Friday, September 28, 2007

Of Dolphin, Deer, and Harvest Moons

© 2007 Oona McOuat

A harvest moon!
And on the mats -
Shadows of pine boughs.

As we sit poised between the Autumn Equinox and the Harvest Moon, a time that sings of bounty and balance, beauty and decay, I, like all good Northerners, prepare for the descent of the great Canadian winter - harvesting and conserving food, replenishing the woodpile, pulling sweaters and warm blankets out of the cupboard where they were stuffed last June… In all honestly, I do so half-heartedly, disbelieving that the cycle has come full circle again, that already the days are growing cold and dark.

Photo by Kmax

Perhaps it was more than a coincidence then, that on the first day of Fall, I took a fall as I picked pears on a rickety aluminum ladder. I had an inkling it was going to happen from the get-go, but my rational mind told me I had once picked fruit for a living, clambering up and down ladders with effortless ease. Why the trepidation? But as I got near the top, I felt strangely lightheaded, a sense of being off balance.

In the end, it was the ladder that toppled, not me. I managed to spring off the metal rungs, holding my bucket of pears in one hand, pushing off with the other, landing on the ground on my hands and knees as the ladder crashed like a just-cut tree beside me.   I wasn't hurt but I was shaken as I wondered, did I fall because I feared I would? Or did I blatantly disregard the inner voice that was warning me this was going to happen in the first place?

The truth is, I am a little scared of the dark days ahead. Summer was too fleeting. The air and the lake have gotten so cold so fast. I need a more gradual transition. I need to feel like I have a choice. But the seasons will change, regardless of my will or desires, and so I am doing my best to make the best of what's happening around me.

Photo: Leigh Hilbert

Today, I picked the accident-inducing pears as well as apples, the last of the plums and blackberries, harvested some rosehips and planted a winter garden. I put kale, bok choi, gai lan, arugula, gem marigolds and winter lettuce seeds in the ground, not quite believing they will sprout and grow at this point in the year. It would have been better to have done this a few weeks ago, but today was the day and the sun will encourage upward growth until November 10th I hear. After that it's really only a hop, skip and a jump to winter Solstice…. 

Then it might be time for a winter vacation….

Photo by Kmax

Why all this bargaining? Why am I valuing the light and the warmth more than the coming time of rest and stillness? Is it all those winters spent in Hawaii? Am I dreading the cold or am I frightened of the inwardness it breeds - the soft, anchored-in-self focus that could lead me to the next place on my path? Are my dreams of prolonging summer - the lake swims, the picnics, the bare arms and feet - simply an exercise in avoidance?

Despite my doubts, my less than open (and covered) arms, the magic of autumn unfolds around me. Every night a stag comes and munches apples that have fallen from the tree beside my window. I marvel at his appetite and the way he rolls the whole fruit around in his mouth as if savouring its juice before devouring it.

Photo by Leigh Hilbert
Photo: Leigh Hilbert

One night, he ate from 9:00 pm 'til 2:00 in the morning as I sat at my desk typing on my laptop, just two feet away from his feasting, listening to him crunch and munch and fart - yes - deer fart. Every now and then he would cast me a meaningful glance through the window as if to say "I'm okay with this if you're okay. Can't believe you let all these apples fall to the ground and that you're not out here eating them too. That little box you're sitting in front of must be really delicious..."

I begin to feel with this deer the kind of quiet kinship that happens with well-married couples. We are engaged in our own worlds yet offer each other steady companionship. We are separate, yet deeply connected.

Photo: Leigh Hilbert

I flashback to swimming with Pearl in Kapoho Bay, Hawaii, a few weeks ago… Pearl - the jewel-backed Great Grandma of all sea turtles. She is moving gracefully, slowly below me, flapping her fins like baby angel wings. I move my arms in unison with her flippers and pretend that I am flying. Pearl - a gentle, steady presence; no chatter, no discord, just waves of deep peace. It is so easy to find my sense of inner balance as I swim with her.

Photo: Leigh Hilbert

Dolphins are a different story. It is our first morning at Ho'okena and we stumble out of our tents to a bay full of them. As I swim out, I am bathed in a cacophony of squeaks and whistles. I am immediately flanked by two of the male scouts or elders - Cookie, who has cookie cutter shark bites on his dorsal fin and tail, and Rumplestiltsken, who has a rumpled-looking scar on his left side. I send them love and they stick with me for a long time, keeping about 5 or 6 feet between us.

Suddenly, they vanish and I am surrounded by the mothers and baby dolphins, enveloped by them. They are so close, I cannot move my arms, or choose my own direction; I can only swim in synchronicity with them, a part of the pod. One of the adults rolls over and shows me her silvery white belly and genital slit.

Spinner Dolphins
Photo: Leigh Hilbert

I begin to feel crowded by the dolphin on my left. For the first time ever, I want them to spread out, give me some room, but they seem oblivious to my need. My mind jumps to the sign my headlamp flashed on the night before, the one posted by my campsite with the picture of the dolphin with an open mouth and very sharp teeth that warned "Marine Mammals can be dangerous."

"What if it's true?" I think, a part of me not believing that I could even entertain such a notion, "What if the dolphin beside me snaps and tries to bite my hand off?" I know my fear is sad and ridiculous. I've been having peaceful, beautiful, life-transforming swims with dolphins for years, but on a primal, unconscious level, it persists.

Earlier, before the fear surfaced, I had been thinking it would be fun to see some dolphin bubbles. As if she had heard my thought and now hoped to appease me, a dolphin begins to blow clouds of little, cheerful bubbles under my fear-filled belly. At last, the group of dolphins moves away and Rumplestiltsken and Cookie reappear.

"What was that all about?" I ask them abashedly.

"This is your work now," they answer, "to notice when you are responding with fear to things that could nourish or bless, heal, or delight you; to notice how this fear limits your joy and the depth of joy you allow into your life and reap from your experiences. We just wanted to point this out to you… By the way, your need to be in control of things stems from this deep-rooted fear of the unknown. The way to heal it is to focus on the joy and beauty in your relationships and in your experiences. Be with them in the moment instead of trying to second-guess the future or hash out the past."

Photo: Leigh Hilbert

Do dolphins talk? In my world they do, and they have. And so, I sit and watch a deer munching apples under a near-full harvest moon thinking about fear and balance, about welcoming the gifts of the descending darkness as I navigate my own internal world of shadow and light. I think about the stag. Does he trust me, or is his desire to devour my sweet, fallen fruit so strong, that it overrides or perhaps transforms his instinctual fear?

I think about Pearl and the dolphins, the blessed wild creatures that have welcomed me into their world and taught me Great Love. I think about being underwater, immersed in an interplay of dark and light, the sun's rays illuminating me from above as I swim into the depths of the unknown. Perhaps autumn is a transition time, a time to gently prepare ourselves to move beneath the surface to discover our true selves.

Photo: Leigh Hilbert

May your journey be bountiful, gentle and good.

Photo: Leigh Hilbert

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