Have you ever had a sign in nature telling you that everything is OK? I do from time to time. These signs tend to happen when I most need reassurance during a difficult time.
I experienced one of these moments this week as I stood watching a murmuration with Jason. As the starlings twisted and turned, glinting in the setting sun, they painted a symbol for us in the sky that holds tremendous meaning: a heart. I filmed it using my iPhone and you can see it in the image above.
In this blog, I will first share a little context that brought us to experiencing this special moment. Then, at the bottom of the page, we have included the video for you to see for yourself.
Ten years ago
On Wednesday this week, it was exactly ten years to the day that Jason and I first met. So, it was a special anniversary day for us.
Ten years ago, we arrived at the Middlewood Trust Centre in Roeburndale in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire. We had both signed up to a year-long shamanic medicine wheel run by Jayne Johnson, and it was the first weekend. In a small group of seven people, we would meet every six weeks to mark the turn of the wheel and work with aspects of the shamanic toolkit.
Jason arrived later than everyone else. I remember being aware as I settled into my room that there was one person I hadn’t yet met. So, when he arrived at the door of the centre, I walked straight up to him, said hello and gave him a big hug. He wasn’t even fully in the building, with his arms full of Morrison’s bags of clothes and his Nepalese drum. He told me, many months later, he was a little taken aback by being pounced on by a young blonde lady as he struggled through the door.
Our group gathered shortly afterwards in the yurt, which was to be our teaching space for the year. I listened to Jason’s story with fascination as he explained how he grew up in the Jehovah's Witness religion and what this was like for him. He spoke of how he had left years ago and followed the Earth path. When it came to the end of the introductions, Jayne asked for two people to cook tea. I offered, and Jason volunteered to be my sous chef.
It was at this point that we started to get chatting. The conversation led quickly to what we saw as our work in the world. We both shared that we had been guided to help people fall back in love with the Earth once again. We were amazed that we both had this vision, as we hadn’t met anyone else who did. We said right at that point, in the smallest of kitchens as Jason was neatly chopping vegetables and I was trying to cook on the worst cooker ever, that we would work together one day. We couldn’t see what that would look like, as it seemed we did very different work and had very different skills. I was a sustainability consultant, and Jason was a nature photographer.
Over two hours later, we emerged with a part-cooked curry and a firm friendship.
Fast forward ten years, and here we were sat at home deciding how to celebrate the occasion. We had made plans earlier in the week but couldn’t settle on what to do.
The truth is, neither of us was really in the space for celebrating. These past few months have been very difficult. It began with catching Covid, which had taken a while to recover from, partly because of the events that were to follow. The day after we tested positive, Jason’s dad fell down the stairs in the night, and has been in-between hospital and a respite care home ever since with what is looking to be the later stages of dementia. Then Jason’s mum and disabled brother had a fall a few weeks afterwards. Jason’s family live next door to us, and there is heightened anxiety about all the changes that are unfolding. Jason’s days are punctuated by a steady stream of calls with social workers, the hospital, and a respite residential care home. No day is ever predicable.
Over recent years, we have anticipated all of these things happening one day. We didn’t expect everything to happen together at the same time. So, we haven’t been in the best place. We are having to re-write what resources us and dig deep. Lots of nature time is one of the cornerstones.
So, we didn’t feel much like celebrating on the anniversary day of our meeting. With all the outfall from Covid and Jason’s family struggles, our The Way of the Buzzard 2022 plans have fallen by the wayside over these past few months. The weather forecast wasn’t the best and so earlier in the week we decided that we would work through the day and just go out for the evening.
Only, on the day, that decision didn’t feel right. It is easy to put off what you know is good for you amongst all the demands of what 'needs' to be done, isn’t it?
We looked at our schedules, decided what had to be completed that day and put down everything else. At noon we walked out of the door and onto our anniversary adventure. We didn’t have any preconceived ideas on where we would go. We call this an ‘empty bowl’ day. An empty bowl day is where we create space to do whatever comes. It isn’t about making plans. It is about planning to create space with no plans, and see what happens.
This decision was a game-changer.
We started by driving up towards the Lancashire coast and Silverdale. There was a micro-brewery that I have had my eye on and wanted to take Jason, The Old School House Brewery in Warton. It’s one of those hidden gems, which I found because I drive past it when I go to harvest drum beater handles. It looked like my kind of place.
We loved it beyond measure! It’s so friendly with everyone chatting away to people on the tables next to them. There are games on tap, crazy dogs, delicious pork pies, cakes and home-brewed beer, and a slightly drunk local called Norman. Being there lifted our spirits.
As we walked around Warton Crag afterwards, I commented to Jason that I had seen a post on our Mystery School facebook page earlier in the day. One of our members had shared some footage taken of the starling murmuration at Leighton Moss nature reserve. I announced that I would love to go and see it one day. Jason pointed out it was just a few miles away, and so there we had it, our next empty bowl mission.
If we had filled our day with plans, I would have never have thought of the idea.
We arrived around thirty minutes before the first starlings flew in, giving us just enough time for a brew in our van.
