Tag Archives: Gardens

Holy Dharma with Heron

Thanks to Linda Leinen over at Shoreacres, for providing the inspiration – via her wonderful piece on herons and poetry – for re-publishing this post. Enjoy!

*******

I love herons. Their elegance: long, lean, streamlined curves over water, poised, waiting. Their focus: totally in the moment, poised, waiting….to strike sharp and swift. I love their languid flight: long wings lazily beating, slow concentrated strength and grace.

We live in Glasgow, Scotland UK city with the most green space. Our flat overlooks the river Kelvin which flows through the West End’s Botanic Gardens. On the riverbank, throughout the Gardens, all kinds of wildlife abound: amongst the over-fed pigeons and importunate grey squirrels the occasional kingfisher, an otter once seen on Boxing Day, sometimes a cormorant or two – and several herons taking up favourite positions along the river bank. The fish ladder by the weir is a choice spot of theirs. Another pitch is partly concealed by vegetation, right below the Humpbacked Bridge leading to steep steps rising to the upper, more cultivated part of the Botanic Gardens.

Most days, I take a well-travelled route down from our house – crossing the Humpbacked Bridge, up the steps, through the Botanics past the newly-refurbished Kibble Palace. This splendid circular, domed Victorian glass house hosts fine sculptures, elegant glass panels, a well-stocked pond – with some very old fishy friends adept at dodging the coins and wishes raining down on them on a regular basis – and a wonderfully displayed selection of plants and flowers from many parts of the world. It is a local jewel.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Strolling around those familiar, well-loved landmarks, I always enjoy occasional sightings of the heron. We can never decide how many herons there are of the same age and appearance. Maybe we are seeing the same one, over and over? Conversations like this weave together a very disparate, loose group of park regulars of all ages with a variety of views and opinions about the Botanic Gardens’ wild creatures. But the heron is a favourite; we always report sightings to one another.

We are inured to plentiful rain and bad weather as the default position for our local climate; stepping out into a pleasant, crisp, sunny morning  is therefore an immediate delight, especially with the Botanics in full autumn colours, carpets of leaves everywhere – if you get out early enough, before the park attendants with their noisy leaf-blowing machines get going!

Whilst appreciating this beautiful autumnal morning, my head was also full of the usual thought traffic as I contemplated the day ahead. The Buddhists speak the truth: we are only ever partly here. In each waking moment of our short, precious lives, we are usually distracted by something or other from being fully present. Thus we rarely savour fully the Holy Dharma of this very moment which will never come again.

Suddenly, my attention was totally focused on a sight I had never seen before. The heron was perched in full view, half way along the left-hand side of the Humpbacked Bridge!

I  stopped dead. Most unusually at half past nine on a weekday morning, there was no-one in sight.  “Should I stay watching right here, or try to creep closer?” I wondered, full of excitement and apprehension. Deciding on the latter option, I tiptoed very very slowly onto the eight-foot wide bridge, veering to the right in order to edge along the opposite side of the bridge to the heron.

The wild creature seemed absorbed in his own surveillance operation, long elegant neck moving slowly from side to side, eyes glinting in the morning light reflected off the quietly flowing river. Whether he had spotted me or not, he was paying me no attention. Barely able to believe my luck, I inched along  extremely quietly until – to my great amazement – I was level. We were only a bridge width apart. Never in my life before had I been so close to such a large wild bird.

The morning was still. The heron, briefly, was still. I was still. The Holy Dharma moved with the air currents across the bridge, the heron and me. All was One.

Japanese Heron Painting

Japanese Heron Painting

Hours might have passed. It was probably less than a minute. I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my left eye. A slender young man dressed all in black, carrying a rucksack, i-pods in his ears, was rapidly approaching the bridge. Stealthily, I crept forward a couple of feet, heading off the bridge toward the steps, still hugging the side opposite the heron. He still didn’t budge. For a fleeting moment I thought “Anne, that wild creature is tuned to you. He can feel your goodwill….” Then the rationalist dismissed such a thought. Still….

The young man was about to step through the gate onto the bridge. I held my finger to my lips, indicating silence; with my other hand palm up,  I signalled to stop, waving him over to my side of the bridge – hoping this unknown young man might share a rare experience. But he ignored me. As he marched past us the heron took off, winging his lazy languid way downriver. Waving goodbye, I stood for a moment – partly watching the heron, partly watching the young man’s back as he tramped up the stairs.

In that moment I truly felt the force of life’s duality: on the one hand, such gratitude and joy that the heron and I had shared a pure, holy moment of Oneness. On the other, deep sadness that the young man, shut in with his technology, had missed it. Carl Jung’s comment, which comes to me often, came to me then: “Our task in this life is to reconcile the opposites”…..

….and a ps to this story….a couple of weeks later, I was strolling home through the Botanics by the river Kelvin on my way home, having spent the afternoon at my office writing the first draft of this article which was in my bag.There on the riverbank, in  places where I had never seen them before, were – to my amazement and delight – two herons….

