This past holiday weekend Marika and I took the motorhome and the dogs to southeastern AZ to see the migrating sandhill cranes. We camped at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Refuge in the middle of desert brush, agricultural fields and man-made ponds created to attract migrating birds.
The refuge is surrounded by the Dragoon Mountains to the west and the Chiracahuas to the east, with Mexico just a short 25 miles to the south. And all around, a big wide eye sky of blue and birds.
We walked along the burms of the ponds as the sun set, the sky darkening against the crescendo of thousands of red winged blackbirds roosting in the reeds. Marika, an avid birder, pointed out a Harris Hawk circling above the field. She counted unnamed sparrows flitting in the brush and we heard a Great Horned Owl in the nearby trees. A sky full of sandhill cranes circled the farthest ponds, grawking and honking as if they were conversing, where do you want to land?
Later, back in the RV, after dinner, my mind began to wander. No longer captivated by the sounds of the birds and the color changing sky, I started thinking about my annual New Year’s Day party. “I’ll ask everyone to bring an hors d’ oeuvre,” I said. “And maybe this year we’ll play croquet again.” I started making a checklist in my head of where I’d position the furniture and how many chairs I’d set up outside. Since January first is less than a month away, this seemed like a reasonable planning activity.
But then I jumped to my birthday party in March and a possible going away party in April. Suddenly I was all teary-eyed and feeling very, very sad.
And then Marika gently said, “You know, you’re not here anymore.”
What a great gift to have someone right there to bring me back to the present moment.
Just like that, I realized that all of those emotions were NOT part of the present moment. That, when I came back to the present moment I was truly content, happy, comfortable, so glad to be camping, in nature, belly full with dogs at my feet.
We spent the rest of the evening playing cards and Rummikubs to stay connected to the here, the now. What is.
The next morning, Marika went on a day long birding adventure with a hired guide. As the dogs and I sat around camp, I started to feel that same sadness coming over me. I realized that my thoughts had been wandering again and I needed to bring myself back to the here and now.
I leashed up the dogs and we walked out into the desert where, now, leash-free, they ran and sniffed, digging into rabbit holes, finding stray sticks for fetching. The sky was clear and blue and wide and I breathed in the cool air and stood in the courage of warrior pose, facing the morning sun.
When we got back to camp we sat outside as the cranes began to fly in after their early feeding in the nearby agricultural fields. I heard their sounds first, the invisible but raucous chorus of trilled grawking and honking. Then a string of fast moving dots appeared in the sky. As they got closer the dots became v-shaped patterns ribboning toward me, getting even louder.
I could make out the silhouettes of their 72″ wingspans, fast-flapping in the air. They circled the shallow ponds in a noisy display, flying low, then around in a circle then low again to land.
And then, just as the sounds seemed to settle over the water, another burst of honking filled the air to the east. The line of dots appeared, fast and close and the honking from the air sparked the honking of the birds below that had already landed. Even from my vantage point a quarter of a mile away, the sounds were almost deafening.
More cranes appeared, as if the noise from the ground had called them and soon my inexact counting reached one thousand cranes, and still, more were coming. Honking, flapping, trilling their calls as the surface of the ponds became a field of solid gray.
Being in nature, paying attention to sounds and colors, the wind and the sky are the best ways that I know to stay connected in the present moment.
How do you bring yourself back to the here, the now, what is?
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