Polly Howells of Glenford, New York writes of her confrontation with two great forces:
For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to
Rainer Maria Rilke
“The First Elegy,” translated by Stephen Mitchell.
This past fall I attended a virtual meditation weekend with Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. We meditated – thousands of us across the globe – and she took a few questions, each questioner and she side-by-side on a split screen. The deep presence in which she held her students seemed to me the definition of beauty.
After one of the sessions I walked to the vegetable garden that abuts the out-of-ground swimming pool dug into our hillside. I opened the pool gate and noticed a few small black feathers on the sun cover. As I followed their trail, my breath stopped. In the water, right by the ladder, was a three-foot-long black bird with no head. A murdered being in my bucolic swimming pool. Total terror.
I called my husband and neighbors. Upon inspection we identified it as a wild turkey. How did it get there, who killed it? And where was its head?
We dragged the carcass up into the woods behind the house and left with it a bouquet of wildflowers. A week later the bird was gone, only a few feathers left. The flowers were still there; I brought them to the house and put them in water. Also on the site was a sheaf of bristly black hairs. Did these belong to the being who spirited the bird away? With some research I discovered they were the turkey’s “beard,” the prized sign of masculinity in wild turkeys. I brought the sheaf home and laid it on my altar.
Pema tells us to lean into our fears. I did so. The ferocity of the natural world surrounding us as well as her spiritual beauty have become, in my memory of that weekend, one.
- IMG 4847: Polly Howells