Note: When I arrived in Western Scotland in May of this year, I learned that birders come from far and wide to seek a bird called the Corncrake. This plain brown creature has a distinctive rattling call, not unlike the sound a cricket makes on a summer evening, but in shorter bursts, raspy, a much- amplified echo in the air. You can hear it from far away. Up on the high hill. Under the yellow broom plant, in the sea grass. Over there. No, there! It's a dry, head-turning, percussive holler you hear as you walk along…”hey…HEY!” When you turn to look, the bird is seldom seen. There are people with fancy cameras and telescopic lenses all over the place on Mull and Iona, seeking the elusive Corncrake.
Journal excerpt: On Iona May, 2012
This listening is not first-time listening although I hear things for the first time. A Corncrake, elusive bird, a little like a percussion instrument anyone can play (think Guiro… a small dry stick raked across a hollow wooden cylinder) It comes from the bush, the iris bog, from behind the stone wall, and is suddenly gone –or Craking up the hillside driving the birders mad. The name alone makes me grin.
This is not the first time I’ve heard lapping waves against rock…the distant laughter of children, church bells that might just as soon be a call to dinner. Home call for so many, those bells, I suppose. Pipes rattle in the walls, footsteps creak overhead, baa and caw filter through my open window—most of these noises familiar enough, but all together here and now in this new context, they sound a brand new song.
What brought me to Iona was the reverberation of this homing song in someone else’s heart and her conviction that I should hear it too. We’ve got to take a writing circle there, Rebekah said in so many words. And thus began a two year journey of manifestation that lead me here today.
This next stage journey-beginning is, for me, about tuning my ears as much as my eyes, my nose, mind, and heart to the familiar wrapped in the unfamiliar. Where the rock that pushes up to warm in the sun is as old as rock gets, where waves lap, gulls cry, sheep graze under the wash drying on the laundry line in the white cottage gardens, and invisible footsteps mark the spot where holy and hungry have walked together for centuries asking questions. Looking for something.
This is where the murmurings of the heart play corncrake games; where the path to finding my words…true heart, soul home, new inspiration, requires the skill and patience of a birder who listens, waits, watches then follows. Listens and follows. Watching for movement underneath and over top of things. Listening again. Following the sound to where the treasured thing hides.
Journeys are like this: Corncrake quests – a bit disorienting, destabilizing, and challenging to the daily status quo. I watch the birders traipse up and down the island following a yearning that won’t let go. My particular yearning is still searching for a name. It asks questions like “Why am I not happier?” “Where can there be more ease and flow in my life and in the world?” “What needs attention so I can pay better attention?” Simple enough, eh?
The writing part of this journey will help. May I be brave enough and curious enough to persevere. The quest is in the questions. The Corncrake calls.