One of the armed men saw a flock of geese flying overhead as a sign of God.
I will focus on our shared human reaction of feeling emotionally inspired by birds.
Sensing spiritual mystery in the flight of geese tells me that the men’s hearts, like mine, are in touch with aspects of the wonder and mysterious beauty of our natural world, our Mother Earth and All Our Relations. Especially through birds, who travel between the realms of earth and sky.
Twice I have spent long weekends at Malheur, in the Spring when over 320 kinds of birds are resting, nesting and feeding in its nourishing waters. I love that Malheur has been open and free as public land where anyone who wants to can go and spend time watching these magical beings who have lived on our planet longer than dinosaurs, and much longer than us humans.
Seeing how birds flock together and help each other out inspires great feelings of love and hope in my heart. They have mysterious ways of communicating so that they fly in unison, for the well-being of the flock, of their entire species, away from danger, towards safety and nurturing places where they can enjoy each others’ company. Birds of a feather do not kill each other. As Peter Kropoktin documented in his classic 1904 book Mutual Aid, survival of the fittest for many species means mutual aid – taking care of each other for the benefit of the entire species.
When I am in Malheur I feel closer to our indigenous ancestors – to the Paiutes and their forebears who lived sustainably on this land for thousands of years.
Wherever we are from, we are all descended from hunter-gatherers who lived in harmony with the natural world. Our ancestors viewed birds, animals and even insects as members of our family on Mother Earth, and as teachers.
I wondered who taught our ancestors to build houses of mud and of woven reeds? I realized that birds taught us, with their millions of different ways of building nests to shelter and nurture their young.
These are the thoughts I have when I am in the presence of these amazing birds in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
I love that the land is protected so the birds have someplace to rest safely on their long migrations of sometimes thousands and thousands of miles, and to mate and raise their young. I love that Malheur is open to any person who wants to come and gently live on the land for a few hours or days, sharing the soul-nurturing beauty of creation – of the expanses of sacred land.
I feel honored to be in the presence of these magnificent birds, who are always beautiful. Always well groomed. Their feathers impeccable. Their colors clean and vibrant, rich and varied. Teal, red, sandy browns, green, blue. Or startling white, like the 1,000 white pelicans I once saw flocked in a shallow pond of pristine water at Malheur.
My soul thrilled one night with the magical beauty of haunting song that filled the air. What kind of night birds could these be? I lay there in the dark, mesmerized by this concert of beautiful wildness. In the morning I asked others if they had heard it. What kind of birds would sing at night, such a rich melodious song?
Coyotes, they said.
Before this, I had seen coyotes only as individuals, slinking down a pre-dawn street in a city. Or as beggars sitting on the roadside in Yosemite Valley, waiting for tourists to throw them food from their car windows.
Never before had I been in a place where birds and coyotes can live their natural lives in vast expanses of Mother Earth, free to be who they want to be. And the people who come to visit are there to appreciate the land and the feathered and furred beings. We humans have our dogs on leashes and keep to the roads and paths, so as not to destroy the delicate balance of Mother Earth, who nurtures us all.
My heart grieves at the thought of armed men occupying the Headquarters. I worry that by climbing into the tower they have disturbed the owls’ nests there. I am deeply saddened that I, and all other people, are now banished from this once open and free public land. I worry that the men with guns who took over the buildings might damage the museum, which never charges admission – the free museum with its lovingly created collections and exhibits teaching people about the flocks of flying geese that stir our souls, the western grebes with their brilliant red eyes, the giant sandhill cranes who need natural land and clean water in which to live and raise their young, the burrowing owl who needs pesticide-free grasslands and to live in community with many prairie dogs.
Should the armed occupation continue, I worry that all these sacred birds will lose one of the few places left where they can sustain their lives and continue their existence. So many species go extinct every year because of human actions. I worry that Malheur Wildlife Refuge would be damaged, perhaps destroyed.
I worry that it would no longer be a protected place of Creation where coyote choirs color the night with magical music and millions of birds rest, feed, mate, and raise babies to fly high in the future, inspiring our children’s and grandchildren’s hearts as signs of God. I worry that it would no longer be the sacred place it has been, open to all humans to come in respect, for free.