Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Raven Tree

Not long ago, as I trotted along the riverside track, I heard a loud cawing of ravens. Not one long call but one, and another, and another, and another. A chorus of raven calls coming from just one tree. Over a dozen ravens were perched high in one eucalypt and although there were other tall trees nearby, more and more ravens kept flying into this one tree beacon. It sounded like the tree itself was singing.

But it was the sound of one call overlapping with another and another, multiplied by many birds, that created an unusual multilayered tone, at least for this environment. It was as if the birds were chanting a long drawn out 'OM'. A spiritual chant across the Brisbane River from birds known for their magic and role in mythology and fairy tale.

Ravens chanting 'OM' reminds me of a wondrous experience recounted by the Gestalt psychologist John Swanson (1997). Every year John spends time alone in wild nature on a kind of personal vision quest. One morning, as he sat on a pile of logs on the river, meditating and chanting his own version of 'OM', he was joined in his ceremony by one of the local residents. It is such a special story that I will quote John Swanson here in full:

'Wednesday morning: As I hop out to my place on the logs, the sunlight is already showing on the treetops behind me. I begin as I often do with a combination of praying, gently "ohming," and singing "thank you for this day." As the sun begins to break the horizon, I settle more deeply into the serenity of gentle ohming. The soothing sounds of my chanting reverberate within and without.

When the sun is half way up, I look to my left and sitting on the same log, about twelve feet to my left, is an otter!

I fall silent, being careful not to make any sudden gestures. I sit very still, containing my excitement about what will happen next. He -- if he is a "he" -- stays there only briefly before slithering off the log. Breaking my own guidelines which call for silence, I resume my gentle ohming chant. A few moments later, his head pops up in front of me and slightly to the right; close enough so that if I bent over and leaned out I could have touched him. Eyeball to eyeball, we look into each other's eyes for a few long seconds. Then, the otter opens its mouth, and in a raspy low moan out comes the sound, "ohm." As soon as he finishes this startlingly good otter version, he drops out of sight again. In the silence that follows, I feel astonished, exhilarated and blessed.

I resume ohming, which now resonates with special feeling for my surprise visitor. This time around I sing not only "Thank you for this day" but also "Thank you for this otter." A short while later, I notice a nose sticking out from between two logs just two or three feet to my left and slightly behind me. My otter friend has joined the ceremony. I continue to ohm and once again he responds with his own ohm sound. I am sharing my sunrise ceremony with an otter! After awhile he disappears beneath the water.

Soon after his departure, I express my gratitude for this wonderful event and start to leave. Two steps into leaving, a loud moan startles me as I step onto a log. Recoiling with dread that I might have squashed him under the log, I bend over, scanning the surface of the water for some sign of him, saying, "I'm sorry. Are you OK?" Immediately, the otter appears and swims around and right up to my right foot which he would be touching if it weren't higher up on the log. Looking right into my eyes, he "ohms again." I "ohm" back. Again, we are eyeball to eyeball. I find myself talking to him, "Isn't this a wonderful home" and "I am writing a book that I hope will help save this place and others like it for us all." After this brief encounter, he once again submerges. I pause a moment to see if he will re-emerge, and when he doesn't, I return to my campsite.'

John Swanson's book is called Communing with Nature: A Guidebook for Enhancing your Relationship with the Living Earth. Corvallis, OR, Illahee Press, 2001.

If you would like to make a comment, please click onto the section marked comments below.

Swanson JL, 1997, Prescribing Nature: Exploring the Subjective Frontiers of Nature,