Sunday, October 18, 2009

Healing through Bird and Bay Watching

My Dad loves birds…most people spend most of their time looking straight ahead of them. He looks up. He’s taught me all about birds, hawks especially. I have spent hours on my parents’ porch in Caroline County, Maryland, waiting for a pair of playful red tanagers to return.
Nighttime at the country house is magical. It is as dark as a cave- I can’t see my hand right in front of my face. Or, the stars light the air a musky smoky purple, making everything look like it’s underwater. The light reflects off the golf course behind the house as sleek as new snow. The moon shifts and ripples in the dark water of the spa. The trees are black and menacing, blocking out some starlight; their branches casting long jagged shadows across my sister’s pale white cheeks. When I’m released from the hospital I spend time there. It’s a good place to reflect. The air is clean, fresh, and sweet, like biting into a fresh-picked peach in summer. Fresh air is what I miss most in the hospital. The windows don’t open. I tried to go outside once and the security guard stopped me, pointed at my two IV poles and said; “You can’t go outside if you have those.” My IV lines were my shackles. The ton of tubing pulled at my IV sites constantly, bruising my skin. I still have sore spots: my inner arms and the tops of both of my hands.

When I would take walks around the unit, I tried not to breathe in too deeply. I couldn’t help but think that the stale air was full of sickness and disease. When I leave the hospital the first thing I do is gasp like someone coming up for air from being underwater for too long; a desperate, ecstatic breath.

My Dad hates his work commute, except for one small part, the part where he crosses the Bay Bridge. On our way home from the hospital recently he told me; “I love crossing the bridge because the water is never the same. It is always, always different.” He didn’t just mean this in the “You never step into the same river twice” type of way, although he is a Zen Buddhist. He also meant that it always looks different. It always acts different. I looked down on the Chesapeake and even in the light of dusk could make out little rivers within the Bay, currents crisscrossing the water, concealing the mystery of America’s largest estuary below.

My personal address, where I am most of the time, is on the opposite side of the bridge. Because of this I know the value of Eastern Shore living. My head is always buzzing where I live, twirling with a billion thoughts, it’s a more urban, suburban place. I feel no connection here, not even to my own backyard. Everything feels separated, isolated. In Caroline I study families of deer, and they study me. They’re peaceful as they forage for food in the field of high yellow grass, past the front yard. I could scream and no one would hear me. But I’d rather be silent, and take in the sounds of birds calling, of wind rushing, of bees buzzing, of dogs barking, of wild turkeys squawking. It’s a noisy, quiet, place. If you learn how to listen to nature you’ll never be bored. Canaan Valley, West Virginia taught me how:
I lived a low impact life underneath a simple tarp, hiking by day, observing the fiercely beautiful wilderness there, at night falling asleep to the sounds of owls and the occasional mountain lion. I learned to spot camouflaged little squirrels from dozens of yards away in the woods, just from being quiet and watching. We are never alone. If you can learn to just sit and be with nature, it’s a feeling of being loved unlike any other. To be a part of the grand scheme, to really know you are, is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Know that you are no less important, and no more important than a ladybug, a leaf, a rain darkened stone. Too often we make ourselves apart from each other, it’s no wonder there’s an epidemic of chronic loneliness among humans. Be a part of.


  1. Madeleine,

    My husband and I went vegan for health reasons also so I can relate to your struggle. I think you are doing the right thing with your diet. We were told that just last Friday by two of the doctors we went to.

    If you need to talk or vent I would be happy to listen. Please feel free to send me an email.


  2. Lovely post, thanks for sharing.
    Eco Mama

  3. What an interesting post! Great pics and writing. I really enjoyed reading your story, so sorry you had to go through all that illness in the hospital.