Winter in the forest. Silent as an owl. There is no snow but I can imagine it, the way snow falls like imagination, without sound. I press my cheek to the cold trunk of a bare elderberry tree at the center of my softly iced garden, and go still. I become aware, over the next hill, of so many crows shouting, it is like rain coming over the ocean. They are the only ones who dare make such noise, I think. They can utterly rend the silence, and yet somehow they do not destroy it.
In my last post, I asked you to send me your questions, and promised I would choose an animal who could answer one of them. Thank you for your responses. Here is a combined version of a few of them: How do we deal with our concern about toxins and other unknown substances in our food, environment, and bodies?
An even more general, and perhaps deeper, variation to this same question might be this: Influenced by so many unknowns from greater forces that I cannot control or perhaps even know, how do I know I can survive? What is my strength, subsumed in the great, impersonal, globalized, industrialized modern world?
I found it fascinating that the animal I chose to answer this question— picked at random from a bowl full of hundreds of animal names— was not a sensitive creature, not the kind endangered by slight alterations in its habitat, not the kind that breathes through its skin or succumbs to pesticides or depends on one kind of caterpillar to survive. No, I picked the Crow.
One of the survivors. The kind who adapts to whatever mess we make. The kind who might even still be around, after we have destroyed ourselves.
A crow is not afraid of anything.
Why not? Because crows can eat anything, and have eaten everything. They have eaten the egg and the adult. They have eaten the living and the dead. They have eaten pure innocent newborn life, and they have eaten garbage. They have eaten the beautiful and the ugly. They have eaten gifts offered in friendship and scraps discarded in despair.
And because they are free. They are free because they are thinkers. They are smart and they know it. They are said to eat anything, yet they are said to be selective. They won’t just take whatever’s thrown to them, they’ll scope it out first. They’ll talk about it with their families, their communities. They’ll call a council. And no one is afraid to speak out, if something seems a little wrong. They are problem-solvers, like we are.
Because they are tough and they know it. Because eating all that stuff, from every level of the food chain, makes you wise. Because they share and teach each other what they know. They keep a lookout for cars while their friends are eating roadkill. They differentiate friend from foe, food from danger.
Don’t let this world bully you into small fears. We are not as fragile as we think. Know what you know, and spread the word among your people.
That’s what I get from crows today, anyway. Maybe you get something different, when you listen. Winter is for listening, after all. I was standing in my garden today, talking to my elderberry tree—a tree I sometimes send prayer through, when I want to pray for the world. On solstice, I pray for the winter. That it not be lost. The arctic. The cold. The glaciers. The other half of the balance.
And the tree prayed back to me: it said, Be what you want to see in the world. Honor what we are losing by becoming it. Be the winter.
The truth is, the forest wasn’t really silent today. I could hear my neighbor’s dogs barking, a sound from the house, some heavy vehicle pulling up a dirt road. And even so, I am privileged to hear much more silence than most people, I know.
But the silence is here, whether we are able to hear it or not. It is always here, around and beneath all things. And if we want to "combat climate change"—that is, if we want to call back the winter—we need to believe in that silence. We need to embody it. We need to practice more stillness, less doing, less consuming, more depth of being. Those of us who still remember that the light in the center of Winter Solstice comes out of the silence of a womb, out of the darkness, let us go dark now. Let us nurture the light in the depths. Let us move upon the earth as if we come from it. Let us commit to the power of winter silence. Our soul is here.
Crows are a cry straight out of black-feathered unconscious. They are right at home in the heart of the winter. There is silence all the time, even in the midst of all the noise, it is everywhere, and the crows know it. They are shouting it out. They are shouting the enormity of such silence, with their brazen, courageous, magician's call to live the truth in our prayers.
Thanks for reading my blog. You can always feel free to send me a question, personal or global, and I will explore some animal’s wisdom to try to answer it. And I welcome your comments—any lessons you may want to share, through your own experience, from your animal and earth relations.