This is me at Canyonlands National Park watching crows, which were not the birds I thought I would be watching during sabbatical.
I had planned a beautiful sabbatical leave: a 12-week, cross-country road trip visiting 20 National Parks with my partner Joe. After months of joyful planning I had guidebooks, maps, and bird lists ready to go.
In June, however, when Joe’s shortness of breath turned out to be lymphoma needing immediate and aggressive treatment, those plans changed. I wanted to be home with Joe as he faced whatever this cancer would bring.
In October we received the miraculous news that Joe was doing so well that he could have a break from treatment until maintenance chemo begins in January. We would be able to salvage part of the original sabbatical trip: the southwest leg. I was ecstatic and eager to rest in the beauty of nature as well as add a bunch of new birds to my life list.
But there were only crows. Everywhere. I would catch sight of something majestic soaring in the distance and excitedly focus my binoculars only to see the same black bird we have at home. I was only slightly less annoyed when I learned these were ravens. This was not what I wanted. I had been longing to see something new and beautiful, plus their incessant “caw caw” was an intrusion into what would otherwise be a deeply peaceful scene.
“This would be perfect if it wasn’t for these crows,” I said to Joe.
And then we started to laugh. I mean, really? Here I was, hiking beautiful landscapes with my beloved who six weeks earlier needed to rest while walking around the block and I was complaining about crows? With great compassion for myself, I vowed to ignore the crows and focus on the grace.
But the crows weren’t done with me. They kept coming. Mesa Verde, Arches, Great Basin Park and on every expanse of highway, there they were. Eventually I got curious and learned corvids (ravens and crows) are anything but ordinary. They are renowned for their intelligence and adaptability for which many cultures revere them as spiritual teachers.
Now I am back home and it is Advent and I am watching for crows. Their “caw caw” reminds me that what I might experience as distraction, disturbance, disruption could be a teacher calling me to notice the grace that is here rather than miss it because I’m scanning the horizon for something else. There is no peace apart from life and there is no life that comes without “ordinary birds.” The invitation for us is to show up, openhearted, for all of it.