The Worry Monster, Mother’s Day and muddling through…

Cranes from the Art of Japan exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

Cranes from the Art of Japan exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

I woke up in the early hours of the morning to the sound of the rain on the roof – as I so often do living in the green hills of the Northern Rivers.  (Note to self:  In Australia, a country renowned for its droughts, there’s a reason why this area is always green.  Second note to self:  Always research an area before moving there.)

As I lay there wondering if it was too early to get up at 4.30 am and work, the Worry Monster came to visit, and soon we were running through our favourite conversations – too many horses with too many fungal diseases (also due to the weather); too little time, too much to do, not enough money, no clear direction at the moment as to the way forward – and why not?  And what is wrong with me??? Everything was absolutely focussed with crystal-like clarity on what is wrong with my life.

And this day, the Saturday before Mother’s Day is always a little hard because three years ago we were told a very beautiful and valuable thoroughbred horse, Fox, whom we’d owned only for a few months, was dying of pneumonia.  It was a catastrophic series of tiny mistakes which had led us to this sad place, but there we were with just the slightest chance he would make it through the night, but at 5.00am on Mother’s Day morning, he died, and I’ve felt the sadness most acutely at this same time of year ever since.

I took a deep breath.  After several years of trying my best to acquire the positive habit of the Law of Attraction I knew I wasn’t doing myself any favours.

I decided, as I also often do, to tune into one of my favourite shows – Jennifer McLean’s Healing with the Masters, and her replay of her interviewer with author and teacher, Patricia Cota-Robles.

And there it was – the exact phrase I needed for that moment:

“The company of heaven say that worry is a way of praying for what you don’t want.”

 OMG!  So true.

I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself, ignore the rain and take the dogs for a walk before I fed the horses.

As I drove up the lane where I live there was a single White-headed pigeon sitting bang-slap in the middle of the road.  I had to get out of the car and shoo it away before it decided to fly up into the nearest tree – and that was just the start of my morning adventures.

The pigeon was followed by more bird-life than I usually see in weeks, all in the space of half-an-hour.  Ground-nesting plovers stalked imperiously away from me scolding me crossly for daring to drive through their territory; flocks of Australian White Ibis and the Black-headed Ibis took to the sky in their droves as the dogs and I walked up and down the avenues of macadamia trees trying to avoid the pouring rain, a pair of delicate Grey Herons, (actually the Australian White-faced Heron by the way), rose gracefully into the air looking exactly like birds on a Japanese scroll.  Even the sky – a deep shade of Payne’s Grey – looked like a painting, ominous, brooding and beautiful all at once. On the way home a pair of Willy Wagtails and a pair of Butcher Birds were right next to the White-headed pigeon – which led me to wonder why the pigeon was by itself?  Had it lost its mate?  After all, pigeons are monogamous and mate for life – like many bird species who seem to have achieved something with which we humans have difficulties. Were the other birds keeping it company in its loneliness?

Stranger things have happened – certainly in my animal-filled life!

Talking of which, what do you when you get home and you need to move a guinea pig and rabbit from a horse stable so you can put two horses in the two stables in order to dry them out a bit?  You put them in an Ikea laundry basket – you know, the silver ones, with a wire frame and fine mesh all around.  Plenty of air, light to carry, fine enough mesh that the sawdust doesn’t fall out – problem solved – and it only took 20 minutes of chasing them around the stable to get them in there.

(Of course all of that might beg the question as to why the guinea pig and rabbit are in a horse stable to begin with, and that goes back to the weather.  They’re living in massive five-star hotel luxury because they were constantly being rained out in their previous home and I got sick of rescuing them.  Now they live in a stable big enough for a 17hh warmblood, and are ejected only when I need the stable.)

Then, because ‘needs must’, as my mother used to say, I heat up a bowl of olive oil – not as a nature’s own remedy for me, but in order that I can rub it in to one of the horse’s legs.  Our old show-jumper, Cardigan, gets regular outbreaks of Greasy Heel, which spreads up his legs, and olive oil is just one of the numerous treatments we have to apply.  I let the leg soak up the oil for a while before I spend half-an-hour happily engrossed in scratching scabs off.

By now my human needs are more than calling me – it’s time for a shower, breakfast and a cup of tea.

