Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Dipper

The Dipper

Once I saw

in a quick-falling, white-veined stream,

among the leafed islands of the wet rocks,

a small bird, and knew it

from the pages of a book; it was

the dipper, and dipping he was,

as well as, sometimes, on a rock-peak, starting up

the clear, strong pipe of his voice; at this,

there being no words to transcribe, I had to

bend forward, as it were,

into his frame of mind, catching

everything I could in the tone,

cadence, sweetness, and briskness

of his affirmative report.

Though not by words, it was

a more than satisfactory way to the

bridge of understanding. This happened

in Colorado

more than half a century ago-

more, certainly, than half my lifetime ago-

and, just as certainly, he has been sleeping for decades

in the leaves beside the stream,

his crumble of white bones, his curl of flesh

comfortable even so.

And still I hear him-

And whenever I open the ponderous book of riddles

He sits with his black feel hooked to the page,

His eyes cheerful, still burning with water-love-

And thus the world is full of leaves and feathers,

And comfort, and instruction. I do not even remember

Your name, great river,

Since that hour I have lived


in the joy of the body as full and clear

as falling water; the pleasures of the mind

like a dark bird dipping in and out, tasting and singing.

I saw a dipper once high in the mountains of California. I was on a field trip for my class in Ornithology at the University of California, Davis. We students visited a field station that had an underground room with a clear glass plate that formed one bank of a mountain stream . We got to observe fish, insects, and the dipper bird that came swimming by with her furtive wings flapping, showing us all how to fly underground, underwater, and overwhelmed in beauty. We spent that day marveling at birds and writing field notes about them. Returning to university grounds, we had a test about what we were learning about birds. We answered life’s questions concerning awe and interconnection in terms of ecological description and anatomical terms. Perhaps I was compelled to study hard for that class because like Mary, the dipper was perched on my field notebook, examining and encouraging my studious presence to the beauty around me. This was the only college level class where I procured not just an “A” but an “A+.” Really though, the excellence goes to the dipper, who allows me to delve deep into my faith and gratitude in interconnecting being, and thus touch joy.

What brings you joy, simply?

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