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April 29, 2010

Crows, ravens, joy, wisdom

— Most nights during the spring and summer months Gabby and I sit on the deck to relax after working in the gardens all day.

The combination of quiet and a sip or two of red wine offers an unparalleled opportunity for relaxed contemplation.

I often doze off for several minutes, awakening to find myself caught in that nether world between sleep and wakefulness.

It is a state of being akin to what one writer so aptly described some years ago as a ``separate reality.’’ I assume that we have all experienced that sensation of being suspended between two worlds.

It is not an unpleasant feeling, but fortunately, it is short lived. It is too unreal a world to inhabit for too long.

Last summer I would often be startled into consciousness by the flapping of crows’ wings against the canopy leaves of the trees behind our house. In the course of no more than several minutes, waves of winged black objects, often backlighted by the late evening sun, would emerge from the trees, fly across the garden into the dense stand of evergreens crowding the far hillside, and then disappear noiselessly into its dark, thickly intertwined boughs. I remember wondering how so many crows could disappear so quickly, leaving behind a silence deeper than thought itself.

The last several weeks, often while sitting at my desk looking out the window, or during my customary afternoon walk, I have watched approximately twenty-five ravens put on some of the most mesmerizing aerial displays I have ever seen.

Often one pair will plummet earthward, circle one another, barely touching toes, then pull up, catch a wave of air, and float off below the horizon. Meanwhile, their buddies are slicing through space as if skaters doing intricate patterns on ice. I have often thought about the exact nature of joy. I have thought of those moments, and they are few, when I have experienced a sensation of joy so pure that to couch it in any words at all would only diminish its value. Years ago I wrote about how from time to time Gabby would run in what I described as ``circles of joy.’’ Those days, at least the running part, are gone for her. But knowing her, despite her advanced age, I suspect she catches the scent of joy in other ways. Watching those ravens cavort in the sky reminded me of so many things.

I am not privy to a raven’s mind, but I am convinced that they were up there swirling about in the ether because it was fun, play for the sake of play.

And that, it seems to me, says something about the nature of wisdom. The wisdom that I am referring to comes from a place beyond intellect, that place that says now it is time to fly, now is time to run in circles, now is the time to imagine the impossible. All that one can say about joy is that it makes itself felt, known. It is what it is.

Watching the ravens, feeling the presence of the crows, and thinking back to Gabby’s most joyous moments, it strikes me that surrendering to joy is perhaps the wisest thing anyone can do.

There is as much to be learned about life from ravens and crows and dogs as there is from the wisest of books. And that from a bookworm!!