I discover, to my surprise, that I’ve enjoyed this morning much more than I might have thought I would when I first woke up, and the Worry Monster has been well and truly banished – at least for a while, and when she makes her presence felt I will remember, when I worry, I am praying for what I don’t want.

The illustration with this post is actually of cranes, of course, but it captures the heron spirit!

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A Meditation on Magpies

The stranger in our midst

 And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle

The magpies said.

                                                 Dennis Glover.

Photograph: Candida Baker

For the six years we’ve lived at our property, we’ve shared it with a colony of magpies, or perhaps, more correctly, they’ve shared it with us.

At least I thought it was a colony, until I thought I should find out the correct collective noun – and there seem to be a few on offer: congregation, tiding, tittering, gulp, charm or murder; although I’ve always thought it was a murder of crows.  I’ve decided congregation is by far the most descriptive noun, since their singing sounds remarkably like a bird version of a church choir.

Their carolling is the first lovely noise we hear in the morning, and in the evening they gather interestedly to watch the preparation of the horse feed, and to ‘help’ the horses eat. There’s about 20 in our particular congregation, and they sing, squabble, eat and play very much like humans.  It’s always been a harmonious relationship between the birds and people around here – that is until last year, when for the first time ever, an aggressive magpie somehow found his way into the pack.

Suddenly, I found myself being viciously swooped, and generally forgetting to arm myself with an ice-cream carton or hat, or even sunglasses on my head, I would find myself wearing a grubby feed bucket, or even ducking under a horse to get out of the way.  I shouted at him, scolded him, explained to him that it was not how our magpies behaved, but he was having none of it, and kept up the aggression for what seemed like months.  It’s usually the males that are the aggressors, and you can tell the males from the females by the fact that they have vivid white plumage on their necks, as opposed to the softer grey neck plumage of the females.

Magpies are well known as collectors of anything that catches their beady eyes. 

A friend of mine once rescued a baby female Magpie who grew up to be a fully-fledged family member.  She could mimic the sheepdogs perfectly, and wasn’t above trying to round up the sheep herself.  She also, if anyone was repairing anything, would helpfully arrive bearing twigs, or string or bark for you – her head cocked on one side, as if to say here you are, just for you!

Celtic folklore suggests that when two or more magpies fly into your life good fortune is on its way – although it doesn’t mention anything about one grumpy male unfortunately.  They’re certainly clever, that’s for sure, surprising ornithologists with their adaptability to even a poisonous intruder, such as the introduced cane toad.  It took the magpies of Australia only a few generations to learn to flip the toads over and attack their soft and non-venomous stomachs – showing a highly-social learned behaviour skill.

Magpies are highly valued for their symbolism as well – their vocal songs a joyous creative expression of themselves that we could well emulate.  On the plus side they’re seen as communicative, social, extroverted and cheerful, their negative symbolic attributes include gossiping, deception, vanity, wilfulness and opportunism.

All that for one little bird!  Curiously, and quite frequently, the East and West have different symbolic takes on animals, and that’s also true with the Magpie, which for the Chinese is considered a ‘Bird of Joy’ signifying good fortune, but in the West, in stricter Christian times, it was seen as a manifestation of the Devil himself.

Mark Twain once acquainted himself with a magpie on a visit to Australia and wrote:

…He had lived in a lady’s house several years, and believed he owned it. He was always on deck when not wanted, always having his own way, always tyrannizing over the dog, and always making the cat’s life a slow sorrow and a martyrdom. He knew a number of tunes and could sing them in perfect time and tune; and would do it, too, at any time that silence was wanted; but if he was asked to sing he would go out and take a walk.

With that kind of contrary personality no wonder my aggressor was deaf to my pleas of a truce!  But curiously, this second year, he’s not so bad – still swooping and taking me by surprise, but not so viciously, and not so often.

Maybe by next year we’ll be friends, the Stranger in our Midst fully integrated, and our Magpie congregation and our family can live together in peace again.

Magpies

Along the road the magpies walk

with hands in pockets, left and right.

They tilt their heads, and stroll and talk

in their well-fitted black and white.

They look like certain gentlemen

who seem most nonchalant and wise

until their meal is served – and then

what clashing beaks, what greedy eyes!

But not one man that I have heard

throws back his head in such a song

of grace and praise –  no man nor bird.

Their greed is brief; their joy is long.

For each is born with such a throat

as thanks his God with every note.

Judith Wright