For many years, and many years ago, I studied at a beautiful Catholic retreat center on the southern coast of Rhode Island – Our Lady of Peace Spiritual Life Center. The program mixed art, creation spirituality, prayer, psychology/Jungian dreamwork, ritual and the inspiration of the Rhineland Mystics. OLP, as we came to call it, was a refuge, a haven, a healing sanctuary and learning center for many of us who journeyed through the program and fanned out into the community to use what we had learned in a variety of creative ways.
 
 But that is not actually what I want to focus on here. What I am remembering are the grounds on which the retreat house and castle (yes, castle) lived, and a particular connection with nature that happened one morning on a meditative walk after breakfast.
Like many such centers, the grounds were private, spacious and magical: a pond with bullfrogs, snapping turtle and large goldfish, paths between holly trees, male and female (with and without berries for those of you who know holly biology) leading deep into the hidden woods, a sacred sheltering grove of ancient beech trees , always about 10 degrees cooler under the thick canopy of leaves on a sweltering humid summer day, a wetland with horsetail for knowledgeable herbal collectors. The grounds, even tho part of a Catholic retreat center, were deliciously Pagan in that way familiar to Celtic Spirituality.
 
 And so, that one morning very early, walking under the canopy of ancient wrinkled and grey-trunked beech trees, I was lost in thought, or meditation, or both, when I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by the call of my totem bird. A Crow. (Other people had swans and cardinals as a totem bird..you know, beautiful birds. I had/have…a Crow, The Truthteller.)
 
 I stopped and had a strange and almost disconcerting feeling of being watched…of being not alone in the woods as I had perceived. It was a very definite sense…a palpable sense of a Presence, and of being observed, or as I said, “watched”.
 
 Looking all around me I saw no movement, no people, no animals, at least not at ground level. Another loud “caw” from my Crow at the top of a giant old gnarled beech drew my attention upward along the trunk to stop with surprise at an amazing nest of leaves and a hole in the tree about 25 feet above, out of which was peering, RIGHT DOWN AT ME with a most direct gaze, a squirrel with a gaze that locked eyes with mine for several very intense minutes. Not once did he blink. Nor did I, I don’t think. But the silent communication that passed between us was filled with amused curiosity and the mutual unspoken thought-formed words upon each others presence, “Well now, just look at YOU. Aren’t you interesting, whatever it is you’re up to”.
 
 I did laugh right then, and again when I recorded this in my journal later that day to have been made aware of how limited our vision can be sometimes as we humans tromp and crash noisily in our busy-ness and through our hurried lives, so “in our heads“, or self-centered that we are completely un-awares of other, perhaps even older life forms somewhat hidden all around us… Oblivious of our creaturely brothers and sisters in the natural world who are right near us, and from their high up perches, peer with wonder and amusement, if not exasperation or bewilderment, at our speed and noise, our incessant comings and goings.
 
 And so it is in this season when the trees have shed their clothes, and sway bare to the elements, the winds and the forces of nature, that I am reminded to look UP and find the amazing tree houses where the squirrels hunker down and make community AND babies…and for sure, from where they keep an eye on us, knowing more about us than we can possibly imagine.
 
 

Little Brother is watching you!

 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
Christine Phoenix-Green (January 2011)     
 
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