Robins arrived this morning, and they came by the hundreds.
I heard them before I woke, a cacophony of chirping song, seeping into my dreams, drawing me steadily toward wakefulness. When I stepped out of the door and into the backyard they were sweeping too and fro from tree to ground and back again, foraging for breakfast.
Breakfast…, just the thought of it had my stomach rumbling. But rather than turning back toward the kitchen, I made my way down the steps, and sat crosslegged on the landing, facing out into the yard, and watched the airborne circus for just a bit.
This, I should point out, is a change.
Up until two days ago, I’d been avoiding the backyard altogether.
Oh, I’d set a bowl out for the cat, but then it was right back inside.
And it has been that way for months, truth be told.
One of the things that drew me to purchase this particular house was the great oak tree which stood at the center of the backyard, itself surrounded on all sides by a thick canopy of overhanging limbs. This yard was a secluded haven which quieted the surrounding neighborhood bustle, while speaking in a voice all its own.
If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you may remember that the character of this sanctuary has changed dramatically in the intervening years.
The central oak died some two and a half years ago now.
In May of 2014, I wrote in the first of these Sacred Space posts, about my intention to incorporate the remains of that great tree into a shrine or small temple, in an effort to win back the spiritual center of the yard which was lost when the tree finally died.
A year later, with only the most rudimentary plans in place, calamity struck.
Due to my own failed stewardship, the yard had become overgrown and a major cutback was demanded by the city. The aftermath was, and still is, hard for me to look at. My secluded haven was no more.
Worse yet was the wounded feeling of the land beneath my feet.
I’ve always been one to feel the deeper currents of a place, but the voices I’d become so accustomed to were gone, replaced by something more like a cringing animal, withdrawing from any contact for fear of further hurts.
And even as I tried to sooth the insult to the spirits of that place, one of my neighbors began hassling me, demanding that I cut down the rest of the trees which ran along our fence line. Claiming that they posed a danger of falling into her yard, and that they were interfering with the new privacy fence she wished to erect on her side of our chainlink boundary.
When I demurred, said neighbor arranged to have someone cut two of those trees down without my approval, reaching over our common fence to cut down two healthy trees on my side of the property line, and leaving the toppled remains stretched out across my yard.
When I discovered this, I shoved them back over the fence, along with an angry note explaining that any further trespass would lead to legal action. Words were bandied about, and a long stalemate has ensued.
And so I’ve avoided the backyard. Partly to avoid further conflict with the neighbors. But mostly because it still hurts to see it and feel it in this condition.
I thought it would be better at night, when I couldn’t see all the damage, but it’s actually worse.
The same neighbor with whom I have been in conflict, apparently believes in 24/7 illumination of every square inch of her yard. There are no less than seven security lights illuminating an area barely a tenth of an acre in size, and with the brush and trees so throughly cleared away, my former sanctuary is, by night, awash in a halogen glare.
It hasn’t felt like my yard at all.
Which brings us to Friday afternoon.
It was an unseasonably warm and sunny day, and I’d forced myself out into the yard to do some cleanup work. Just hauling some branches, leftover from the great purge, into a new pile a little farther from the house, and hanging up a couple new bird feeders I’d bought.
Old habits die hard, I guess, because in the midst of these chores, I found myself wandering out into the greater yard. I circled past the ramshackle gardening shed, past the trunk of the dead oak, and into the area beyond, now vacant of overgrowth…, or any growth really.
I circled back toward the house, intent on finishing with the brush pile, but just as quickly I was drawn back out into the back third of my property again. And so I allowed myself to be drawn, circling round and round, drawn in new directions by new currents, until finally I was brought to a stop in what I believe must be the new spiritual center of the yard.
Almost eight yards ahead of me stood the great tree trunk where the center had stood, but in my minds eye I could see the sculpture of the horned god which will stand there, cloaked with ivy, rising up from the center of a spiral which curls around him and then outward, passing under my feet and away to the right and left to become two more spirals, one surrounding a fountain, the other…, a kiln?
The design of the temple space which has eluded me for almost two years came suddenly to mind and just as clear as day. It was like a watching a flower bloom suddenly from the ashes of some terrible fire. And for the first time in months I was excited to be in my backyard again.
Saturday, saw more cutting and sawing, moving and piling, but done with my (our?) purpose in mind, and with permission of the local spirits both asked and granted.
And then on Sunday morning the robins came and the yard seemed to be truly alive again for the first time in a long stretch of days.
This is the ninth post in this series, following my off-again on-again progress in the planning and construction of a small temple space on my property. If you with to follow along, you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.