Taking a brief lunchtime walk in the deep cold of December, I walked down the steep ravine towards the bridge across Pidcock Creek. Only one or two sets of footprints registered from those who had walked the path before me that icy day.
Tuning out the crunch of my boots in the snow, I became aware of birdcalls - a foraging group of chickadees, titmice, and other winter birds was low in the branches overhead.
I had twenty minutes or so to experience the world before I returned to the office, to the tiny bounded world of the computer monitor.
Intuitively, I stepped off the trail and leaned against the trunk of a nearby black oak, my shoulder blades set against its charcoal, rippled bark. I stood and imitated the tree in my stillness.
I was facing the creek, which flowed ten paces downslope from me. The birds passed over and around me, and the sun was warming despite the cold still air.
Birds, tree, creek
. I tried to make permeable the boundary between me and them.
I heard a long rattling trill from on high, to my right, Kingfisher! Blue-crested and long-billed, she was perched on a sycamore branch over the bridge, not fifty feet from me.
I was surprised to see her here, on this cold winter day. I imagined the icy plunges she must make, hunting for fish in the shallows.
I stood for some time longer, watching a nuthatch foraging head-down on a tree trunk. I tried to pierce the fierce brightness of the cold water with my eyes but was unable to discern any fish.
Then the kingfisher flew over my head, over the creek, and landed on a branch hanging over and 30 feet above the water. She gave another rattling trill, then became totally still, but for an occasional swivel of her head.
* * *
Would she dive?
There the kingfisher sat, for a long time. What, exactly, was she doing to fill her time, I wondered?
I didn't imagine that the kingfisher was sitting there having abstract thoughts, planning her future, or considering meaning. Animals don't gain esteem from me the more human-like they are. Not necessarily.
To the best I could imagine, she was purely observing. Aware and still. Undistracted by abstract concerns, she was fully immersed in the ripples of the creek, in gripping the bough, in testing the stream of sound for danger or opportunity.
I looked up at the kingfisher, down at the icy creek.
Would she dive into the frigid water below?
I imagined that the kingfisher was in what humans would call a meditative state.
When I first heard about meditation as a kid, I tried "thinking about nothing". It was boring and very difficult, and the harder I thought about nothing, the more I thought about something.
I'm not much better at meditating now, but I imagine it as a rich, full experience. Tuning all the senses to the present, dissolving the walls between self and outside, and silencing distracted thought.
* * *
Straight down the kingfisher dove into the creek. Knifelike she submerged. An instant later, she emerged, and flew just above the water, under the bridge and upstream, making a rattling trill, full of life force, full of joy.
I imagined diving into the creek, emerging with ice already forming on my hair. I shuddered. It seemed to me that the kingfisher had superhuman powers, to emerge so brightly from the chilly depths, singing and flying.
I connected her meditation on the branch to her ebullient emergence from the creek. I wondered what powers we have lost in our abandonment of wildness and deep awareness.
Across the bridge, I heard a long throaty rattle.