On a recent winter’s day, I watched a ruby-crowned kinglet take a bath in an icy stream.
The stream was almost totally frozen over, but beneath the overhanging branches of a spruce tree, the water formed a small, ice-fringed pool. I caught sight of the kinglet—a diminutive olive-green bird with barred black wings and a bold white eye-ring—flitting around in the tree. As I watched, it flew down and entered the water, bouncing and flicking its wings up and down, and shaking and splashing its petite feathered body until it was wet all over.
After a few more chilly, energetic immersions, the little bird flew back up into the tree and began to preen, carefully stroking its wings, chest and flanks with its bill. Finally it shook its head and raised its tiny crest. The male kinglet’s fiery crest is usually concealed, but now it fluffed out for just an instant, a blazing red spark among the spruce’s dark green needles.
I was totally enchanted. For just this moment—for just this one bird’s one icy bath—I had participated in Gaia’s world by quietly watching. An irresistible smile widened my mouth as the kinglet flew away, his morning toilet complete.
The heart of the Green World is Calm. Everything originates in calm and stillness—and then happens at the appropriate speed: soft, caressing breezes or hurricane-force gales; the slimy saunter of a snail or the 200-mile-per-hour dive of a peregrine falcon; the slow, methodical sprouting of an oak seedling, or the quick flash of a kinglet’s ruby-red crown. Gaia’s fundamental law is Calm—a fecund, pregnant calm that receives, contains, and utters all things, each in its own place and timing.
The modern, human-created world, however, is based in the law of “more and more, faster and faster.” Within the world of this law, no one ever has time to stop, to just be still, to watch and wait. I feel sure that only a tiny handful of people today could tolerate standing, motionless and quiet, beside a frozen stream on a cold morning, to finally be rewarded with the piercing, evanescent spark of a kinglet’s red crest among a spruce tree’s dark green shadows.
Over the last few thousand years, humanity has been straying ever further from our grand human heritage of knowing ourselves to be part of Gaia’s web. The artificial tension and frenzy of the human world that we’ve created are rendering us less and less capable of attuning with Gaia, even when our inherent urge to do so occasionally surfaces. And we are paying the price, both in the ongoing destruction of nature, and also the destruction of our children’s natures as active, open-hearted, inquisitive beings drawn to seek adventure and mastery in wild places. As a result, the term “nature deficit syndrome” is becoming part of our everyday vocabulary—a term that would have astonished us one or two generations ago.
The calm, vibrant, infinite world of Nature awaits us everywhere, every instant, offering its exquisite treasures and jewels. We don’t have to go on ambitious backpacking trips or climb high mountain peaks. The natural world’s richness can come to us anywhere, even in our front garden. When we are still and attentive, Gaia’s enlivening touch can conduct us into blissful magic moments—like catching a glimpse of a preening kinglet’s ruby-red crest on a cold winter morning. These moments nourish us, deeply and mysteriously.
This winter, let’s rejoin life in the calm lane, participating in Gaia’s rhythms as Her indwelling gifts and blessings grace us all. We deeply need this, and so does our world.