Love Songs To and From a Magpie

abstract black and white image of sandhill cranes flying toward the viewer

This month, I’m participating in a remarkable workshop offered through Emergence Magazine–Seeds of Radical Renewal. Below is a response to a prompt given by musician and author, Sam Lee, who gives concerts with his friends, the nightingales: 

For Sam Lee, the nightingale is a “wisdom keeper” and an “unlocker.” Together, the bird’s song and Sam’s artistic practice offer people a doorway to stepping into a different way of seeing and being in the world. In what ways are you drawn to commune in spaces of creativity, reverence and reciprocity with the living world?

When I consider the generous body of mother earth, there is a sense that all beings are wisdom keepers. From the largest inhabitants of our grieving planet to the smallest leaf or minuscule organism, reciprocity – one’s obligation to fulfill one if not many critical roles contributing the dance of our living earth – is innately understood.

As a photographer of birds who is becoming more acquainted with their songs and behaviors which each shutter click, I often feel called by the winged ones. It is they, not I, whose sense gates are wide open and fully attuned. Long before I hear or see them, chances are they’ve felt my presence entering and altering their living rooms. It took some time to understand that my presence shifts their experience. Though I lack wings, these feet, this breath, this lightness or heaviness, arrives and flows into the confluence of the emerging forests and woodlands.

I first learned this lesson from an osho with wings – a magpie who, upon noticing my unexpected arrival from a far away land, alighted in the upper branches of a young cottonwood tree. Soon after, she began summoning me. With eyes closed while swaying in a hammock, I wondered who she might be.

Her resplendent songs, so utterly loud, shone through the spring sunshine. What hooked and unlocked me, were the changing dynamics, the loft, and range – as if she was issuing an invitation to connect, to converse, to leap across the blood-brain barrier.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I mimicked her song back. Did she expect a response? Perhaps not, given a slight pause. She hopped to another branch and cocked her head sizing me up, then burst through with an entirely new cascade of notes! Without hesitation, I echoed them back as best I could while she waited. We continued this way, singing rounds and impromptu fugues for what seemed like a lifetime. Ten thousands joyful cascading moments tumbling into my heart as I, the mocking bird, and she the magpie, recognized ourselves in each other.

The artistry unfolding in my life at this time is centered around how the earth loves us. Even now, while walking along thresholds gaping with grief, mother earth continues to give everything to me. And although the birds speak in tongues that aren’t completely understood, I will continue to sing to them as skillfully as I know how to – through expressions of love, through praise with words, and with my camera as an instrument of connection, care, and concern.

The earth is always calling us. Inviting us to soften our gaze and recognize both the joys and the sorrows they are experiencing. The gift of our attention is so precious. So often we think it is nothing, really. In truth, it is everything to hear the call – to be summoned into relationship that leads to skillful action.

Read and listen to Sam Lee on Emergence Magazine:

Photo Credit:  Redwing and Cattails , by Susan J. Preston, Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge © 2023, all rights reserved