1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008/12
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Sprites in the Park!

Now and then, a flash of magic lights up a day.

As with most days, I was strolling down the long wide path which leads into our local Botanic Gardens, on to the river Kelvin. High wall on the left; low wall on the right,  on which generations of small children have walked at their own special snail’s pace, an adult’s hand preventing them from tumbling the few feet down into the grassy, tree-filled slope leading to another path winding below.

Smiling, I was remembering my youngest nephew as a little boy tottering unsteadily but determinedly along that low wall, throwing monkey nuts to the voracious local grey squirrels……

I heard laughter, shrieks of it, looked down to its source on the lower path, and saw this zany sight:

Sprites in the Park!

Sprites in the Park!

What are you doing?” I yelled to the two Sprites, accompanied by a third, slightly more soberly dressed and carrying a large, serious looking camera. ” You look fabulous! Can I take your picture?” 

“Sure!” they shouted. “Come on down! We’re doing a photo-shoot.” So I jumped over the wall, down amongst the earth and leaves and trees, quite forgetting about my somewhat dodgy knee in my excitement. I took two photos. They were delighted.

“I can do this sort of thing now,” I said, “being in my mad old bat life phase.” And I told them they would be up on a post on my blog this very day. They were even more delighted.

I have no idea who they are. They have no idea who I am. But that moment of joyous, spontaneous friendliness certainly lit up my whole day. I hope it did the same for them….

Sprites and photo-Sprite....

Sprites and photo-Sprite….

****************************

300 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

****************************

Praise be! Spring is here….

 I am sure that many readers share my need for connection to the Great Round through immersion in the natural world. Today in Glasgow, Scotland, UK it is a Spring day – and the daffodils are out!

Celebrate it with me!

Fabulous Daffs

Fabulous Daffs

http://www.flickr.com/photos/46097950@N02/4482794780/

I  have a ritual which I’ve repeated for a long time now. From late February each year, I go into the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow  via the Kirklee gate entrance, stroll up the path, and have a close look at the earth border to the left. Green shoots are just appearing. I check them every week, as the stems grow taller and sturdier, and the buds fatter. There is a magic moment when, at last, I see the first daffodil of Spring. Quite often, I punch the air and go “Yes!!”

That moment provides a rush of pleasure which remains with me the whole day.  I call my ritual The Daffodil Run. You think I’m daft? I know it’s an important part of  what keeps me sane.

There are very few clear evening skies in Glasgow. If you’re rushing up Byres Road on the way home on one of those rare nights, especially when you cross the Queen Margaret Drive bridge, look out for a small woman standing still, gazing at the sky. That’ll be me, admiring the wonderful, fragile beauty of a new crescent  moon.

Even in the city, in the increasingly hurried pattern of 21st century life, it is possible to maintain a connection to the cycles of the seasons and the rhythms of nature. It’s increasingly recognised that regular contact of this kind is an important component in establishing and maintaining the kind of inner balance and peace that promotes happiness.

One of the many advantages of living in a small country like Scotland is that access to the great outdoors is not difficult – half an hour out of Glasgow, for example, it is possible to disappear into lovely countryside and forget the existence of the city very quickly. Try it ! It doesn’t matter how stressed you are, how much angst you are carrying. A couple of hours of  tramping across the hills, often in rain and wind, focusing on nothing more complex than  where you put every footstep in order to avoid disappearing up to your waist in a bog, is guaranteed to purge out at least some of it.

Over many years of  walking, I have offered the hills both my joys and my sorrows, and  have found validation for the former and solace for the latter. In homeopathic medicine, broadly speaking, you treat an ailment with a very dilute form of the toxin which caused it. I have found the homeopathic principle works very well with bleakness of the soul or spirit. That condition can be effectively treated by choosing weather and landscape to match your mood, and immersing yourself in it for a few hours. Meeting bleakness with bleakness has a powerfully cleansing effect.

Complementary to this is the powerfully life-affirming effect that natural beauty can have.

Standing on top of a favourite hill on a sunlit day, looking at stunning panoramic views, listening to the joyous song of a skylark, feeling at one with the wind and the landscape, has on numerous occasions made me feel so glad to be alive that I have wept for joy.

These experiences may fade in the face of the rigours of an average life. But if you repeat them often enough, you develop a sense of being part of the great round of nature, where joy and sorrow, youth, maturity, decline, death and rebirth all have their part. You also learn, slowly, the importance to being a happy person of being able to ” grasp the joy as it flies”, celebrate the moment, “seize the day.”

( First published ( as “Happiness and the Healing Power of Nature”)  in “Self & Society”(The Journal of Humanistic Psychology) (UK)Vol 27 No 5, November 1999, then http://www.innerself.com : Innerself Magazine (USA), and most recently – March 09 –  in ‘ The Drumlin’, the Newsletter of Glasgow Botanic Gardens. )

700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page