Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Great Blue Heron Highway

I'm just back home after 40 days on the road and it was an incalculable pleasure to see my wife Tuesday evening and to have our bodies nesting again in the night. 

When I left Aug 23, it was still summer. Now it's fall.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I was technically home for about 18 hours Sept 5—just long enough to drop off the car, hand in my trip accounting, roast all the tomatillos that had accumulated in our walk-in cooler [to later be processed into tomatillo salsa, one of Sandhill's signature condiments], do my laundry, repack, and pay credit card bills.)

One of the natural pleasures of this time of year is witnessing the fall migration. This year I experienced my own migration, with the great blue heron as my totem. I've always had an affinity for large birds, and a sense of awe in the majesty of their presence. While great blue herons are not a rare bird and have a wide natural range, I don't tend to see them that often. Interestingly, they were a guidepost for me this past week.

The last stop on my 40-day peregrination was the opening weekend (of eight) for a new round of my two-year facilitation training, centered in North Carolina. Auspiciously, the host for this training was Blue Heron Farm in Pittsboro NC. My training partner for this venture was Alyson Ewald of Red Earth Farms. While I flew from San Francisco to Blue Heron (arriving more or less as its namesake would), Alyson took the train from Missouri.

When Alyson and I departed the Tar Heel State this past Monday, we boarded the northbound Crescent in Greensboro, headed for the nation's capital. As we approached the outlying DC suburbs Monday morning, we glided by a reservoir and there as great blue heron walking along the spillway, trolling for breakfast. Apparently that was an indicator that we were going the right way.

When we detrained Tuesday evening in La Plata MO, we had only a 60-minute drive home to complete our journey. Imagine our shock when we encountered yet another great blue heron on the winding and quiet blacktop of Missouri Route 11, this time standing purposefully in our lane, gazing across the road. Alyson was behind the wheel and managed to swerve out of the the way just in time. Night or day, I'd never seen a heron standing in the middle of the road before.

What was up with all the heron energy? When Alyson and I shared our big bird adventures with Ma'ikwe the next morning, my wife glibly reported:

Among the Ojibway, Heron is the orator. Heron waits in silence to catch prey, and must know both silence and true stillness of self, as well as the appropriate timing to strike. When Heron does strike, it is decisive and without hesitation.

It is time to stop waiting for the "right moment." Heron may be asking you to speak your truth. Either there is no such thing as the right moment, or Heron is helping you see that the time has come. Be forewarned: Heron speaks the deepest truths of our lives and her voice is not pretty. Once you begin to speak, you may find your words to be more harsh than you expect. You are in a situation that calls for this. Heron may be telling you that the time has come to draw boundaries.

Holy shit. What truth am I supposed to be speaking? What is it the right moment for? I figure it's got to be powerful juju when the totem crosses the road.

• • •
There were also a handful of other special moments glimpsed on the journey home. Let me recount three more:

Sunset on the Mississippi
Yesterday Alyson and I stopped talking mid-sentence as our train slowed to cross the Mississippi River and enter the rail yards of Fort Madison IA. Magically, the sun was at half mast just as we eased onto the bridge—a smoky red ball midway into its graceful descent into the horizon—and the time need to complete its journey exactly mapped onto how long it took for us to reach Iowa. Wow.

I've been fortunate enough to have seen this celestial miracle twice before from the train. Once as the westbound Empire Builder crossed the upper Mississippi at La Crosse WI, and another time on the Hudson, as the Lake Shore Limited chugged upriver on the eastern shore en route to Albany. All three stand out as highlights of my 25-year career as an inveterate traveler of the iron horse.

Sugar Maples in Full Fall Raiment Knowing that we were now into October, Alyson and I were alert to signs of fall foliage as Amtrak fetched us home. Our best moments came from brilliant red-orange sugar maples that would occasionally pop up in the front yards of suburban Chicago homes, happily visible from our seats on the Southwest Chief as it gathered momentum for the run to La Plata. 

Dinner with Zoe
Our final evening on the train, Alyson and I chanced to eat dinner across from three-year-old Zoe and her vibrant, tattooed mother Roquel, who were halfway along in their trek from Maine to southern California. Zoe evoked for Alsyon her four-year-old daughter Cole, whom she'd been separated from for eight days—more than doubling the longest they'd ever been apart. It was tender and sweet watching Alyson come alive in Zoe's presence, which invoked the spirit of Cole, whom she was aching to be reunited with after a long week apart. 

While it's wonderful traveling to other time zones and getting paid to do work one loves, it's also precious to come home, being as open as possible to the images and markers encountered along the Great Blue Heron Highway.

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