This has been a long sleep. The darkness and division enveloping the world eroded creativity in this space for a time, not consuming but rather subsuming inspiration into some recess of the spirit where it felt protected. Celestial and earthly events have aligned over the past several months to renew, awaken, rekindle the fire. Though we’re not yet out of the fear, grief, and rage that have intensified over the past year, there are signs of brighter days ahead. The dark night of the soul is seeing dawn.
Part hibernation, part incubation, the Marshland’s two-year silence is not reflective of its hosts’ activities. Birds, wildlife, and wild places for us and so many others have been beacons through intense isolation, connecting us as living beings. When there is no where else to go, we do what we always do and go outside. When daily vernacular is overtaken with quarantine, social distancing, ventilators, lock down, infection rates, and vaccines, we find solace in the language of the birds.
For a time, humans stayed home on a massive scale and in the absence of constant machine-humming through the air, water, and land, tuning into the busy chatter of bird activity has been a sensory revelation. The gliding shadow of a Bald Eagle over the glassy surface of the Mohawk River; the sloppy smacking from dozens of Canada Geese deliciously skimming algae from the Erie Canal; the thrumming whoosh as hundreds of migrating starlings and black birds soar and dive to their next resting place, generating their own delicate air disturbance felt on the skin. This is the language we experienced. Even at our own feeders a daily rhythm of feasting and warming, aggressive negotiation for primacy at the buffet of suet, seed, thistle, and corn, and the flock-alarm raised by the clumsy landings of our resident Cooper’s Hawk’s (so far) unsuccessful attempts to nab a feathered meal – all of these moments made possible by quiet observation, mindful presence. Solace.
But not refuge. There is no luxury of refuge when the most powerful elected leaders of a county spend years undermining trust in media and democratic institutions, obfuscate, minimize, and blame in response to a global pandemic that so far has claimed over 400,000 lives in the US alone, inflame racial tensions and then aggressively quell racial outrage, and incite violence to overturn the will of the people. Despite the mandate for facial coverings, there is no refuge behind the polite mask of post-racial society that has been torn away and we are forced to reckon with long-avoided truths. No refuge even in the most peaceful of activities like birding in the Ramble of Central Park when the ugliness of white privilege was invoked, the precariousness of a black life held in the balance.
Nor can we take refuge even in those long-treasured and sacred places like Bears Ears, Alaska’s Arctic Refuge, or the delicate migratory ecosystems that recognize no political border along the Rio Grande River, threatened by a thirst for profit for the few at the expense of the many beings dependent on these wild spaces for survival. Longstanding and effective public policies that encode environmental protections in law – the Migratory Birds Act and the Endangered Species Act among them – all eroded, weakened, compromised.
Mostly, though, we cannot take refuge in silence or inaction. The Marshland is a celebration, exaltation even, of the wildness that exists within each of us nourished by the wildness around us. A threat to one, whether through the violence of racism or the toxicity of pollution or the destruction of habitat, compromises the health of all beings chlorophylled or barked, mineraled or crystallized, feathered or scaled, single-celled or exoskeletoned, furred or bare-skinned. Human voices crying out for the preservation of diversity among and around us are essential to the chorus of whooshing wings, rustling leaves, hoots and howls – one unifying message in multitudes of languages: we are interconnected.
There is much to draw concern, yes, and much damage to be healed, but sifting through the rubble of 2020, we found many gifts buried there and want to share a few. Looking forward to brighter days in this age of renewal and balance, with gratitude for you, our families of blood and of community.
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