Allies: A poetic guest blog by Peter Firebrace
My dear friend and famous British Chinese medicine teacher, poet, musician, and healer Peter Firebrace shared this lovely poem with me a few days ago. And since I am too deeply involved in finishing up my forthcoming book "Humming With Elephants: A Translation and Discussion of the Great Treatise on the Resonant Manifestations of Yin and Yang (Suwen 5)" to write a blog post myself, I thought I would share it. I hope you like it as much as I do. I have to confess that Peter was one of my inspirations after he turned his life upside down, leaving a busy practice in London to move to a village by the Sea in Denmark, where he has lived ever so happily since. His poem reflects very much my own experience and feelings on my daily walks with the dogs, including encounters with friendly deer. May this poem be balm for your soul and remind you to look for your own allies among "all your relations," if you are suffering, like so many of us in the modern mechanical age, from what Robin Wall Kimmerer and others call "species loneliness": "a deep, unnamed sadness stemming from estrangement from the rest of Creation, from the loss of relationship" (from her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants). Here is Peter's gift:
It seems we all need allies. The Lone Ranger had Silver, his faithful horse. Davy Crockett had his coon-skin cap as well as his trusty rifle, Old Betsy. Basho, Japan’s most famous poet, had the moon and a small boy I once saw on the Moscow metro had a tiny hedgehog, which he kept in his pocket, but brought out to stroke, much to the astonishment of his fellow passengers. Maybe he reminded them of the value of friendship in an often hostile world. Allies bring comfort, company and connection, a little personal touch of life touching life that staves off that feeling of loneliness that seems such a common undercurrent in people’s lives. Bob Dylan, America’s most famous poet, said loneliness got a mind of its own, the more people around, the more you feel alone, and for many their personal dramas become so huge they blot out the sun itself like a giant squid emerging from the deep, all waving sucking tentacles and hard-eyed hunger that swallows up the world.
None of this is logical. No one is alone. There are always the stars or the birds or a tree or that house on the corner or even just the road you’re on and your shoes to tread it. We’re part of the grid, part of the web, we add something, contribute something, even though our inevitable disappearance makes very little difference to the whole. Walking on the sea shore, I’m taken by the power of the waves in ceaseless motion, by the beauty of the light that seems to shine from inside everything, by each shell and pebble that takes my attention, by the wide open sky, the cry of the gulls on the wind. Apparently I am walking alone, but nothing is alone and it doesn’t matter that this scene will be the same long after I’ve gone, as it was long long before I ever came. That’s how it is and I have no complaints.
Today I met a deer on my way to the beach. I was walking down the magic road, a definite ally that leads from our house to the sea, and which unfolds as you walk, the summerhouses either side, the trees and bushes, its rise and fall over the dunes giving new views at every turn, a familiar magical unfolding that is different in every season and where every step brings you closer to the sea. Occasionally I see someone, dog-walkers, neighbours, but mostly not. Mostly it’s me and the road and Victor, of course, if he’s with me, sniffing out who’s been before and leaving his own messages for the next dog to find. I always notice the wild roses as I pass, ragged and spikily desolate in winter, resurgent in their regenerate spring green, so tenderly beautiful in their prolific summer flowers and astonishing with their giant red rosehips in the autumn. Today was mid-November and as I came down the last little hill where the landscape widens and the summerhouses thin out, there it was in amongst the wild roses, a deer feeding and it leapt a little way away when it saw me, but stopped when I stopped and we both turned to look at each other. I told her immediately that I wasn’t a hunter and not to worry and she wasn’t worried, just alert, intense, focused on our meeting, as was I. I wasn’t looking for an ally, I already had one in the road, but this strong meeting of life with life, of two worlds connecting, was deeply fulfilling and uplifting. How wonderful to meet one of the shy, doe-eyed neighbours that live in the woods, to be even more a part of the landscape, to belong.