The mystery of other lives


Not a picture of hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil, but a picture of the three fat wood pigeons sitting on the power line outside our house yesterday.

They used to be plentiful, but between the Maoris and the settlers they nearly became extinct. They’re now protected, and their numbers are increasing. The Maoris call them kereru, we call them wood pigeons. They are precious to us.

This morning, waiting for the kettle to boil while I made a cup of tea to take back to bed, I stood at the bench looking out of the kitchen window, and watched one of these pigeons in the guava tree. As he swallowed the guavas whole, they travelled down his throat and then the lump disappeared into his white curving bosom.

I was fascinated to see how this big heavy unwieldy bird kept his balance on the thin frail branches. He moved from fruit to fruit, gobbling them up, without ever looking or checking to see where his feet/ claws were going to find a secure foothold. The feet moved with an intelligence of their own. Once, the twig bent so much, the bird keeled over, and his wings flapped open to hold him, as his feet found a better foothold. Enough being enough, he whirred heavily out of the little tree shortly after, and lumbered off. The tangy red guava berries are small and sour this year, with no rain to swell them, so I’m leaving them all for the birds.

I took the tea-tray back to bed, and lay back on the pillows looking out of the window on the other side of the house. The loquat tree, just beyond the window, which is covered in blossom, was rustling and shuddering. A turquoise and black tui was enjoying the blossom, seeking the honey, long beak pushing aggressively into the flowers, and plunging from one bough to another, with the same sure-footedness as the wood pigeon.

As I watched this bird, with his bright white bobble of feathers jiggling at his throat, which caused the early settlers to call him the parson – bird, I felt I was watching something familiar, and then I remembered. As the tui sucked the honey, his tail waggled back and forth in an ecstasy of concentration, just like the tails of lambs when they are suckling their mothers in the fields.

During the nightas I turned over in my sleep, I heard a morepork, the New Zealand owl calling, very close; later, the huffing of a possum in the loquat tree, which sounds like the hissing of a python and what I feared were rats rustling in the roof above. I hoped the hedgehog I found yesterday was on the move in the garden drinking, eating and making merry by the ivy. I seemed to be inhabiting a corner of the universe where other creatures were getting on with their lives oblivious of homo sapiens.

When I drove through the little hamlet at the edge of the sea on my way to shop the other day, I slowed down when I saw a couple of ducks crossing the road. I stopped a good fifty yards away from them, so they wouldn’t feel hassled, and was tickled to find them being followed by at least another twenty waddling, feathered bodies. When I slowly drove past the drive where they had all disappeared, I saw there was a feijoa tree hanging over the fence, and the ground was covered in the fallen green fruit.

The ducks were feasting… how did they know the fruit was there, that this drive was the only way to get at it, and that this is the time of year for fallen fruits? Their intelligence is of a different order to ours, and it works for them. It being the beginning of the duck shooting season in a few more weeks, they will soon all congregate on ponds they know are safe from hunters, in city parks like the duck pond in the Auckland Domain….

And on the way home I dodged a quail family scuttling along the side of the road with half a dozen speckled brown babies. In our last house, I once looked out of the window and saw a veritable army of quails advancing down the drive… eleven to be precise, four adults and seven tiny powder puffs on wheels. They all scattered over the lawn, while the four adults stood one at each corner, with their backs to their babies, guarding them.. When the babies had finished, the adults marshalled them, and moved off, with one adult bringing up the rear, and keeping the stragglers in order. An exquisite example of responsibility, co-operation and parental love.

Henry Beston wrote in ‘The Outermost House’:  ‘We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’

And philosopher Ken Wilbur writes that: ‘Every single thing you perceive is the radiance of Spirit itself, so much so that Spirit is not seen apart from that thing: the robin sings, and just that is it, nothing else…’

And so as I catch in a glass the bumble bee which has just blundered into the house, and is buzzing angrily at the window, I release it outside, sending it on its way with a blessing, knowing that we are all fellow travellers and all connected by Spirit.

 Food for thought

This prayer of St Francis is dedicated to America with love – and to the world – since we are all one…

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St Francis is the patron saint of animals. He lived from  ADe l,ived fromH1181 to AD1226


Filed under animals/pets, birds, cookery/recipes, great days, life/style, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, wild life

52 responses to “The mystery of other lives

  1. There is an awakening that occurs when we are close to those who travel beside us on our journey. Those who have different ways to move – with wings, paws and hoofs. Today, I saw two geese cross a busy Vancouver street. Cars and buses stopped to allow them to meander through our concrete world. Perhaps they have come to save us….

    “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
    ― Anatole France


    • Love The story of your geese – beautiful comment Rebecca – I think you’re so right, when that awakening occurs, we see every form of life in a different light, and that’s part of what Anatole France was referring to in those lovely words you quoted…..


  2. Dearest Valerie,

    I do so love to read your work. Never doubt for a moment that you are moving people with your words. You move me.




    I belong to a group called Writer’s Harbor on Facebook and would like to share your posts with them because I enjoy your writing so much. Please let me know if that would be okay with you.

    Aloha again and forever,



    • Dear Doug,
      You always send me such beautiful words, and I value them greatly. I know you always understand the meaning in my writing,and it gives me such heart. Thank you, thank you dear friend.
      I’m honoured and touched that you would want to share my writing with others, and can only say thank you and of course ! I’ll click on that link and see what it’s all about … the internet is a constantly expanding experIence for the likes of me!
      With love, Valerie


  3. We are so utterly blessed to have these creatures in our lives. Well, some may not bless the possum or the hedgehog but ,as you say, we are all fellow travelllers and we all must work out how to make our way in the world that we share.


