To have and to hold

From behind the curtain I am watching the birds in the garden. I am waiting for the hawthorns to grow tall and become a haven for feathered things. They are, for the moment, little more than bushes, but even so, every morning, sparrows and blackbirds, bluetits and doves visit my little patch. Ravens and jackdaws fly in most days, while Ani lies by the open door and watches, or bounds out to scatter them when she sees that I am watching. Every day, overhead, the great red kites soar majestically. Yesterday one landed on the roof behind my home and I watched, not daring to move for the camera, as the huge beauty surveyed its domain.

It was a rare privilege. Though I would give the proverbial eye-teeth to take a really good photograph of these birds in the wild there are some things you can only experience, not seek to catch. Had I moved for the camera I would have missed the moment; had I sought to capture it, I would have lost something precious. Some things are simply a gift from the Earth, just for you in that moment, to be enjoyed, cherished only in the heart… not to capture.

There are things, moments, that are so beautiful, yet so ephemeral and fragile that they cannot be held or possessed, only accepted. Like a sunbeam that cannot be caught, but only felt as it plays across your skin, or seen as it lights the rainbows in a diamond… or like a butterfly whose fragile wings are crushed by a child’s grasp at beauty. The ancients knew and told the story of Eros and Psyche… Love and the Soul…. Psyche could be with Eros only as long as she did not seek to look upon him and when she did, he disappeared.

By seeking to hold we can often lose the very thing that moves us. Yet it seems we are programmed very early on to want to ‘have’ what touches us, instead of being able to simply love something that is free to be itself.

Even language seeks to impose a degree of ownership on all we do, and particularly in regard to human interaction. Language conditions us and the careful choice of words can have devastating effect, for good or ill. While we may be aware of the effects caused by the deliberate usage of words in terms of propaganda, we unconsciously do the same all the time, not realising, perhaps, the insidious implications a single word can have.

Even the simplest statement… “I have two sons…” implies a degree of possession. We do not intend it that way, we may simply be using the easiest words… we may be indicating affection rather than ownership, if we think about it at all… yet the verb ‘to have’ implies ownership at some level.

Yet, when we possess something it ceases to be itself and becomes little more than an extension of ourselves… it loses more than freedom and autonomy, as its own identity becomes subsumed in our projection of our own. Even deeper than that, we often become, even in our own eyes, defined by what we think we possess… yet in truth, we come into the world naked and leave it the same way, so we possess nothing. We may think we hold things for a while, but the only thing we truly ‘own’ is our self. And even that is debateable.

As I watched the birds I was thinking about that. Would I want to cage a sparrow? No… I delight in their antics in the garden. I love them for their freedom. Would I want a red kite on a perch, just to say it was ‘mine’? No, I want only to see them ride the wind… though a little closer to the lens would be nice, I admit!

We all delight in the unexpected glimpses of wildlife. And, by their very nature, they are free… wild… unowned…untamed. Over the years a good many baby birds or injured ones have passed through my hands. While it is a delight to have that close contact for a while there is never any other goal, and no greater joy, than to see them fly free as soon as they are able. You are left with nothing but memories… perhaps a photo…with empty hands but a full heart. Maybe that is the only place we can truly hold anything.

36 thoughts on “To have and to hold

  1. Today was always going to be a time of remembering, of regretting for Mothers day is never a good day for me. Your post has turned over some long-forgotten precious memories and I can take solace there…

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  2. Love to watch the little featheries in the garden, but sadly few visit us at the moment. Hopefully once we have some colour it will be different, but we still have the duck and gees in the park, and the hedges there are teeming with sparrows!

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  3. I’m feeling less enamoured of red kites at the moment since they tried to take over ‘our’ osprey nest. They’ve even tried to knock him out of it and he’s had to fight constantly to retain ownership. I hope Mrs Osprey gets here soon to lend a hand.

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  4. Sometimes, we stand for an hour, just watching. I know if I move to get the camera, whatever we are watching will vanish as if it were never there at all — so we watch. I also watch what’s deep in the woods — beyond the range of my lens. I’m pretty sure I saw an eagle back there the other days and a few times I saw that Pileated Woodpecker who flies past on his way to the big trees deep in the woods. While we have just 2.5 acres, our back acreage is set next to a 40-acre woods thus far (and so may it remain) claimed by no humans. I keep an eye out for the bird-eating hawks, too. We also have Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks … almost as big as eagles and more aggressive. It’s a strange line we draw between the small birds we want to protect and the big birds we know need their dinner, too. And of course, wondering when we’ll see the bears and the deer and the coyote again.

    We cut our forsythia hedge way back last summer. It had grown so enormous there was nothing else left to do. Even cut way back, it’s still a reasonable hedge and there are dozens of birds holed up in it.

    I’ve always felt odd saying “I own a dog” and these days, we tend to say “We share our house with three insane dogs” which probably sums it up better.

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    1. I just own up to being owned by the small dog… I’m happy to be ‘hers’ 🙂

      I watch the birds a lot too… a camera would be nice, but I’d rather enjoy them than miss them running off to get it. Bears and eagles, though… I envy you those!

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      1. I am glad for the bears, but I fear for my house. We are not built to withstand bears and I have this funny feeling our insurance is not going to cover a bear tearing down my deck. The eagles, though, are a gift.

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          1. I know people who’ve had a hungry bear completely disassemble decks and porches, including walls and rafters and any furniture they could get to. A bear in a bad mood is not a creature you want to try to manage.

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