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.

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.

Image Credit:

  • IMG 4847: Polly Howells


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