  4. Yes, it’s sad that the possum and the hedgehog, so beloved in their countries of origin are now reviled in this country where they didn’t ask to be introduced . I treasure them in our gardens where they eat the snails and slugs and keep the garden free of pests, I know in the wild, it’s another matter, alas for everyone.


  5. What a blessing to be visited by so many wild visitors. I love your close observations of the way the birds move, and feed, and the thoughtfulness in your writing. St Francis’s prayer, which I know well, is so apt for this time.


    • Thank you Juliet… yes, it is lovely to be far enough away from the city to be able to enjoy some wild life…and such a pleasure to know that you enjoy the blog.
      I’m carefully noting all the your instructions, and will gird my loins to tackle the challenge – to mix a few metaphors!


  6. Michele Seminara

    Valerie, your keen observations and fond descriptions of the animals around you makes me think of you as the Beatrix Potter of NZ!


    • Very flattering, Michele, thank you… I always thing she must have been a great spiritual force disguised in her rather frumpy persona, – to be able to sensitise, and delight so many children, and so subtly influence them to respect nature was a huge achievement !!


  7. I love how to take these experiences and observe and share them with your marvelous writing. 🙂


  8. I love the lessons animals teach so naturally and unselfconsciously. All we need do is notice…and the prayer is a wonderful one to remember. Thanks, Valerie! xoxoM


  9. Your keen sense of observation and respect for the natural world really stands out. Your plea for harmony and peace also touches my heart, especially at this time.I too see you as the Beatrix Potter of NZ.


    • Thank you Lynne – I’m glad you enjoyed it,
      Beatrix Potter – as I was saying to Michele – what a spiritual genius she must have been under that frumpy persona – to influence so many children to love and respect nature, and delight them at the same time…


  10. I love how you write, Valerie! I like to think the world of animals and insects and fowl are actually being gracious and sharing with us–I agree with Henry Beston! I also think the day will come when we all know and will be stunned at how horrible we have treated these gracious creatures.



  11. Valerie your wise and wonderful observations gave me hope today. Thank you.


  12. Val, you are such an appreciative and understanding reader…I’ve been thinking of you and your precious companion… and I know how you value our natural world…


  13. Amy

    I don’t know anyone who can write about nature like you do. I keep thinking the book you wrote “The sound of Water”. “We are all fellow travellers and all connected by Spirit.”, too beautiful! Thank you so much, Valerie!


    • Amy, thank you so much for your generous appreciative words… It’s such a gift to know that others feel the same, and love the same things,
      so thank you, fellow traveller !!!


      • Amy

        We are thousand miles apart, yet be able to share and connect. Thank you so much for your inspiring thoughts and eloquent writing, Valerie.


  14. I enjoy your writing so much, and this post was a gift and a treat for me tonight after a long hard day at work. I chuckle at the way you describe the pigeon swallowing the guava fruit— thank you for taking me there to see that wondrous spectacle! Thank you, Valerie! Dee


    • Dee, thank you so much – glad you enjoyed the blog … and if it meant you were able to relax after a long hard day, I’m delighted. To know that one’s writing is therapeutic is a gift indeed!!!! warm wishes…


  15. I wanted to take a moment and thank you Valerie for visiting and commenting at euzicasa
    Thank you very much!


  16. Alice

    The call of birds is so intertwined in our lives–like poetry, isn’t it? Sometimes too we notice there is silence and some voice is missing from the background of our lives. Lovely words, Valerie.


  17. There’s so much here, Valerie. One of my favourite prayers, a quote that speaks my animal loving heart -“They are not brethren; they are not underlings: they are other nations, …” – and tea with you as we peeked out windows. Thank you for taking the time to notice, and then describe, even the twitch of a contented tail.

    I know it’s not funny, but when I was in New Zealand, it became obvious the wee Tui has a rather mischievous streak. People shooed them away from the rubber trim on car windows near Milford Sound!


    • Hello Amy, thank you for your lovely perceptive comments, I’m so fortunate to have readers like you.I love it when you notice all the little things in the blog….

      I know the birds you’re thinking of – they’re called keas – and are a sort of parrot, and are absolutely wicked – as you say, ripping the rubber off round windscreens, trashing people’s haversacks, – they’re famous for it !!!
      The tuis are very shy birds, with a beautiful song…
      How long were you in NZ ? – I expect Milford Sound felt a bit like Canada, did it?


  18. Patty B

    St Francis has always been a favorite of mine – could it be I attend St Francis Catholic school?! 😉 So many prayers to bring peace and the presence of God in our lives.


  19. Other nations, i like that, the description of your morning made me feel so homesick, but a good homesick if that makes any sense.. have lovely day.. c


  20. What beautiful bird life you have around you – and now I’ve met the ducks! 🙂


  21. How beautiful – The Prayer of St Francis! What a lovely post!! Thank you!!


  22. What a beautiful post! Love how you move from the pigeons to the sheep and other birds and on to the quotations, each time going deeper and deeper . . . and then ending with the poem. Perfect!


  23. Thank you so much Deborah, lovely to hear from you. I really value your appreciative words…


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