Journal

Mama Ducks

Mama Ducks

Last week, I spent a morning at the park with my six-year-old granddaughter who loves to explore nature. When we make a list of what we’ll do when we’re together, her first choice is always to take a walk at a park and go exploring. 

This time, she was especially interested in sampling the mineral springs and interacting with the ducks. But I also drew her attention to the stump of an old willow tree that had new life growing from it. I’ve been observing the “baby willow” for the past year. (Or maybe two years? Seems I always have to add an extra year due to the Covid time warp.)

When we got up close to the tree stump, we were surprised to find a female duck waddling inside of it. Then we realized she was there because she had a nest tucked away inside a nook!

I photographed the nest quickly and respectfully then moved along, to give her privacy. My granddaughter already was off and running in the direction of more ducks to quack with.

It didn’t seem like the willow stump treasures made much of an impression on her. But it wasn’t long before she made a new friend, who was sitting with his mom at the edge of the pond also observing the ducks. When they went off exploring together, the first thing she wanted to show him was the willow stump secrets.

The mama duck wasn’t there when they returned, so they went inside the trunk for a closer look as the boy’s mom and I tried to catch up to them. From my vantage point, they seemed to be steeped in a moment of awe and wonder.

Return Trip

It’s funny: I won’t run to the grocery store to fetch a missing ingredient, and I tend not to head into town to run just a single errand. This is one of the ways in which my life has changed since the pandemic began. I keep a running list of errands, groceries, etc. and try to check them off in as few trips as possible.

It’s an opportunity to practice patience, improvisation, and creativity. It’s a little game I play, and I play it because I find it worthwhile. Plus, it’s good for the planet to limit the amount of driving I do.

However, if I wake up inspired with a photography idea, it’s a whole different story. Off I go, whether or not any errands can be tacked on.

That’s exactly what happened after looking through the images I took at the park when I was with my granddaughter. The composition of one in particular felt a little off. It would have had greater depth, context, and meaning had I shifted my lens a little higher.

Before I knew it, I was back at the park with camera and three lenses in tow. After recomposing the image I went there for, I lingered for a while, experimenting with “seeing and being”. Zooming in and out. Being still and planted like a tree, taking in the landscape visually, emotionally, and artistically.

I returned to the willow stump and discovered a second nest of eggs inside another nook—with a mama duck sitting on them!

It was a beautiful, Sunday (May Day) morning, and the park was fairly busy. That meant I had to wait for people to move out of my camera frame when I couldn’t hide them behind trees. Such moments are great opportunities to practice mindfulness and patience. (When you have a mindfulness practice, moments of waiting take on new possibilities.) 

I watched many people stop to take a closer look at the huge willow stump and the baby willow growing from it, without ever noticing the camouflaged secrets nestled inside.

Observing & Reflecting

I also waited to make some wider landscape images and ended up waiting for quite some time for the wider space to clear. While waiting, I observed families with young children enjoying the park together and remembered when I was raising my children. Back then, I was almost never alone. I often had one in the backpack and the other in the stroller. My children and I were together 24/7. It felt like that’s how life would always be. I had a poem on the refrigerator reminding me that there would be time later for what I wasn’t able to do while immersed in the important work of mothering young children.

That time arrived eventually. I pursued interests and career paths, always learning and growing…and with a lot more time to myself. And so there I was a couple decades later, standing alone with my camera in the park on a picture-perfect May Day morning.

I couldn’t help but wonder how the young children running around chasing the ducks would grow up. What would their lives be like? What challenges would these families encounter?

There was one little girl and her dad who stayed within my frame for a long time because the little girl was so fascinated by the ducks. She chased them, and after they moved away from her, she ran around a tree instead. Then she explored every square foot of earth, or so it seemed from where I stood. The little girl had a lot of energy. Her dad allowed her to explore while hanging back yet remaining present. I enjoyed watching their body language and considered composing a picture in which his caring posture was part of the landscape, but it felt voyeuristic. The mom was ahead of them pushing an empty stroller with a slightly older, less energetic child at her side. It seemed the dad was on daughter duty, giving the mom a bit of a break.

I imagined that two days prior, my granddaughter and I had looked much like this father and daughter, only older. But the same basic idea.

As I observed the dad and daughter from across the stream, a male duck waddled into the willow stump, as if to check on the mama duck and make sure everything was okay. A few minutes later, he waddled back out and into the adjacent stream where a few colorful, male ducks cleverly drew people’s attention away from the willow stump. I presumed he was the daddy duck. 

