“Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything… It is the presence of time, undisturbed.
– Gordon Hempton; acoustic ecologist
In early June, I flew to Colorado to attend a memorial service. On the first night, I stayed with friends who live up the mountain at 9,000 feet.
The 6-inches of snow that had fallen two days before my arrival was all but gone. The meadow next to their home burst with dandelion blossoms and was patrolled by a community of robins who yanked earthworms out of the soil and gobbled them down like they hadn’t eaten in months.
But the main attraction was the charm of ruby-throated hummingbirds.
From the kitchen window, I watched the zigzagging morning rush hour of green iridescent flashes around the sugar-water feeders that rested on the outdoor table.
My friend suggested that we go outside and sit with the birds. She showed me how to place my hands like parentheses around the feeder. The idea here is that the birds can land on our hands, and we can feel their delicate feet and nearly weightless bodies when they finally pause to drink.
Even though I was a stranger, they didn’t hesitate to fly in like torpedoes then hover, tilt their heads, take off, come back, hover again and eventually land. Each bird, maybe 30 in total, (though who can count at that speed) seemed to fly in their own choreographed movements of darts and dives and all without colliding.
It was exhilarating like a fireworks show and I responded with oohs and ahhs, but the vibration of my voice sent the birds scattering like I’d pulled out a drum and beat it. When I quieted into silence, they returned to drink. Then I felt my nervous system drop into a quiet purr. All the grief I carried with me in anticipation of the memorial and all the stress and hustle of traveling dropped away.
Something else happened. I sensed that I shifted into nature’s time, like I’d plopped into a slow river on an innertube and drifted away. I know it sounds contradictory – the quick darting and the slow river drifting – but I assure you it’s possible to hold these two feelings at once.
Then my awareness was fine-tuned to the alive-ness of my surroundings. My breathing slowed and I seemed to merge with the place. I sensed and was able to hold all at once – the forest, meadow, hummingbirds, robins, worms, and the line of ants marching to the droplets of sugar water pooling under the table.
People often say that time slows in experiences like this, but it felt time-less.
I could have stayed there all day. I even said to my friend, half-jokingly, that hummingbird therapy should be a thing.
The truth is, we all have access to this sort of “therapy”; it’s just a matter of dropping in.
So when I attended the memorial two days later, which was held outdoors on a rooftop overlooking town, I took a moment to tune into the place: the jagged Flatirons, leafing cottonwoods, giant red poppies, and a soaring hawk just overhead, remembering that I could hold both – the quick darting and the slow river drifting – the grief and the gratitude of knowing such a wonderful person during this lifetime.
I invite you to explore the programs offered through the Olympic Mountain EarthWisdom Circle (OMEC). Each of these programs encourage a sacred and responsible relationship with the Earth, supporting us to move wakefully through personal and planetary change.
From my heart to yours,
OMEC Board Member