As we stood outside looking across the lake, I noticed the stillness. Occasionally the silence was punctuated by geese honking or ducks quacking. A group of egrets collected in a dead tree on the edge of the lake and lit it up like a Christmas tree. There was a handful of sheep grazing in the meadow to our right, with their newborn lambs. The lambs were jumping about, high on life.
There was just one other person with us, Mick from Liverpool. He told us that usually there was a stream of cars parked up, but the rain had put people off. The rain had now cleared, and there were the makings of a fine sunset in front of us.
The starlings flew over in small groups to begin with. They would join up together and then disappear over the horizon. Then they would return, in a slightly larger group and then go again. It looked like they were moving further away towards the coast. Mick told us that it was just luck. Sometimes they would perform their display here over the lake, and other times around a mile away on the coast. Knowing this heightened our anticipation, alongside feeling lucky we were to be alone here without the usual crowds.
We stood there willing the starlings to return. And they did. In the next thirty minutes, more and more starlings joined the murmuration. Then a huge group came from behind us and doubled the already swelling group. There must have been tens of thousands of starlings, maybe even a hundred thousand. They stayed in the distance above the next meadow for a while, but then they came closer. And closer. And closer. They moved back and forth, flying around us and over us. It was so beautiful.
The hillside lit up a golden yellow as the sun prepared to set. The starlings lit up a shimmering golden-pink colour, as glistening jewels in the sky. Then the sky turned into a blend of purple and pinks, giving a new canvas for the starlings to imprint themselves against. They were five to ten starlings deep in height, stretching may be out to half a kilometre in each direction. When I looked up as they flew over, all I could see above me were starlings.
In those moments it felt like I became Starling, as I was pulled forward as they flew over. It gave me the same feeling I get on a rollercoaster, but my feet were firmly on the ground this time. Or were they? Maybe for that moment, I did fly with the starlings.
The sound was like nothing I had heard before. A delicate hum was ebbing and flowing as the murmuration drew closer and further away.
Then, as the light began to fade into darkness, the starlings dropped down to roost in the reeds. In this moment, they put on their most spectacular display of the evening. They bunched together, making sudden and dramatic twists and turns, forming all kinds of shapes. A whale, a snake and then…. a heart.
I didn’t spot the heart at the time. It was Jayne who pointed it out when I sent her the video later that evening. I played it back, and there it was. I played it back again and again. I couldn’t believe it. Nature had sent us a reassuring sign.
There is a deep meaning for us in seeing this heart shape in the murmuration that evening. It shows us that although things are tough at the moment, we are being looked after: we are OK. It shows us that we were in the right place at the right time. It shows us that we are doing everything right, even though we often can’t see through the fog of crises unfolding around us.
When we arrived to watch the murmuration, it was the very hour that ten years ago we gathered in the yurt. At the moment the starlings created the heart shape, Jason and I would have been standing in that kitchen chatting away as we cooked. Perhaps it was the exact time ten years ago that we realised that our work in the world was aligned: to help people fall back in love with the Earth once again.
Silverdale is a special place for us as we have spent a lot of time here together. We were handfasted in a stone circle in a woodland only a few miles from this spot. It feels significant that we received this message in this place.
The starling is a bird that creates beauty and reminds us that we need to do the same.
One of the theories behind why starlings perform these magnificent murmurations is in defence against attacks by birds of prey. However, there seems more behind this. Perhaps they are joining together in this way to create beauty and to play? We think so.
There is a clear message from Starling for us to spend more time doing what we love most, going on adventures and capturing the magic of nature. So, you can expect more stories like this one in the coming weeks, months and years.
The starling isn’t seen to be a beautiful bird, but it is if you get close and see its colours. A hint to its hidden beauty lies within its name: starling. With its colourful sheens, the adult's plumage looks like the aurora borealis. The younger starlings look like the the dark night sky with light spots as stars. These birds are cosmic. You just need to see through the commonness and give them a bit of time. Starling teaches us to see beauty in the common things.
We are both very aware that we could easily have missed this special moment. Soon the starlings will be setting off for the breeding season, some travelling as far as Scandinavia. Jason went back to Leighton Moss the next day to capture it all again but with his full camera and filming kit. There were no starlings and no sunset. The show had moved on, and he could see them in the far distance over by the coast. Maybe the murmuration will continue for the next few weeks as numbers dwindle. Maybe we will need to wait until next year to see this spectacle again. Maybe we won’t get as lucky next time we visit.
It is poignant to think that we could so easily have missed this.
Had we not learned to prioritise nature time over work, even if we felt like we couldn’t, we would have missed it.
Had I not have seen that facebook post in our Mystery School page, we would have missed it.
Had I not thought to mention it to Jason, we would have missed it.
Had we have filled our day with pre-made plans, we would have missed it.
My final reflection here, carrying the message of Starling, is to ask, what nature time do you have planned in over this coming spring? What message might be awaiting you out there as the bluebells push their noses up through the cold soil and the leaves emerge into the world. What might the bumblebee say to you as she crosses your path, gathering the early nectar for her first offspring. What might you hear in the drum of the woodpecker in the woods or the song of the mistle thrush?
There is beauty all around us, we just need to make time to show up and see it. And try our very best not to get in our own way to do so.
Here is the video where the starlights create the heart shape, around two thirds of the way through.
And, we would love to hear what you think. Do share any reflections in the comments below.
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