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Denali Institute of Northern Traditions
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Alternatives For Healing

Taking the 100% All-Natural Cure

by Charles Creekmore

Recently, I watched a mother merganser teaching her brood of ducklings how to fly as they used the seaplane takeoff and landing site of the small pond in my back yard. Her ducklings hadn’t yet perfected the art of the splashdown, so they bombed all over the airspace above the pond before crash-landing with all the subtlety of kamikaze pilots.

As funny as this aerial circus proved, it also begged the question: How was this ancient and much-envied instinct, the gift of flight,transferred from mother to ducklings? 

The answer: Who the heck knows? But admiring this phenomenon is what the purpose of human consciousness is all about: delighting in the natural, elemental, elegant things that make life worthwhile.

Our natural surroundings serve as the 100% all-natural panacea for the human condition, and nature is always available for us to take the cure.

Communing with nature has never failed to raise my consciousness, inject me with a dose of pure joy, or fill me with a reverent, respectful, and profound adoration of life on earth. Where would we all be without this deep wellspring of spiritual energy and inspiration?

When I’m hiking, running, birding, or biking, I’m often reminded of a line from the Field of Dreams film: “There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place, and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what’s possible.”

There’s no reason in the world for us not to take pleasure in our collective field of dreams right outside.

Each summer, my yard forms a grassy, overgrown copse shaded by its own canopy, a rustling Over-Soul of oak, maple, hemlock, shag bark hickory, and white pine trees. From my back door, l can peer through this shady nook into Harkness Pond, my own mini-Walden.

By day, this modest body of water transforms into a tiny sea brimming with jitterbugging minnows, sunning turtles, sperming tadpoles,paddling muskrats, burping bullfrogs, and salmon-tinted newts floating in suspended animation.

Above the radiated surface of Harkness Pond, iridescent red and blue dragonflies dogfight like World War I biplanes. Often, a flock of cedar waxwings will crowd noisily into the pond-side birch trees and flit across the bright, becalmed waters jerking gnats, flies, and midges out of thin air.

By night, the place turns into a coral symphony of peepers wheezing eternal messages, of wind chimes from ancient Tibetan monasteries, of mystic music gravitating from waltzing planets, of crickets plucking at zither strings, of cicadas sounding tone poems with inner tambourines. The grandness and pageantry of the 1812 Overture pale by comparison to my back yard of any summer’s eve.

One day, standing in back of my house, I spotted a pileated woodpecker, a crow-sized, black-and-white species with a neon-red,rock-and-roll, Woody Woodpecker topnotch. That sighting naturally reminded me of the time, more than 30 years before, when I had experienced what was undoubtedly the most profound natural wonder of my life.

On Thanksgiving morning of 1982, my girlfriend Rachel and I had been birding in a marshy area of the Ozark Mountains near Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and spotted a large woodpecker, perched on a trunk only 25 yards away as it drilled for insects. It stayed there, trapped in the lenses of our binoculars, for at least 60 seconds, while we both consulted our field guides to confirm our astonishing suspicion.

 Then, with absolute awe, we verified the unmistakable field marks and corroborated that we were focused on a living artifact, a bird considered extinct for decades. It was an ivory-billed woodpecker.

 Of course,I don’t expect anyone to believe me. The birding establishment had long ago decreed that the ivory-bill had gone the way of the dodo. Hence, our sighting was quickly dismissed with the kind of distain reserved for crackpots everywhere.

 One male birder, acting with the arrogant and competitive behavior diagnostic of his species, openly mocked us for daring to think we could see the unseeable. Soon thereafter, both Rachel and I decided we didn’t want to flock with birds of that feather anymore and stopped birding formally.

 We preferred to admire nature in a more detached way, noncompetitively,respectfully, reverently, and on our own terms.

 But all that was irrelevant. Our identification of this rare wood pecker went far beyond the act of verifying all its field marks in a birding guide. No, there was something sacred and timeless about this noble, stubborn bird as it bickered with extinction.

Seeing it was like the feeling one must enjoy after making a pilgrimage of several thousand miles to find an ancient holy place, lost to civilization for centuries.

That feeling, that sense of the sacred and the timeless, is a perfect definition for the marvels of nature. This ivory-billed woodpecker was our apparition of the divine. 

Rachel and I had the last laugh about our unbelievable spotting. Starting in 2004, there were several sightings of ivory-billed woodpeckers by “expert birders” in eastern Arkansas, not far from where we saw ours.When this exciting news started making headlines, Rachel emailed me with a one-word message that said it all:


And that’s also what I say to myself whenever I’m communing with nature, its life energy, and its noble muse. “Hah!”

Nature always inspires me with a sense of the sacred and the timeless, in much the same way that Henry David Thoreau must have been inspired by each of his daily afternoon “saunters,” which he took so religiously from his outpost on Walden Pond.

Any moment of our lives can be an encounter with the miraculous, when the cosmic tumblers click into place, and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show us what’s possible. Any moment can be an encounter with an ivory-billed woodpecker. With the wonder of ducklings flying for the first time.

It’s only a matter of mindfulness; only a matter of recognizing the uncanny reflection of the natural world in the supernatural depths of our own souls.


Charles Creekmore is the author of the online book Back to Walden. He also wrote Zen and the Art of Diabetes Maintenance, published by the American Diabetes Association, as well as Beyond Diabetes, a book soon to be published by Jim Healthy Publications. He has written for the New York Times, Psychology Today, The Humanist, Buddhism Magazine, National Wildlife, and many others.

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