Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Pelican Bones

Step, step, step…the constant ticking of the clock. I search for an illusive “something.” Swaddled up in my coat and scarf, gloved hands are hidden in my pockets from the cold north wind. I am walking the shoreline looking for bits of driftwood, shells, and interesting flotsam. My search is always the same. Always nameless, as I am never sure what I am after or what I will find.

It is clear and the skies are bright blue. The winter always turns the waters the most intense green-gray-blue. You think of gray as muting, but it isn’t. Not here. It adds a depth to the vibrancy…penetrating and vast. It collides in stark contrast to the tan-white sands and red rock. The outcroppings stick out of the landscape creating a strange alien-like world. Hidey-holes peek out for rats, rabbits, and coyotes from the ancient rock formations. The sage and goatheads grow up and around into brittle boney fingers. The cold air is sweet with the smell of last years brush and grasses.

Coming close to where the water is lapping the beach, I look for the high water mark from the last storm. This is where the debris is left. This is the best place to search for cast up treasures.

A pelican bone lies on the shore. It is half buried in sand and bleached white from last summers heat. The femur is long and smooth with small spikes at the joint. I am always amazed at how light they are. I have several at home on an altar in my workroom where this one is soon to be placed. Some are femurs, others are vertebrae, and pelvis. There are fish bones, small bones of mice and rabbits, and a few deer bones lying among the candles, rocks and beads. