Elegant, powerful child of the wind
Once, while visiting Santa Fe, we toured a gallery that featured the paintings of Albert Scharf, a skyscape artist.
His powerful images of Southwestern clouds have since prompted me to look up at heaven’s landscape, especially this last July when beautiful cumulous clouds towered over San Juan County.
Even better than beautiful, though, they brought much-needed rain.
One night a gentle rain fell on and off until morning, making the earth soft enough to hold our tracks when Oggie and I walked in Westwater.
Water covered the bottom of the small pond where the spadefoot toads sang their love songs. It filled the rock crevices, sparkled on juniper and pinyon needles like Christmas lights, and made the air potent with sage and wet sand.
We weren’t moving fast. Earlier in the month, I’d experienced a severe allergic reaction for the first and, I hope, only time in my life. The fallout from the reaction left me fatigued, but then I was no stranger to fatigue.
When I was younger, I had Lupus, an autoimmune disease with many symptoms, but one of the most distressing was overwhelming exhaustion.
My doctor, Donald Leathers, a naturopathic physician, knew what to prescribe for healing to begin, including homeopathy and Sheng Zhen, a system of moving and still meditations developed by Li Junfeng.
But I also walked when I could since walking was one of the ways I stayed grounded and balanced, especially when my ambles took me into nature.
Soon after I started working with Dr. Leathers, my mother and I traveled to Kansas to clean my grandparents’ farmhouse and sort through their belongings. My grandmother had died the winter before, my grandfather three years previously.
Their home had once belonged to my great-grandparents who gave it up when it became clear my great-granddad couldn’t farm because of severe allergies.
Before tackling the cleaning, I walked every morning up the lane and north on the country road. Nighthawks accompanied me that summer, diving to catch flying insects in their wide mouths and making a booming sound with their wings as they pulled up.
Not really hawks at all, but rather swishers, members of the whippoorwill family, they looked like plain-Jane birds when sitting or roosting, but in flight, they were elegant and powerful with slender, bent wings.
One website called the nighthawk a child of the wind, and, oddly, I was working on a novel called Wind’s Child at the time.
Somehow, as I walked on what I called noodle legs, the healing began. The homeopathy, the meditations, the connection to my grandparents, and the nighthawks all seemed part of that.
This year, the severity of the allergic attack brought an even earlier generation to mind. My great-granddad, George Bradbury, was a gentle, empathic man who loved his wife, children, and animals and brewed up natural remedies to heal their maladies.
When they were older, his petite wife, Zora, suffered from rheumatoid arthritis which twisted her hands sideways. In a book I inherited from him, A Physician in the House by Joseph H. Geer, M.D., copyright 1939, the descriptions and treatments for acute, chronic, muscular, and nodular rheumatism were bookmarked and underlined, including a liniment of black cohosh, lobelia, ginger, and potash.
Dr. Greer also recommended “vapor baths,” so my great-granddad frequently took his wife to Colorado where she could soak in the hot springs. All the while, he continued to suffer from allergies.
Even though my great-granddad died when I was ten, I’ve had dreams about him as real as the canyon Oggie and I were hiking through, my legs still weak from the allergic reaction. I knew I was healing since I was once again under Dr. Leather’s care, but the fatigue lingered.
Unexpectedly, I spotted a nighthawk in the distance even though I hadn’t seen one in the canyon for years. As we drew closer, the distinctive white markings on its tail, wings, and throat and its grace made it a positive identification. Soon another joined it.
After we walked down to the dry streambed and up near the rim on the east side of the canyon, the nighthawks flew directly over us, and from that higher vantage point I could see 14 more floating over the canyon.
Perhaps because they had become such a powerful symbol in my life, I held my breath. I’ve seen many beautiful sights, but the combination of slender wings, grace, and sky was one of the most stunning.
A month later, as summer edged toward autumn, I drove to Moab. We’d already received an inch of rain in Blanding with more on the way. The sky was magnificent with clouds.
The heavy smoke had cleared – at least temporarily – and my symptoms from the allergic reaction had disappeared.
As I neared the Canyonlands turnoff, a rainbow appeared, vivid in red, orange, and violet colors, and, strangely, spanning a section of blue sky. By the time I turned off to snap a picture, the colors had faded, and rain was setting in.
Before pulling back onto the highway, I scanned the desert, verdant with new growth, and thought about my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, the generations multiplying as they flowed backward in time, honoring them for the suffering they endured and the legacy of love and courage they left behind.
Unbidden, the image of Westwater’s nighthawks rose in my mind, those plain-Jane birds which, at least for me, hold healing in their wings.