By Earl Smith
Meaning and Moment
As it happened, Raven was visiting Pond on a warm summer’s afternoon. Soft Breeze was gently wandering among the green leaves and pine needles along Pond’s edges. There was the murmur of things past, and things to come, in the sound of her passing. Afternoon Summer Sun sent his rays down and bounced them off Pond’s rippling surface, causing sparkles in the soft summer air inviting Small Ones That Fly in Bunches to dance in the shade and light.
It was half beyond Highest Sun and the branch upon which Raven perched was still bathed in warmth. His black feathers collected the soothing rays.
After a while Raven flew down to Pond’s edge and satisfied a thirst that had been building. The water felt cool running down his throat. “I thank you friend Pond for the cooling water and for your pleasant company,” he said.
“You are most welcome, Creator. Might I suggest a wetting would do well? Your fine feathers could benefit from it, and I suspect so would your mood,” replied Pond.
“Why, that is a very good idea. I believe I will honor your invitation,” replied Raven.
So, Raven had a bath, splashing and dipping in the cooling water that Pond had offered. It felt so good that he lost himself in the experience, feeling the water soak to his skin. Flapping and splashing like a chick first discovering the joys of being alive. After what he suspected was longer than necessary, Raven returned to the bank positively rejuvenated and very wet.
He hopped up to Warming Rock and spread his wings to Afternoon Sun. He fanned his tail feathers as well, feeling the warming as the water left to join with Soft Summer Air. When he was mostly dry, Raven settled in for a preening. First working each flight feather from base to its tip. He worked with a rhythm that had become so familiar after all the years. He carefully cleaned each feather, feeling satisfaction in the completion and moving on to the next.
Wings done, he turned attention to his tail feathers. Then to the lighter ones that covered his body. As he worked, his feathers began to glow. They were shown in the sun with an iridescence that gave back to Sun part of what he had given to Raven. Warming Rock watched Raven and rejoiced in his work. “You are indeed magnificent, Creator,” he offered in the slow speech that was his way. “I am honored you have chosen me as your place to bring out that magnificence.”
“And I am grateful for your company and help with my task,” replied Raven.
His preening finished, Raven flew up to a low-hanging branch that Maple Near Pond had extended out over the water in order to harvest the late afternoon sun. He settled down, gave a rustle of his newly preened raiment, clicked his beak sharply and sent out a low and satisfied gwark. His mood had again turned somber as he thought about the advancing visitor and the question which she carried. His reverie was interrupted by Pond.
“You seem more serious than normal today, Creator. I am glad my waters were able to distract you for a bit. But you still seem to be disturbed by something,” said Pond.
“I am expecting a visitor,” replied Raven “who will bring a question that has been troubling her.”
“Is it a question that troubles you?” asked Pond.
“No, it does not trouble me. There are few things that do,” said Raven.
“Then what is it about this question that concerns you,” asked Pond?
“It is the need to provide an answer in a form that will be understood and accepted. It is not that the answer is difficult. It is achieving the correct understanding of the answer which presents the challenge.”
“Perhaps if you tell me the question. I will ask it and listen to the …”
Raven interrupted Pond. “There is no time for that now. She approaches. Please be still and do not interrupt. Perhaps we shall talk more about this later.”
For a long while, Raven had been sensing a troubled spirit nearing. He knew Possum was seeking him out. That she needed to talk through something that had stuck in her mind like a burr under her chin. In fact, Raven knew the question that she brought and the reasons why it mattered to Possum.
“Come on out of the woods, friend Possum, and enjoy the pleasure of Warming Rock. He has been collecting the blessings of Sun for the whole day and they are here for us to enjoy.”
Possum held back. It was in her nature to be cautious. She had a dislike of exposure in open places.
“Do not worry,” said Raven “no one will bother us here. It is safe and, if we are going to have a talk, this is the better place for it.”
Possum moved out from the trees and laid down on a flat part of the rock. As the warmth moved into her body she settled down and began to relax.
“Do you have a question?” asked Raven?
“I do indeed,” said Possum “and it has been bothering me these last days. I cannot seem to grasp its meaning. I was hesitant to bother you with it, but I cannot seem to get it out of my mind. So, I decided to seek you out.”
Raven clicked his beak. “I have been awaiting your arrival for some time. Your slowness has given me time for a nice bath and talk with Pond. The day is uncommonly comfortable, and it has helped put my mind in order. I am glad you finally decided to come. When you are ready, ask your question.”
Possum glanced at Raven and, finding no impatience in his hard gaze, settled down, resting her head on the warm rock, feeling its caress. Grateful for its gift of warmth. After a while she raised her head and spoke.
