The Persistence of the Wood Pecker

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

Crouched down in a cold clump of leaves, I watch a woodpecker. Persistent, unbothered, just moving up and down a tree bit by bit looking for something to eat. I watch and wonder.... Doesn't it bother you that just to get through the day you must consistently smash your beak into the trees often yielding nothing time and time again? How fleeting disappointment must be for you. My mother used to talk about her struggles like "smashing your head into a a brick wall." But you don't look angry or frustrated. You simply move on moment by moment in pursuit, unbothered by repetition. Unbothered by the outcome. This is your life, the persistent pursuit of nourishment.

Not me. I take one bump and the disappointment reels through me. I desperately seek ease and stillness, my eyes always halfway gazing elsewhere looking for relief. But you just bounce from one moment to the next persistently doing as you need to. Tap tap tap look for food. Up and down, no time for disappointments and attachments. That would be silly, counterproductive.

Installation: Wasp Paper and Red Osier Dogwood Berries

Today I sit and watch you. Early morning and my body still buzzing with the stress of my morning. You, my persistent woodpecker friend, have come at just the right moment to show me how to be....

Sometimes coffee isn't enough. Sometimes more sleep can't help. Sometimes I have a tiredness that weighs on me despite my efforts to shake it. This part of myself lies in total juxtaposition to the optimist in me. It's so hard to see the bright side when all you want to do is close your eyes and find some quiet.

Usually, I am the kind of person who tends to think that change is possible, that improvements can always be made. My husband and I joke that we are constantly tweaking things searching for a better flow in our lives. We are always informing each other that we have made a new home for something, moving a pot from its old home in one drawer to another, trying to make new systems for managing the chaos of laundry, children, and our lives. We just keep trying. We each hold a sincere belief that each new tweak will improve things for us. It's easily one of our best attributes as a couple, we are both persistently interested in bettering ourselves and our lives.

But it's also a trap. A set up for disappointment. Call it attachment, call it the grass is always greener. Whatever you call it, the outcome is the same. You become swept away looking for something better, more, or just different.

Installation: Mountain Ash Berries and Log

This morning I can hear the woodpecker showing me how to be in between each tap of its beak.

On this morning I fled my house in exhaustion. Tired of feeling like I can't catch up. On this day I was tired of enduring the grind. So I sought refuge in the bluff behind my house. I closed the door and walked setting the intention to find a place to just be still and to make something with my surroundings.

I walked for a while and then hopped off the path... and that's when all the magic began. And just for the record this is always where it happens in that moment when we hop off and move to the land of curiosity.

I found something I had been longing for all summer and fall. Wasp paper. A bird had found an old wasp nest and torn it apart. Tattered little bits of the former hive were strewn about. It felt like a gold mine. A treasure for sure. Something to take home and put in my stack of nature turned art supplies.

So I breathed. I tinkered. I made a few installations with all of the wonders around me. I tried. I showed up in this little pocket in the woods. I found my breath. I tried again looking for stillness. I let go of the desire to brood, to wallow, to hold onto the fretting that occupied my morning. I found my breath and I tried to be in the woods with these treasures. I spent time with them, slowed down and played with their arrangements taking a few photos.

Installation: Wasp Paper and Leaves

I felt relief. I began to feel calm but my gaze was already tempted to move to what was to come. On the stress of the morning still to come. I thought to myself at least I have my wasp paper... And then I hear it.

Tap. Tap. Tap. The persistent woodpecker calling to me. I watch and I listen. It's showing me how it's done. To persistently show up each moment. Tap tap tap. A genuine presence. Tap tap tap...

What if I never get it right, never quite arrive, never work it out? What if it's actually just about showing up again and again finding little treasures in the moment and continuing on. Tap tap tap. No past resentments, no future longings. Just a willingness to show up each day again and again and again.

So I watch and listen to the woodpecker. I watch and see that it doesn’t stop and wallow in disappointment when it works so hard and doesn't reap a reward. it moves on persistently trying because it has to, because that’s what living is.

So today I show up, in this moment here and now, and remind myself that it's the act of showing up, not the outcome that's most important. I release myself from future progress. Today I showed up in this pocket in the woods and made something.

Installation: Poplar Seed Pods and Log

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