Warmer morning. Walked the mile and a half to the spot where I’d seen the kestrel a few days before. I knelt down to give the dog some water and, I can’t be sure, but, I think the same kestrel made a long slow lazy circle around us kree kreeing and landed in a little catalpa about a hundred yards away. I crouched in the tall grass and watched her for a long time oblivious to where I was.
I am more and more interested in the intersection of the wild and the civilized. Here in these borderlands I am reminded what has been lost and what is still possible. The liminal hills that bound Salt Lake City to the north and east are teeming with life, so much so that some of it appears to be nuisance-worthy – coyotes, rattlesnakes, kestrels, even bear. I know there are plenty of people who don’t give a shit about kestrels and coyotes, they seem to me to be the same people that don’t give a shit about anything. We take this idea of ourselves, whether you’re a person who believes in the so-called I deserve what I get American ethos, or you’re a do-gooder who shops ONLY at Whole Foods, we take this with us out into these borderlands. We build huge homes, we build snaking asphalt roads up beautiful golden hills, we ride mountains bikes everywhere with little regard for the impact machines have on the land.
Here’s the deal: we’re not going to survive like this; but you and I probably will, those of us who are alive now. This argument isn’t teleological or apocalyptic it’s a simple fact that humans need for their own nourishment and sanity to encounter wild places, places somewhat unspoiled by industry. But it’s more than this. It’s more than exposure. Looking at and being in wild places does not make you a better person, in fact, a cursory look on Instagram reveals that it easily makes you a douchebag. No, we need lessons. We need adventure in the sense that experience is tinged with danger. We need to feel being lower on the food chain. We need to put down our guns and fight with knives and fists and sticks. My contention is that what life is like in the border areas of our cities predicts the future of our civilization. Do we tolerate ambiguity? Do we tolerate the presence of coyote? Do we tolerate the descent, in winter, of elk and moose herd from the high country? Do we admit into our presence raptors? And then what? Will that make us better? I don’t think it will, honestly. But tolerance, laughter, and paying attention may slow our own destruction of ourselves and our home.
This is why the kestrel fascinates me. This is a bird that lives in the liminal space between what is further out and caricatured nature. It tolerates our presence to a degree, much the same as coyote does. And like other falcons, it does more than fly, it is verily a god of the air who with the most inconsequential flinging of wings can rise several football fields in a few seconds.
Presence and absence, not as duality with metaphysical implications but as the same process, the same consciousness, the same sky and mountain and earth and body. Presence is absence and both are the mystery. The kestrel bursts forth from mystery into my presence, the presence of my awareness and the presence of my consciousness and then the presence of my attention. She leaves and is forgotten but returns in the presence of my memory which is also absence but which unites us when the memory arises. A presence shared is also at the same moment absence shared.
Liminal: out of Latin’s limin and limen both of which mean something like ‘threshold’. Limen survives in English as a noun and “refers to the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced” (Merriam-Webster). Let’s go down further. Subliminal thus literally means below a threshold. To sublimate is to push down beneath sense or awareness. As these things happen, I found this today written by Dougald Hine, the founder of one of my favorite places to read about the world:
The liminal is the space of the threshold, with all the vulnerability and potential of transition: the costliness of letting go, with no guarantee of what will come after. The liminal phase of a ritual is the moment of greatest danger – or rather, ritual is a safety apparatus built around the liminal. Whichever, the liminal is where the work gets done, where the change happens (Dark Mountain Blog)
I started this project by writing of the liminal lands of the wild land preserve that curved its way down into my neighborhood from the high Wasatch. I meant that word in its modern poetic sense of gauzy threshold. I see now more clearly than ever before that so much that has been sublimated is expressing itself in this corpus. The walking is the ritual. The looking is the ritual. The writing is the ritual. Beyond the ritual though is the actual limen. Ritual protects us as we take off the old skin and prepare to walk forward into the black where there is nothing to guide us but ourselves. As I take the bird into my eye she surely brings me into hers. We live in the same instantaneous tissue that lasts forever. We live in each other. I know where I'm going. The gauzy threshold is the point at which psychological effects are produced. The Columbus Preserve and I are the same. I am at home, have found a home. The She Kestrel is my guide, it is She who has sent the emissaries to me. It is She who has given me the gift of my own depths. She takes me to where Bear and Skunk wait for me among the sweet ponderosa pines and endless bramble berries that line the Chiwaukum Creek of my soul. From there Skunk takes me over the mountain to a beautiful lake. At the western shore of the lake we enter a cave which goes and goes down far below the lake. At the end of the cave is a glowing red stone - Archetype.
I dream a few weeks later that I am in a house with my father and uncle. I notice a brilliant emerald snake, huge, come slithering toward the house. It is awful and at the same time beautiful - I know it means to kill me. When it reaches the back window, I go to that room and find Skunk staring implacably out at the brilliant serpent, nothing but a screen separating them.
Skunk saved my life in the dream. Kestrel brought me beyond the threshold of knowing that my life needed saving.
Liminal. Threshold. Movement deep down.