This morning, I climbed Pony Mountain by the stairway, and I came down by the ramp.
To understand this, you may sort of need to know what Pony Mountain is. Up in Ashfield, MA, there’s a Reservation — not like Native Americans, but rather like a nature preserve that’s been saved by a private group called the Trustees of Reservations. They own a hundred parcels around the state, and maintain them as places of natural beauty and scenic wonder. There are two locally: the Chapel Brook Falls, and the Chesterfield Gorge. The one I’m talking about is Chapel Brook Falls. There, a tall granite rock wall provides one of the few local outdoor places where rock climbers can hook up ropes and have belayers on the ground, and demonstrate safe technical climbs (5.1 and up) and the relevant techniques.
It’s also one of my favorite places to go hiking. There’s a decent view from the top, and it’s rare that there are many people around. I didn’t have a local hiking partner, so I took a climb by myself. I left my phone in the car, and went up from the Chapel Falls parking lot to the climbing ground, and then took the steep natural staircase to the north of the climbing cliffs up to the summit. It’s a good stiff walk, and I was breathing hard by the time I got to the top. There’s no really complicated climbing involved, just a few high-stepping points on these stairs made out of treated lumber and firmly-planted boulders.
Once on the top, I did some meditating first of all, concentrating on my breath going in and out (after befriending the dog of some hikers who’d been resting on the summit), and then I did some writing, and some drawing. My focus was on roughing out the images of the Sons of Zeus, the Dioscuri. While I’m not happy with Pollux, Castor is coming along nicely. There’s a temptation to make them both warriors, but in a nod to the tradition that made them into Sts. Cosmas and Damien, I’m thinking of putting one of them in doctors’ scrubs. My friend Nick says I could give them both big ‘packages’ since they’re famous for being ahem — popular with the ladies — but I don’t really know how to represent that just yet.
In any case, it was beautiful up on the mountain-top, and I wanted to hang out longer. But I began to notice that a crow had been calling at me consistently for a few minutes. So I went back to paying attention to my breath, and to nature. As I attended to the world around me, I checked in with various parts of the world. How’s the weather? Fine. No thunderstorms rolling in. Any big animals sneaking up on me? No, doesn’t seem like it. Some crazed axe murderer? Nope. All in all, it’s just a crow.
Then the crow’s call changed. I would be hard pressed to tell you how it changed. Part of it became higher-pitched, slightly longer. Part of it, the ending tones, became lower. How it changed doesn’t really matter very much, because I had the very strong sense that it was a message for me.
I checked in with my surroundings again. Weather is still ok? Yes. No change in prevailing winds? No. Mysterious paw prints nearby? No. It occurred to me that the crow might be saying, human here, watch out! But then the crow called at me again, and this time a second crow called at me, a similar caw to what I think of as ‘normal’, but still somehow saying, “this is for you. Please respond.” I really couldn’t shake the impression that it was a message for me. And, without hurrying, but also with a sense of urgency, I departed the mountaintop.
I got up, and went toward the path down off the summit. In the process, I took a slightly wrong turn, and wound up on the long, looping path that went down to the bottom of the hill and the car park. Instead of taking the steep stairs down, I found myself on the easy slow route toward the bottom. As I went, I thought about why I was having this ego-trip about crows talking to me, and what that said about my sanity, and who would be trying to reach me anyway? Wrong time of day, wrong time of year, for anyone to care what I was up to…
Gradually, my thoughts turned away from the silliness of worrying about what two crows were doing, and how it might possibly relate to me, to considering two thoughts that had been on my mind. One is that I’ve been waiting for a change in something, and I have been waiting for some sort of signal that the moment of the change had come. The other was that my lady and her daughter had gone off to a doctor’s appointment, and we didn’t have plans for the rest of the day.
I got back to the car. My phone had two messages on it: one was sort of urgent, and something I needed to take care of relatively quickly. It announced that the change I’d been waiting for had been made… The other, was that the doctor’s appointment was over, and did I want to meet the two of them for lunch? I sent the message that I needed to, to respond to the change, and then went off to my lunch appointment.
I would be lying if I said that I thought the crows were trying to tell me something, or that they were relaying messages from my phone to me. But I think it would also be dishonest if I said that I thought it was entirely coincidence. Our brains make meaning in odd ways sometimes. Is there a connection? Is it just coincidence?
I hold out hope that the world is stranger than we can know.