Interestingly, when I looked at my images later, I zoomed way in and noticed the word “mate” right there in the nest. I hadn’t noticed it at the time, for I was too far away. It appeared to be part of a longer word that was folded, with “mate” being the only part visible. I became fascinated and intrigued by this image—which I thought of as Mother Nature’s oracle card for the day.

Caring Abounds

All week, I was drawn like a magnet to my images of these duck mamas-to-be. A number of situations arose that were out of my control, in my personal life and in the world, and I felt vulnerable. For example, I received a massive car repair bill and wondered if I was being taken advantage of. I listed some items for sale on Marketplace and encountered stealthy scammers whom fortunately I was a step ahead of. My bank had to send me a new debit card because my card somehow had been compromised. Stuff like that. Family stuff.

One of the messages I receive from the mama duck images is that caring is a quiet and often unnoticed, but ever-present and natural force in the world. It’s not loud and showy like those who seek personal gain through taking advantage of, controlling, manipulating, putting down, and objectifying others for whatever reason.

Be wise and discerning. And don’t give up hope, for caring abounds in this world, even now. It just doesn’t tend to draw attention to itself or make headlines, for that’s not what it seeks. Caring always finds a way.

I also saw the duck mamas-to-be doing their best to create a nest of safety and caring in a bustling, unpredictable environment.

Despite our deepest intentions, we can’t always keep our children safe. We can’t transfer our experience and wisdom to them. We can’t direct the course of their life or prevent them from suffering. That’s not our responsibility, it’s not the point, and we only suffer more when we try. But we always can care and be there for them. We can listen deeply without sharing our unsolicited advice, opinions, or concerns—or at least that’s what I’m practicing right now.

My experience of motherhood has not been anything like I imagined and envisioned it would be when I was pregnant with my first child. At times, it’s been pretty brutal, and I swear I signed up for the accelerated learning plan here on Schoolroom Earth! It’s certainly been a path of deep compassion, humility, and surrender. My children have been and continue to be my greatest teachers.

The space between our expectations/desires and reality is a breeding ground for suffering. Thank goodness for my meditation practice and time spent in nature, is all I can say! They help me to let go of the stories of what life is/isn’t or should/shouldn’t be and find balance and inner spaciousness, many times a day when challenges arise.

Generating Lovingkindness

So there I was alone at the park with my camera, waiting for the scene to be people-free, watching children chasing ducks and interacting with their families. Feeling my feet on the ground, feeling into my body, aware of my breathing, receiving impressions of the environment through my senses, and feeling connected with the life around me. Wondering what these young families will go through as the children grow up and what challenges they face now.

Realizing many other families have had or will have similar experiences—that my experience isn’t unique—has grown my compassion tremendously. There is so much I would have passed judgment on prior to experiencing what I have in this messy, human life.

I don’t normally spend time in nature with my camera in busy places. However, that Sunday morning visit to the park presented a whole new invitation beyond practicing mindfulness and patience in those moments of waiting. It was an opportunity to practice lovingkindness, as well.

Lovingkindness, or metta, is a practice of wishing others well and cultivating caring. All of the people and families who passed through my camera frame were opportunities to send more lovingkindness into the world. Humankind is struggling now, and I silently wished the passersby:

May you be well.

May you be kind to each other.

May you enjoy this beautiful day.

May you live with ease.

May you be free from suffering.

May you know that you are loved.

Generating lovingkindness made the waiting times much more enjoyable. By the time I left the park, I felt more connected to all the life around me. Not just the ducks. 


© 2022 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Enchanting Birdsong Synchronicity

Enchanting Birdsong Synchronicity

Yesterday I took a walk in the woods. A question had been lingering in my mind all day regarding someone dear to my heart who is going through a challenging time: If I could converse with their higher self, what would it have to say about my role in their life and our relationship? What’s most important for me to know?

This is something I’ve contemplated in the past with regard to other close relationships. It’s like when you’re not getting anywhere talking with a frontline worker, so you go over their head and speak with the manager. When you’re able to tap into something greater than the personality, higher wisdom can come through.

I can’t say for sure where it comes from. Maybe we connect with our own higher nature or the other person’s, or perhaps at that level we’re not separate anyway. Nonphysical guides? Who’s to say? Seems to me it’s not necessary to have that part figured out to receive useful guidance. 

