The Singing Ground

Working our way through bull briars and vines and fallen cedar logs – the carnage of our epic winter, 2015 – we sought wonder in the 100-Aker Wood. We are all hungry for wonder in New England right about now, somewhere on the timeline between the last snow melt and the planting of peas. We found wonder aplenty, as usual, and we stepped into moments of awe. We found plate-sized bits of deer hide piled across the path in several places. We found a maze of mossy, elven paths. We found the Philosopher’s Stone. And we found woodcocks.

I’d never heard of woodcocks, though apparently they appear often as a figurative literary device in Shakespeare’s works. We were wondering how to cross the stream without getting wet when suddenly a woodcock rose up with a flutter. Whit had never seen one in situ before, and he was rapt, when another rose up and flew away to the pond. “Two of them, at once!” he shouted. “Did you see that?” Well, of course. He told me about the long, straw-like beak and the bird’s shyness; he told me their nicknames too: Bug Suckers and Timberdoodles.

We continued on for another hour, marveling at the family of deer, and the stone walls, and the sentries of cedar trees at the head of the hill. Just beautiful.

Next day, before class, Kitty bounds in: “Have you seen the woodcocks dance?”

“Well,” I said, “until yesterday I’d never even heard of a woodcock, and now twice in two days I am asked to consider them. What dance?”

She explained. This time of year the courtship ritual of the woodcock produces spiral flights, funny tweeting noises, and an even funnier little two-step that takes place in an open area, called “The Singing Ground.” The normally shy waterfowl leaves the safety of the woods to “come out,” as it were, publicly. People seek out the performance in clearings or fields near wet, woody areas. Kitty’s party saw as many as 15 birds in courtship. Whit and I hadn’t seen the dance, but maybe the birds we saw had already found each other, were already in love.

***

We sing a lot at Grace, and in the six years of singing in the sanctuary my voice has (shyly) made itself known to me. I am in love with the unpredictability of singing. Some days the voice is clear and round and foreign, someone else’s voice forced through my body. Some days it’s a weak thing, and I can feel my cords wanting to collapse with the effort and repetition. My guru taught us to “sing the colors,” syllables that will clear the aura: AH, U, SO, EE, SUN, SUM, and AUM. These we encourage as forced evacuations of the gross and subtle body: “Loud and long! It doesn’t have to sound pretty!”

One by one we are opening the 8-foot windows at Grace, which is like opening the doors between us and the 100-Aker Wood. In meditation we hear the birds; and soon we are singing ourselves. I hear call and response between the yogis and the birds. Call and response with the chimes in the room and the chimes hanging from the bunk house. Everywhere we are calling for one another. Hello? Even the birds want to be met, to be heard, to be seen, as shy as they may be. I am remembering that Bija himself came to me without a voice. How patient he was in wanting to be heard! How long it took him to feel comfortable with a request: Hello? Bija was a blank slate, it seemed, two and a half years ago. Now he has found his voice.

Grace is my singing ground and I suspect many members of the community may say the same.

Today, a different singing ground:

For five weeks Bija has had intermittent weakness and pain in his hind legs. Yesterday, finally, surgery for the herniated disc. Today I visited him in the sterile exam room at the animal hospital. The technician laid him in my arms and left the room. His eyes were dewy and almost blank. He was not moved to whimper or whine, but with 12 staples in his back and a catheter in his leg, he was stiff and uncomfortable. How to visit with a sick and medicated Bija? How to help him relax? I began to sing into his ear, shyly at first. Hari Om, Shiva Om. There is the longing there, in the steady rise of the notes and the upper notes just out of my range. I had forgotten how moving it is to sing. My voice broke and still it kept going. I sang for Bija, to calm him, and also to calm myself. His body sank into my lap. We sang Mere Gurudev, then, in submission: “I offer these flowers of my faith at your feet”. Then the lullaby Twameva; finally, Door of My Heart. By the end his body was limp and totally relaxed. Mine too.

Door of my heart, open wide I keep for You.
Will You come, Will You come, Just for once, come to me?
Will my days fly by without seeing You, my Lord?
Night and day, night and day, I look for You night and day.

Come out of the woods singing. The song will lead you to your ground.

Judy McClain