“It is now well into the summer and my young are starting to go out on their own, exploring this wonderful and terrible world you have brought forth. As you know, this is not my first contribution to the continuance of life. Each season since I came of age, I have been blessed with the gift of being able to make such a re-gift to the future. But something has happened that caused me to wonder about the meaning of that gift.”
“I see,” said Raven “and what is that which has happened and why has it caused you such unease?”
“Six Suns ago I was foraging around Brook. The day was much like this one and there was plenty to eat. As I came upon the large tree that spans Brook, I noticed a form along its bank. As I came closer, I recognized that form as one of my recent young. He was no more and yet so young.”
“I stayed by his side for a long time hoping that he would return to the life I gave him. But it was not to be. Finally, I gave him to Brook. She kindly took him away and he passed out of sight. But the image has stayed with me, as has the question that came.”
“But you are not just concerned with the leaving of this young,” said Raven. “There is something else that sits in your mind.”
“Yes,” replied Possum. “I have lost the sense of meaning. The meaning of my own life and the gifts that I have been able to give. It is something that I hadn’t thought about before. Maybe it is the passing of time. The approach of the time when I can no longer make my giftings. But I am bothered by not being able to see beyond tomorrow in this.”
Raven paused for what seemed like a long time and then spoke. “Friend Possum, would you mind moving over and taking a place on Grass? The sun is in my eyes from where you lay, and I would like to be able to see you better.”
Possum wondered at this strange request. Certainly, the idea that Raven would have trouble seeing anything anywhere was strange to her. But she complied. She left the warmth of the rock and moved onto the tall, lush grass that grew between Warming Rock and Pond.
“That’s better,” Raven said after she had lain down. “Now I want you to close your eyes and concentrate on the feeling of Grass. Take your time. Settle in. Don’t be in a hurry. Let everything go out of your mind but Grass.”
Possum did as Raven asked. She wasn’t sure why, but his requests were not to be questioned. After a while she let her head settle down and felt the cool grass cradle her muzzle. Its earthy scent filled her nostrils and the feeling of Grass surrounding her body flowed into her.
“This is indeed pleasant,” she finally said. “But aside from that …”
“Tell me what you know of Grass,” interrupted Raven?
“Aside from knowing it is here and welcoming it back each spring, I know little of it. To me it has been part of the world that I find. But I have never given it much thought. I suspect that you are suggesting I should now.”
“Yes,” said Raven, “it is time for you and Grass to become better acquainted. Every spring it grows anew. Each new spring brings it back. Have you seen it being consumed by Deer?”
“I have indeed,” said Possum. “I have watched Deer eat the new growth. They seem to like it a lot. But what has that to do with my question? And why are Deer’s eating habits important in this?”
“It’s not Deer, friend Possum, that we are talking about but Grass. And what does Grass do when its tender shoots are eaten by Deer?”
“Well, it grows new ones,” answered Possum. “Is that important?”
“It may be,” said Raven, “or it may not be. The course of our conversation shall determine that. What Grass does is not as important as your understanding of what it does and, more importantly, why it does what it does.”
“In this I am confused, Trickster. How can I understand why Grass does anything? It does not speak to me as you do. I cannot hear a voice from it. Can I ask it anything if that is the case?”
Raven flashed a glance at Possum as she used his deeper name but then relaxed and said patiently, “You can ask if you don’t insist that asking involves asking a question. Grass does not bother with such things as language and speaking to the likes of Possum. But it will tell you what you want to know if you find a different way of listening. I want you to spend the rest of this wonderful afternoon doing just that.”
“Are you going to leave me here in the open? Just lying in the grass and listening? What am I to say to it after you have left? Why can’t you just tell me what it will say?”
At that Raven clicked his beak sharply. Possum understood that a suggestion from Raven was not to be dismissed.
“I will do as you suggest,” she said. “Even if I don’t understand why you have made the suggestion.”
At that, Raven ruffled his feathers, spread his wings, flew off across Pond, and disappeared into the trees. Possum settled down into the grass and concentrated on the experience, waiting for a voice to tell her what she wanted to know. After a while her attention started to wander. Once or twice, she tried to bring it back into focus but eventually gave up and settled into Grass more deeply.
Just as Sun was setting over Pond a thought came to her, and she smiled. “Thank you, Creator, I understand.” She rose and gently wandered back into the woods.
So, what did Grass tell Possum
and what does Raven know that you need to learn?
Earl Smith lives in Southwest Washington, DC. He has been a student of Buddhism since time out of mind. He combines native mythologies with Buddhist thinking: a synergy of worldviews that creates new insights. Earl is the author of several paranormal, action-adventure novels and a series of Zen parables. He also writes short stories and poetry drawn from his life experience.
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