I decided to take a trail I was less familiar with and after a while wondered if it would take me where I wanted to go. At one point, I considered turning around and taking the road back to where my car was parked. However, intuition kept me on the path.

Eventually, I encountered a tree that was absolutely bursting with birdsong—the liveliest bird-music I’d heard so far this year. It was so intoxicating that I stopped walking to marvel at and record the songbirds.

A couple minutes into recording, a car came within earshot. A young man in the car was belting out a song. He had a decent voice, but after a few lines, he began shrieking out the lyrics, and I stopped recording. Until the shrieking began, I didn’t pay much attention. I was more interested in the birdsong. However, the shrieking drew my attention and curiosity. I realized it was a song I knew well.

I continued walking—a little faster now, aware of and grateful for others on the path because this guy seemed a little unhinged!

When I got home that evening, I listened to the recording and pulled up the lyrics for the song (“You Say” by Lauren Daigle). The part of the song I recorded (before the voice became completely distorted) seemed like clear guidance concerning the question I carried in my heart:

“I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low
Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And you say I am held when I am falling short”…

I’m actually blown away by this because I had prayed for guidance. And there it came, drifting through the air in a moment of stillness and deep listening in the woods. Although I hadn’t intended to end up where I was when this happened and felt a little lost, I was exactly where I needed to be to experience this.

How perfect that the birdsong was enchanting enough to stop me in my tracks and keep me in that spot long enough for me to be in the right place at the right time so the words could reach me!

My husband and I had planned to walk together, but I felt drawn to this particular trail rather than ones closer to home. He had a lot to do and decided not to go with me. Which felt right. Had we been walking together, I probably wouldn’t have stopped to listen to the birds. The pieces wouldn’t have come together.

I’m amused by the idea of the young man who had given in to a crazy outburst in the company of his two friends. He was completely unaware that he was serving as a messenger for a woman he didn’t even notice walking on a nearby trail. It makes me think of how we might be entirely unaware of the roles we inadvertently play in someone’s life—even strangers, as we pass through their field of awareness, however briefly. How many times have we been an unwitting messenger or catalyst?

By the way, the song is amazing. The first time I heard it, I found myself annoyed by yet another “codependent love song” during the second verse (not part of the above excerpt). But as I kept listening, I realized it carried a powerful message if I imagined it being sung to the higher self, not to another person. Later, I learned that was actually the songwriter’s intention. Lauren Daigle is a Christian artist, and she wasn’t singing about a codependent relationship. 

 

If you’re interested, here’s the birdsong recording (with singing at the very end):
 


© 2022 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Poem: Being with Nature

Poem: Being with Nature

I woke up this morning to a fairly ambitious agenda and after settling into the day, got to work.

Eventually, I looked up from the computer screen and noticed the movement and the vivid blues of the river landscape outside the windows. The flowing river is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. Windows and mirrors throughout the house offer glimpses of the river as I move between rooms during the day. My desk in the corner of the sunroom provides a front-row view.

I never know what will come flowing down the river from one moment to the next. Sometimes it’s a poem, and all of a sudden writing it down takes precedence over everything else.

Being With Nature

This morning, sky and river are so blue:
Clouds and waves flowing as if
Carried by conveyor belts.
The sun shines in the sky,
Sprinkles down handfuls of sparkles
To dance on the water
With contagious laughter.

Right now, it makes no sense
To be indoors staring at a screen.
It is time for a break.

Look out a window. Give attention,
Receive something in return
Without trying. Let the mind rest.
Allow the heart and inner senses
To take over for a little while.

Follow the impulse to go outside
And caress the earth, one footstep
At a time, free from any destination
Other than true presence and relationship.

Become aware of the messengers—
Hawk, robin, loon—whoever appears.
Listen to the invitation.
How are you being asked to show up?
And can you say yes?

Just as we are restored and inspired
By the embrace of the natural world,
So, too, does Nature delight in the kiss
Of human eyes, ears, feet, tender touch.

The interplay of sunlight or water
On bare skin, wind in hair,
Footsteps on the earth,
Is reciprocal.

Have you sensed the merriment
Of wind playing with your hair
And how the notes change across
Moments and conditions and differ
From the songs of wind chimes
And willow trees?

Have you experienced the rhythm
Of flowers swaying in the breeze
And how the very same rhythm
Moves through you, beneath the surface?

Go outside. It is time to celebrate,
To whisper or dance or sing:
I am here, Love.


© 2022 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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