“These people have learned not from books, but in the fields, in the wood, on the river bank. Their teachers have been the birds themselves, when they sang to them, the sun when it left a glow of crimson behind it at setting, the very trees, and wild herbs.” —Anton Chekhov, A Day in the Country.
I have been watching old man heron on the Glamorgan Canal, of late. And a dainty little egret at Llandaff Weir. Their organic curves and soft feathers lull me into their lives. I long to communicate with them, if only by brief mutual gaze.
I try to imagine being Ardean; hollow-bone legs feeling the bite of cold in the shallows, and my neck long and lithe. I extend my wings and feel a sharp lift from a northerly breeze, whilst peering deep, with one eye, into a shadow I cast. If there is a silver flash in the black, I will tuck-in my wings, slowly extend my neck until my bill is stock-still for the kill.
A heron’s life may at first seem pragmatic, embracing hunting with a quiet determined grip. Lauded by old masters of our economic system founded on the protestant work ethic, pragmatism is the hard work upon only what is known, the empirical only, a practical boundary to action. That is, until, something better comes along. But from where does this ‘better’ come from? And then we have to shift. Are we ready?
Pragmatism. I hear it from many science-oriented souls. This or that goal is to be achieved only by what is known to them, rather than by what could be. Such a limiting view of what it means to be alive.
Look again at heron and little egret. They are searching, looking for something better in the deep flow of life. Today, I will overestimate heron and little egret. And here’s why.
They aim high for their catch. Always. And higher still. This is not rooted in pragmatism, but in patience as beyond-perspective.
Relay to humans. As Frankl says:
“If we take man as he really is, we make him worse. But if we overestimate him … we promote him to what he really can be. So we have to be idealists, in a way — because then we wind up as the true, the real realists.”
In the rain below the weir, little egret finds her own pattern in the chaos. She’s perfect. Her white chest feathers ripple to the volatile air whilst she prowls around, looking for a meal. She’s a carnivore of the shallows, of molluscs, small fry and rock-borne insect life. In the lee of this cacophany of liquid weight, she’s light on her stilt-legs across rocks and recovering foamy streamers flowing south. Heron has his skills. But she is quicker. I rapture in adaptations ~ they require imagination and foresight.
This way, that way. The flow of the water. The ruffle of a breeze. Slip-rocks, and deep pools.
She has her own beat as time whirls around her. I am captivated by her simple strategy. In order to catch fresh food, her patience is dynamic. She uses her bill to its fullest, all the senses available to her right now through to the beak-end and its alignment to potential or actual prey. It is her knowing of body to perfection. It is her niche and she lives it, dasein-daily. (Heidegger)
“From a sensory ecology perspective a bird is best characterized as “a bill guided by an eye.” (GR Martin 2017).
At the weir, there’s a dialectic underway. There’s cacophony and whisper, the smash of a river rolling over man-made edifice and then, little streams pulsing through rocks to shingle hemlines around willow islands. There are plastic sheets and childrens cars and balls and other city objects tangled in the wash-through. Tweavelets weave monofilaments of polymers as well as duff. We leave our marks in anti-fluministic ways. And yet little egret is fluministic in her devotion. Her binocular eyes are wide open, and key is alignment to a potential, the beak and beyond, like a snooker player staring down a fine-crafted cue to an imaginary, glinting ball ready for a pocket.
She is patient. Patience is a verb. It is not incapacity. It is not nothing. Neither is it death. It is keeping the opposite alive. Senses are alert to the main chance not yet happened, deep in the flows ahead. The process of patience requires imagining ~ the vision of seeing in advance the potential and most efficient main chance in space and time. Imagine all the little fishes…
In the slowness of the canal, there are potential fish in the shallows old man heron can skewer with his face-spear. But he has to remember and imagine what he is looking for. He has to find the best spot to find the right fish. He’s devoted to it. Watch him! This is his dasein-daily, a primal nature of ‘being’, simultaneously engaging with this world. After a while, it’s time to move on and he seeks to fly upstream to a better spot (with such elegance). How do better things come, were it not for this vision inside his head for a better spot, and a compulsion to fly there, freely? He imagines what he is looking for ~ all the little fishes ~ then goes to find them. It is an essential part of his act of patience in survival.
Patience is not simply the ability to wait. One has to be observant, present. It requires memory and imagination. It requires beyond-perspective. There are multiple things going on. Patience can even be endurance, a painful dasein-daily, for a richer state of being in the longer run (pati – latin, to suffer). If we are never tested, how do we know ourselves fully? Right now, heron and little egret own a deliberate sense of expansive perspective on the scale of things in life. Hunting fish is patientism- what I do now has consequences – I am fed and the fish is dead. The efforts may pay off in results, a full belly. But I am also patient in observation, presence and hunger; a virtue, but with great reward (given abundance due to me). Heron and little egret are applying themselves, in duty and with hope, within and without, to the ever dynamic flow of interconnected life.
So, no thank you. In being always pragmatic is to always compromise (in consequence and in virtue). To always compromise is to lower expectations. Sometimes, compromise is no where near enough. One needs to raise the game to beyond-perspective. Like the heron and little egret.
That patience is beyond-perspective.
That patience is not waiting idly, but putting phenomena into beyond-perspective.
That beyond-perspective becomes a state of daily-dasein.
Potential obstacles can be the instrument of action (the bill, the beak).
That heron is patient in stealth.
That little egret is patient in dynamism. She adapts to her own beat.
That humans may learn from ardean patientism.
Humans may learn from ardean patientism ~ be ready to the fullest in the river, to strike for that main chance. Look for better, fuller, abundant places to be present. Aim for a great deal more than the limitations of pragmatism. Even in the smallest of things.
Pope Gregory the Great expressed patience as the guardian of all virtues. We might consider that in our anxiety to complete goals, we forget about this valuable point of view. Ecologism, fluminism, cultivation of love in space/time means the integral beyond-perspective required in being patient. Think big.
The dialectic is there too, yes, setting out to save what we continue to destroy, because we are a society of reaction and not of considered response. We can change this too, by being patientist. Realise that acute ardean potential within us all, primed for imagining the moment of exquisite action in the flow of all life. Patientism.