Drums, Water, Deer: Lazy Mid-Summer Thoughts

I was drumming by a small waterfall I often hike to where the spirits are kind and gentle, and very welcoming.  The flow of water was swifter and fuller than it usually is this time of year because this summer has been extremely rainy and cool in the Northeast.  The guy who delivers our firewood told me last week that he’s had to build a small fire some mornings to take the damp off the air in his house.  Everywhere lawns look like Ireland or Vermont.  And it’s July.  And July’s half over.

Earlier this spring organizers of this year’s SSP conference, which was held in the Catskill Mountains of New York, chose water as an elemental theme, and it rained or threatened to rain every day of the conference.  It seems like the planners and the spirits of weather were aligned in some unsuspecting way. But the wet weather created a “survivor” feeling to the weekend and drew people closer to one another as we “braved the elements” together.  We also volunteered in two-hour stints to keep the drums singing for the length of the conference. This too drew people together as we needed to rely on each other’s help and support to pull this off—in the rain.  We learned to appreciate, once again, the value of Remo drums even if they have a somewhat second-rate reputation among some shamanic practitioners.

So I was drumming by this little waterfall the other day with my Remo, noticing how the water flowed harder than usual through the moss-covered stones and splashed into the creek down below.  The drum song and the water song made a fine duet, the way human and non-human elements can sometimes complement each other in beautiful ways.  Like sometimes when you go canoeing, you hope the only sound you make is the swoosh of the paddle in the water, but then every so often there’s the obnoxious clunk as the paddle hits the side of the canoe. You think you’re being noisy and you hope you don’t scare the blue herons away or a deer that might be drinking from the river bank.  But then you realize that the clunk adds some counter-beat to the river song, a drumbeat to the flow of water, and somehow the melody comes off alright. You give in to it. Often even the heron stays frozen where it is, listening to you clunk your way past.

So to get to this waterfall I have to pass an area in the middle of the woods where foresters built an 8-foot-high, wire fence over the last year, cutting off a sizeable section of the woods.  When they finished, they attached a sign that asks:  “Why is there a fence in the middle of the woods?”  Yes, why? I thought several times as I watched it going up on previous hikes.  Well, they probably figured there were other people, irritated like me, who also think it’s stupid, so the sign reads on, explaining that it’s to keep deer out of this area so the forest-management folks can evaluate what damage the deer are doing to the woods by grazing wherever they wish.  In a couple years, the sign promises, we will know the answer.  What we will do with the answer, though, is another question. The foresters didn’t indicate what the next step would be. Maybe they don’t know either.  Nor do the deer.

So I was drumming by this little waterfall and noticed a couple deer down in the creek, wading about halfway into it, drinking.  They didn’t see me for I was higher than they were.  I’m told that deer tend not to look up and that’s why hunters build their deer blinds in trees. Nor did they hear my drumming, or if they did, they were not impressed. Or scared.  I wondered if they missed the area of woods fenced off, or whether they just accept human interference, like they have to do whenever we startle them and they bound off into the trees and disappear.  One of the lessons I always learn from deer is to be ready to take off and leave what you were doing a moment ago when something startles you into another task or project.  You just put it aside and move on to whatever’s next.

So I was drumming by this waterfall thinking about all the picnics rained out this year, about skin drums too damp to beat, about humans startling wildlife and interrupting the important things they do, about deer and hikers learning that part of their woods is closed, about kids at summer camp disappointed that it’s too chilly to swim, about soggy costumes in outdoor theaters—about all the things we think we’re missing and suffering this summer.  And here it is July and summer begins to wane and I’m wondering: What have we missed? Will soon it be too late?

I was drumming and thinking about these lines from a poem by Mary Oliver:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

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