Standing At The Edge Between Two Worlds

Published 3:12 pm Thursday, March 14, 2013

The distinctive call of the Canada goose tells us what we cannot see-their presence on the James River 200 yards to the right of this bluff-side trail, the distance dotted with tall wetland reeds in a wide marsh, then the trunks and bare limbs of riverside trees, and finally the riverbank, itself. My over-eager imagination sees two-dozen geese on the wing.

My wife and I would like to be at the river's edge now, pulled by a two-summer's old memory of standing by the side of the river watching Canada geese flying upstream, just above the water, right in front of us, and then disappearing around a bend upstream, their voices receding into the silence that surfaced in the wake of their departure.

A shimmering vision and somehow deeply spiritual.

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Celtic Christianity has long used the wild goose as its symbol of the Holy Spirit, a rich centuries-old tradition that is, at such moments, easy to understand, as if seeing the wind suddenly manifest and winging by you, brushing your sight rather than your skin.

This trail at the James River State Park must be followed, however. There can be no sudden short-cutting dash. The deep, wide marsh makes certain of that. And so the trail continues, footsteps walking hopefulness toward the river, believing the geese would still be there when we arrived.

Connecting with the park's Riverside Trail, we move away from the base of the tree-filled bluff toward the river, whose flowing surface glistens now in the sun that has stepped out upon the sky's stage from behind a morning-long curtain of clouds.

The light-filled afternoon is disappointingly free, however, of every sound from any Canada goose. The river announces its rain-swollen passage, the wind rustles dried leaves that still cling to their season of dreams and dry reed stems are rattled by feeding, and then flying, birds. But of a single goose, much less the air wing squadron I desire, there is nothing.

Disappointment is kept at long arm's length by the dazzling brilliance of the sun's light walking, running and skipping on water, an electric current of visual sizzle. The view from the riverbank is too beautiful to admit even the first tentative knock on the door of sadness.

And then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, there they are-three Canada geese appearing, as our eyes adjusted to the lustrous gleaming, in the center of the iridescent light. Standing, not floating. If our minds were eyes, we'd rub them. What wonder is this? Then we see the barely-visible flat rock, narrowly surfaced mid-stream, upon which they are standing so still, as if awed by the beauty of the moment themselves.

A trinity of geese, perfectly silhouetted in the sun-stroked river, and we stand still with them and watch and feel and wonder at the small transcendent moments that season our lives with a flavor that cannot be purchased on a store shelf or at the end of a toll-free number.

Momentarily free from emails, faxes, phone calls, reports, meetings, and deadlines, we find there is room for this sliver of meaning that is too easily crowded out by life's urgent static and even its seemingly clear and vital reception.

Eventually we tear ourselves away, but not free, leaving something of each of us behind even as we carry something else from this moment within us ahead on the continuing journey.

We stand, we walk, we move mid-stream-not unlike the geese-between such wondrous visions and the mundane realities that surround them, and encircle us, believing we can find moments to imbue the world that often seems too real with the one that often seems too ephemeral, giving us all wings and flight together.

The next morning, shortly after dawn, looking down from the high river bluff, the geese call to us. We turn our lives toward them. Ironically, for the very first time we must lower our searching gaze to watch flying geese. At this moment, we find ourselves above them, looking down to where they fly in formation at treetop level above the still-darkened river, flying upstream, their wings emblazoned by the orange-yellow light of another brand new day, the geese seeming to fly a warming signal flame into this frost-covered morning.

We exhale, and our breath rises with them.