|Painting by Kim Mosley|
Churning, yearning, burning Earth
The forest fire blazed, consuming desire, compassion, love, children, deer, ants, and snakes. Tree branches reached towards the sky twisting into arms filled with resistance. Their hands gestured protest. Unable to reach one drop of dew, one drop of the well, one drop of source that would quench.
The bird put out the forest fire one drop at a time. The brown leaves of the trees reached up to her. Save us, they cried. And all the air was red with flame. Pity moved her wings.
Great-hearted bird, she was the tenderness of the universe.
The bird in the picture reminds me of the planes I drew in the backs of composition books in fifth grade. My planes rained down bombs on tanks and guns that returned the attack. The bird rains down drops on a fire that returns updrafts and heat. Both conflicts between high and low. Gravity aids the high and hinders the low. Fire will spring up among the bombed structures, threatening the high and the low. Does the fire care what it threatens?
The Bird Put Out the Forest Fire One Drop at a Time (carried in his little beak)
The title lets us know the bird was a success.
“Put out the fire” the title says.
Tiny drops are painted below its beak.
Suspend judgment. Believe.
Without the title—despair.
The fire is so big.
The bird so small.
One drop at a time.
Imagine. The bird did not despair.
He filled his little beak.
That is what he had—a beak.
The forest fire was put out.
Sit with this.
Remember the huge forest fire in Yosemite?
Ash fell in the streets miles away.
The smell invaded our clothes, our hair, inside our car.
Food stuck in my mouth as flames leapt in the air, so close.
The bird put out the fire one drop at a time.
The bird has wings.
Wings to fly away, escape.
And yet, one drop at a time.
What daunting blaze might I put out with what I have?
One moment at a time, one breath at a time,
One listen, one presence, one listen.
Suspend judgment. Believe.
The cool breeze above the forest was the little bird’s playground.
He soared and swooped and
Joyfully flapped his
Reveling in the cool, white sky.
But then, hot winds roared in
And the little bird saw trees being devoured by
Brilliant, red flames.
The burning trees now danced and jumped,
Belching smoke that turned the sky dark.
The little bird witnessed the inferno,
And its heart burst into a flame of love
For his friend the Forest.
He wept with compassion.
Each sweet tear from his tiny black eyes
Was magnified a thousandfold by
The Mercy of the Universe.
And the fire was extinguished.
Someone was telling me the other day that some people are lazy, and that is why they are poor. She's run in over 50 marathons and her father is an engineer who makes telescope lenses for major observatories.
There was a forest fire and all the animals left. One bird, however, kept flying back to the forest, with one drop of water in its beak. The other animals watched their home burn. The one bird however, when asked what it was doing, explained that it was putting out the fire, drop by drop. The other animals laughed at the stupid bird. As the fire became bigger and the bird became exhausted it could fly no longer. Finally it fell into the fire.
There is a similar story about a girl on a beach covered with millions of sand dollars. The girl knew that the sand dollars could not survive the hot sun, so she started to throw them back into the ocean. “What are you doing, you silly little girl.” “Oh, I'm saving the sand dollars—one by one.”
There is a third (ancient) story of the Myth of Sisyphus that Albert Camus appropriates. Sisyphus pleaded to the Gods to let him come down from the heavens for a short visit with his wife. Breaking his promise, he refused to return, so the Gods sentenced him to roll a boulder up a hill each day, only for the boulder to roll back down at the end of the day.
None of these stories are about laziness. All three characters have futile jobs. And none of them are lazy. Sisyphus, for Camus, emulates our own lives. We take one step forward, and then one step backward, over and over again. And yet we persist, dropping water on the fire or throwing sand dollars back into the ocean.
Why do some watch their homes burn, and others try to put out the fire? We could view our lives as futile. The best that can happen could be what my father wished for: that he wouldn't die of anything serious.
Why is it that some will persist with impossible odds and others why give up so easily? I asked a writing teacher in college if he had read the great writers when they were 18, like me. “Yes” he said. “And?” I asked. “Well, they weren't any good, but they wrote lots.”
I'm not sure why some can run marathons and others get tired just thinking about it. It wasn't, necessarily, that it came easy. Even Moses, picked by G_d to be his spokesman, had trouble speaking. Yet his words shaped most of our lives in one way or another.