There’s a family of groundhogs that have been hanging around my house lately. They are joined, strangely enough, by the sudden return of deer who avoided the island like the plague when the summer crowds first arrived on Memorial Day. Some have been brave enough to get within a few feet or so. And driving down the road recently, I saw again a flock of turkeys. It’s as if a “no [insert animal here]” sign was removed much the way the stop signs on Shore Road will be removed soon after Labor Day.
There are, of course, the usuals who never left – the squirrels, the chipmunks, the ospreys, and the gulls – all around and about. But I’m intrigued most by the coming-and-going of the temporary little animals – both the furry, cuddly kind and us human beings, too. It’s almost jarring how quickly life can change, the mode of circumstances that drive us – quite literally – from one place to the next. That’s how quickly I found myself drawn from Morocco to cross the ocean to Tennessee to New York.
I remember when I was in high school and first studying early nomadic humans in Mr. Briley’s world history class and how strange it was to me that people picked up and left and didn’t know one place, really, as home. Our earliest ancestors did what the animals seem to do even now: follow the safest path that has the guarantee of food. But by the time I was reading the Odyssey a few years later, it seemed to me there was a drive greater than the search for safety or food alone that lead us away. Something tied together the unknown, some need to know it, and our need to be known. Something nearly guaranteed this kind of transience for a life that’s already, fortunately or not, a fairly transient one. Was some evolutionary pattern instilled in us so that when we did choose to go, we were still just following the food sources subconsciously? That may be, but I think the search for bread and wine can be one deeply symbolic and beyond the physical elements. It’s no wonder that the eariest mythologies, the earliest gods and goddeses, were tied to the land, the river, the well-springs of life. But they were tied to them in a way that followed the well-spring to where it sprang most, and that was something that they found often shifted and changed as the waters moved.
The holiest places, then, were the places we human beings felt it was safe to stop, even if (or especially when) that was temporary. And we still do this. It’s why we camp, why we retreat, why we vacation, or even move. In a society so driven by consumerism, there’s more than money pushing us out of our complacency whether we listen to it or not. There’s a voice that whispers, “Go,” against all our fears of leaving our holy spots, our sanctuaries. There’s another voice that whispers, “Stay,” when we stumble upon our calling. It’s the very reason most great prophets, Jesus included, were peripatetics, sauntering such that their home was wherever their feet were at the given moment. How long are we allowed to stop? How long do we need to replenish ourselves? From where is the water fulfilling enough and can we distinguish it from the bitter waters we choose too often to drink instead? How long before the holy home of rest is grown to something mundane and no longer the haven to us it once was? Will we carry the courage to acknowledge when we must go or when we must stay? Will we connect ourselves to our inner self, to the “Ground of Being,” to others so that we can hear the voices with honesty when they nudge at us? Whether evolutionary patterns or not, we are called to be like the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky or even the little groundhogs scuttering away to the shadows underneath the cottage. But they seem to know better than us how long to be. I envy them and the early nomads for the ease with which the evolutionary patterns seem to be guiding to their most basic decisions. But I’m thankful too for the rest, for the pause, for the return of the little creatures and the role I play welcoming them here to my home, however temporary or long-loved they or I will be.