(A rare photo of the two of us together taken this summer. BTW, the light emanating from our foreheads is enlightenment, not sun glare. Don’t be fooled.)
We send out an annual Yuletide letter with our holiday cards each year. This is it…and the sentiments it contains hold true for all of you as well. Here’s wishing love and good will to all mankind.
Here’s wishing you the best of the season as we head down the final stretch of the year! As usual, we sincerely hope you’re either thriving from the gifts or coping well with the stresses these holidays tend to bring, depending on which it is for you this time around. At its best this season includes the spirit of caring and looking out for those more vulnerable. For anyone who pulled the vulnerable straw this year we’d just like to say thanks for giving everyone else the chance to step up and don their better selves. May we all take turns and strive to do both with as much grace as we can muster.
Last year was the first Yuletide season in nineteen that I didn’t write this letter or send out cards for which I apologize. It was something of a short straw year for me. Nothing catastrophic fortunately, just a couple of scares, but it left me with nothing good to say so, per my mother’s perennial wisdom, I said nothing at all. We really missed everyone though and want to thank all our card-exchange friends for still sending us your cards even when you didn’t get anything back. They were more appreciated than you know.
On the news front nothing much changed around here this year except that Cal and I took up flatwater kayaking. He’s been dreaming about it for quite a while now so I finally surrendered and entered into the spirit of the thing since it certainly beat the alternative of getting a motorcycle.
It’s been amazing actually. I’ve never done much with boats and had no idea how different the natural world feels from the water. It’s more mysterious somehow and I can see why sailors talk about the sea as a mistress. I’ve felt it once or twice myself…that sense of an ephemeral feminine presence…only it felt more like a mother than a lover to me. We’ve had some extraordinary experiences ranging from gliding over water so clear it was like floating in space to trying to rescue an abandoned gosling floating in a boat lane. But my deepest impression so far comes from the night we went kayaking up at the reservoir in September under the harvest moon, paddling along trails of rippling light surrounded by looming mountain shadows.
Pretty much everything about paddling at night was new and unnerving, but the most curious thing happened a couple of hours out when I first heard some strange, strangled sounds coming from the shore nearby. I had no idea what was making them but felt vaguely uneasy, wondering if whatever it was could swim out and reach us. Then we heard the whirring sound of wings launching into the air…a lot of wings…after which we heard them coming out across the water straight for us.
When Cal and I talked about it later we found out both of us thought the same thing at first: Oh shit! Bats! Initially, we couldn’t see anything because they were hidden against a dark mountain background but once they streamed out across the sky we saw a couple hundred of them with wingspans the size of herring gulls. I nearly panicked thinking BIG bats! but then realized they really were herring gulls. I should have felt relief I suppose but instead the previous vision of being attacked by giant bats switched to grisly images from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (thank you oh fear-generating machine of a subconscious mind.) They must have noticed us out on the water…two awkward, splashing, fish-shaped things…and grown curious enough to fly out and investigate.
I felt pretty helpless sitting there…paddle clutched across my lap, bare head laid vulnerable to a sky full of sharp beaked shadows…but when they reached us all they did was wheel around, their ranks dividing in half to carve opposite, banking turns against the moon glowing behind them. They were maybe twenty feet over our heads, close enough to hear the wind moving through thousands of feather tips, and my fear finally dissolved as we watched an unearthly sky-dance unfolding above us…a movement as graceful as any ballet.
It was a murmuration, an example of that mysterious communication among birds that lets them fly and wheel and turn as one, and as Cal and I leaned back in our kayaks surprised and slack-jawed, we watched rolling, rippling patterns of movement being woven into the sky. Their synchronization was so flawless they looked like a single organism up there…some strange sky creature mimicking the fluid properties of the water below…endlessly dividing into multiple streams that peeled off and curled away only to swing back around and seamlessly join again, swelling and surging anew each time. They circled and swooped above us like that for maybe a minute or so until, their curiosity evidently satisfied, some invisible signal was given and they turned back towards shore all together, hanging there silhouetted against the moonlight for a few lingering moments before disappearing into the shadow of the mountain.
Afterwards we just sat there, stunned and stilled. The whole thing seemed so primal…an ancient gift from the night and moonlight and water and sky…and I could feel it stirring some dim genetic memory inside me, like I was receiving an ancestral message of some kind. Only of what, I really couldn’t tell you. Maybe a simple reminder that, even in times of dark uncertainty, there’s still a mysterious, winged grace that can launch and locate me if I just clutch my courage tight enough and keep looking up.
This year…with the world looking as rich in uncertainty as it does right now…we hope that you, too, get to experience something unexpected and mysterious and breathtaking in the midst of it all, something that suspends all fear for a few heartbeats and leaves you reeling with wonder. That kind of thing can help a lot with the rest. It truly can.
As always, our continuing love and best wishes for you all.
Dia and Cal
copyright Dia Osborn 2012