the day that is given to you.

(This one, I’d love if you’d share.  Thanks!

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Late yesterday afternoon, Liz and I walked by the river in the cottonwood bosque, timing our arrival to the evening fly in of our overwintering Sandhill Cranes.  There is nothing that I’ve experienced that can so quickly create a feeling of time travel. The Sandhill genus goes back over 50 million years in the fossil record.  Watching and hearing these magnificent prehistoric birds glide overhead on their huge wings, clamorously croaking their wild crr-uk-crr-uks evokes an almost visceral, psychic connection with the continuity of life.

Stories offer another vehicle for transcending time and space, and so it was that yesterday’s crane encounter, triggered in my mind the opening words of a Kalahari Bushmen story related by Lauren’s Van derPost in his a book The Heart of the Hunter.  This marvelous book holds a treasured place on my shelves and this story above all, has become a talisman of sorts for me. I think the cranes brought the story forward for me, perhaps because it is a tale featuring beings of the sky, and perhaps because it was just the story I needed to be reminded of at this time.

I’ll begin with Van der Post’s opening words, then adapt the story from there.

      “There once was a man of the ancient race…”

This man had an extraordinary herd of milk cows. Without fail, they produced the sweetest, and richest milk and in prodigious quantity.  He took great care to lead them to the best pastures, and watched over them like a mother protecting her children so that no harm would come to them from wild animals.

One day however, he came to the kral in the morning and was surprised to find the cow’s udders completely dry.  He thought that he’d perhaps chosen their grazing spot badly, and took them farther and to better grass that day.
But at the next milking again there was no milk.  At this, he became suspicious and resolved to keep watch through the night.

Around midnight he was astonished to see a rope descend from the stars and with it, hand over hand, a number of beautiful young women of the sky.  They soon were whispering, giggling, singing, and then as the man watched indignantly the sky women milked the cows, filling their calabashes with the sweet warm milk.  The man jumped out from his hiding place but the women scattered and managed to make their way back up the sky rope.  All but one that is, the one that had seemed to him the loveliest of them all.  He held her in his grip and within a moment, they held each other in their hearts.

And so they became husband and wife, and there was no more trouble from the women of the stars.  All was well and they prospered.  Yet there was one thing.  The star wife had brought with her a beautiful and tightly woven basket with a lid that fit perfectly snug.  As a condition of the marriage, she had extracted a solemn promise that the man must never look into the basket unless she gave him permission.   It was an easy promise to make at first, but as the weeks and months passed, his curiosity grew greater and greater.  Finally it was too much and one day when he was alone, he lifted the lid from the basket and looked in.  He stood there amazed and astonished. And then he laughed and laughed. Not for what he saw but for what he did not see. The basket was empty.

When his wife returned, she found him working in the garden.  She knew without looking and without asking what had happened.  “You looked in the basket!”

“Yes, I looked in the basket, but why the fuss, why the mystery all these months?  The basket is empty.”

“Empty? Empty?  You saw nothing?”

“ No, not a thing.  Now forget this foolishness, come in and let’s eat.”

But she did not come in.  She turned her back on him, walked towards the sunset and vanished.  She was never seen on earth again.    

Here is Vanderpost again, recounting the words of his Bushman nanny who first told him the tale.

“And do you know why she went away, my little master?  Not because he had broken his promise but because, looking into the basket, he had found it empty.  She went because the basket was not empty but was full of beautiful things of the sky she stored there for them both, and because he could not see them and just laughed, there was no use for her on earth any more and she vanished.”

This story is so rich and in so many ways that I hesitate to offer my own take on it, for fear of diminishing its resonance with you dear readers.  But storyteller that I am, I can resist no more than our farmer who could not keep from looking in the basket.

The Star Woman  is one of those stories that has continued to work and work on me; one whose personal meaning has changed and I think deepened over the years.  At first, I thought about what the man lost, the great mysteries of the universe, the secret of the stars.  Patience I tell myself.  There are some things I’m not quite ready to know, but soon though! Then again, maybe some mysteries need to remain mysteries. Was it Aldous Huxley who  said that, “Life is not a problem to be solved but rather a mystery to be lived?”

Then I began to think about the gifts that others possess.  Ah that’s it.  We sometimes fail to recognize what others have to offer.  About that time, Liz and I were working with parenting and pregnant teens, many of them with partners who might be considered to be less than savory companions.   We would tell this story as a cautionary tale and suggest it as a kind of compass.  “Seek out relationships where your partner appreciates your gifts.  If they ‘look into your basket’ and see nothing, prepare to move on” was the message.  That soon broadened out, of course, since this point of view needs to be reciprocal.  So check in, find, and appreciate other’s gifts became the corollary message. Yes, what a rich story this is indeed!

But there is more in this gift of story to unwrap, and this is where this story has become a touchstone and a talisman for me.

Ah, sometimes the milk of life tastes rich and sweet. Some days, I look into my own basket, and I feel confident, I feel capable, I feel that I am making a contribution.  But there are dark days too.  Days when I look into my basket and find it empty; days when I look for a path and find none; moments, or days when I am filled with doubts.  On these days, it is not as simple as thinking one’s way out.  Just as I sometimes look to the night sky and the stars, seeking the familiar constellations and the pole star for orientation, I now seek the Star Maiden story, so that I do not walk away from myself, that I do not walk away from the richness of life, and the richness of my own life, that is always there, even when I cannot see it.

Amazing that for 50 million years, the cranes come and go with the seasons, following an ancient call.  Amazing that the man of the ancient race gave us this story, and that we can return to ourselves and each other, grateful for the great mystery, grateful for life.

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