“Mother Nature is always speaking. She speaks in a language understood within the peaceful mind of the sincere observer.”~Radhanath Swami.
Language is a wonderful thing. It provides words which represent complex thoughts, symbols that identify objects and people, and allows us to express emotions and needs. All over the globe, individual tribes of prehistoric people developed sounds, formalized words, and developed rules of grammar. In some cultures, a sound may be so specific that the tone in which it is expressed differentiates the meaning from the same sound, different tone. It is amazing that we are able to understand each other speaking the same language, much less learn to translate across languages.
And yet we do. And language evolves. The ‘English’ spoken in the US not only sounds different from the mother tongue, it also has different rules of spelling. Then there are words which are so perfect in their own language, it seems impossible to translate them to another. The French adopted ‘weekend’ from us, and we coopted ‘fiancée’ and ‘rendezvous’ from them. Kayak (Inuit) and hurricane (Mayan) were taken straight from the languages of some of the earliest inhabitants of the American continent.
I fell in love with the Spanish word for rainbow when I heard it a few years ago: arco iris, which would literally translate into the arc of the iris (of the eye). That means that when you look beneath the arc of a rainbow you are staring straight into the pupil of the universe. I often try to keep my high school Spanish skills up, conversing with my co-workers (to their amusement of course). Recently I asked what the Spanish word for sentence is. I was told it was ‘oración’. Which seemed strange to me, for it sounds like ‘oration’ a word which means a ceremonial speech. Even more fascinating, in addition to sentence, ‘oración’ can be translated to mean a speech, or a prayer. If you ask me to write ‘un oración’, I wonder if you just want a sentence, a prayer, or a whole speech?
This week I have been on vacation, and opted for a do-little vacation, a ‘stay-cation’, when you stay at home. Over the past several months I have traveled, had tight itineraries, places I needed to be, people I needed to see. It sounded much more relaxing to have no particular place to go, no timetable to follow. But a week can fly by without even trying, and so I indulged in a short trip, visiting Everglades City for the first time.
It was one of those happenstance destinations; we had not intended to go there. We were heading to Everglades National Park, and since it was spontaneous, we were not ready for the GPS’s suggestions of several possible addresses to choose from. But the adventure took us to a quiet pier, where boats for hire will take you on a tour of the ‘Ten Thousand Islands’ part of the park, a place where the fresh water from the rivers mixes with the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico. Mangrove trees thrive in this brackish water, and create ‘islands’, providing sustenance and shelter for a variety of animals, birds, fish and insects. You can rent kayaks, go on ‘backcountry’ expeditions, or explore quiet coves and bays watched only by creatures whose language doesn’t readily translate into English.
Everglades City is a sleepy little fishing village, catering to the outdoors sportsman. Once stone crab season ends, the stream of visitors slows down to a drip. They roll up the roads by 7 pm, turn out the lights by 9. I vaguely remembered there was a more interesting history, and had to ask Mr. Google to refresh my memory. In the seventies and eighties, when commercial fishing had slowed down, residents of the town and nearby Chokoluskee Island (built on ancient shell mounds of the Calusa tribe) used their skills of navigation to catch and distribute ‘square grouper’, bales of marijuana. It went well for them initially; however in a small town it is hard to hide your new wealth when everyone knows you. Fancy cars and houses attracted the curiosity and weight of the US government, ending the lucrative industry. At one point 80% of adult males in the town were under arrest, including a former Florida Supreme Court Justice!
But that was thirty years ago. This week my little side trip connected me to the restorative power of Mother Nature. Catching sight of ospreys, egrets and pelicans; wondering at the survival skills of mangrove trees; thinking of the amazing biodiversity of South Florida allowed me to let the normal routines of life slip away. I learned how to throw a line; to feel the pull of a nibbling fish; to fight and play and pull in my first catch. Does seaweed count? I actually caught a couple of catfish and a baby stingray. All of which went back in the water. I could not handle watching living things as they struggled, out of their element. I may have to become a vegetarian!
The other day I heard Oprah say: “First God throws pebbles. Then He throws rocks.” If you don’t pay attention you may miss the messages, and some languages are harder to understand than others. But if, as the quote above suggests, we listen with ‘the peaceful mind of a sincere observer’ perhaps we can hear and appreciate the languages and lessons that are to be found all around us.
Have a wonderful weekend Family! And if you can, find a side jaunt and spend an hour or two with Mother Nature. And be sure to say un ‘oración’ while you are there.