There was a swamp behind our last home. I feared it and wished it away. A sprawling murky mystery, full of darkness and mosquitoes, creating an impassable barrier between us and the hundreds of acres of conservation land beyond.
But by the time we left that home eight years later, that swamp was one of the hardest things to leave behind. What I didn’t know when we moved in was that this swamp held secrets. Including being a nesting spot for great blue herons. Herons whose pterodactyl shadow and call would pass over me while working in the garden.
When we moved onto this land and had our well drilled, I was frustrated at the unexpected artesian overflow from it that created a mucky mess in our clearing. Not swamp, but also not gardenable. One of the main reasons I studied permaculture last year was to find a solution to that overflow. By the end of last year, I knew I wanted a pond. Something I had NEVER wanted before. But I was sold on the idea of catching and holding water in the landscape, creating different microclimates and ecosystems.
So our pond was created earlier this summer to put that well overflow to use, and to create diversity in this landscape. First came the children into the pond. Then came the first frog. Then came the frog eggs. Then came hundreds of tadpoles, an impossible number wiggling around in this underwater landscape.
And then came…
Do you see them?! The children were sleeping and I was pouring over the Moosewood Restaurant Favorites cookbook, working out workshop food plans, when Josh whisper-called in,
Melanie, get the #$#% out here RIGHT now!
And there they were, great blue herons right in our pond…
As the children woke up, they came out to this awe-inspring sight, these giant graceful birds right in their yard.
We watched them eat from the pond (thankfully no one seemed to realize that they might be eating dear frogs Glider, Small, or Tinier than Tiny). We watched them walk all around, even into the woods to the start of our trails.
They stayed for over an hour, and so did I, not wanting to let the opportunity pass. Little did I know they’d be back, again and again this week, flying so close overhead and calling out their pterodactyl speak.
Will they stay during our workshop? I’m thinking not, with all of the hammering and people clamoring around. But they were here, and maybe they’ll be back again someday. Splendid…
That swamp from our last home held another secret we didn’t learn until we moved away from it. On the other side of that swamp lived a man who had known Bill Coperthwaite for years, one we did not meet until we crossed paths in Bill’s yurt, many hours north of our once common swamp.
When the great blue herons came this week, so did this:
This mail from our once unknown swamp-neighbor. This symbol of our path, for our path. A symbol that looks and clangs exactly like the ones we passed under on our trips out to Bill’s. A delivery packaged in birch bark, with a letter written on paper he had made with Bill in Bhutan. With words that we needed to hear right now.
I needed this convergence, of these birds and this package, now. This week before we start on our yurt raising. The wood, the materials, the food, the campsites, etc., everything is as ready as we could be. And yet I can’t help but feel like I’m the new student, moving from a school that had an entirely different curriculum. And I’m about to take a big test and I feel so behind. It’s all so interesting and I can’t wait to learn more, but I haven’t had enough time with it yet and the teacher is nowhere to be found. It feels familiar, but I just don’t know what all of these other students do. And I don’t know how to catch up.
It is in this state that this letter and totem arrived, telling us:
It’s a symbol of new chapters and pathways going forth to new learnings, loving families, the circle of community and our collective work for a better world. Give it a tap now and then and you’ll feel the reassurance from Bill. He always inspired a certain “pull” that inspired us all. Now that he is gone, we all are the pull — reaching out — inviting in — those around us to find our centers and inspire others. And to stay intoxicated making things!
We receive this and I realize that the teacher is gone, but now the students are all the teachers. And our yurt build is only one small part in the long path of learning ahead, not a final test.
Other letters arrive from those who have been through many yurt raisings, some since well before I was born, guiding us into our workshop days:
The entertainment – music playing, singing, poetry, story-telling – was always an important event. It was another way for getting to know each other and establishing friendship.
[And I pause here, loving the idea of singing around a campfire but thinking of how my dear husband who tells no lies likens my singing to my beloved heron’s less than melodic call…]
And others tell of how things do go wrong, like being sent to the store for a box of nails, and coming back with “box nails,” something entirely different. With a bit of advice that when things do not flow correctly, it helps to get into a meditator mindset:
Accept that “this is how things are.”
Of course there will be some things that do not go as planned. We are young students in this, after all. But we have worked as hard as we could to get here, and everything is as ready as we know how to get it.
In the past two weeks Josh has built an outdoor sink and dish drying table, an eating table, a food buffet table, a humanure hacienda (pausing for a moment to remember that the first woodworking project this man ever did was two summers ago)… AND put up a swing and clothesline.
Our mothers are stocking us full of salads, lasagna, quiche, cookies, meat, watermelon… We’ve gathered, made, frozen, lacto-fermented as much food as we can… And others are bringing along even more.
Trails are done (for now)…
Tomorrow the first of our yurt building community arrives. I really have no idea what it will be like to live and work beside 30 people every day for two week blocks of time, some of whom I’ve never even met. But I can’t wait to find out!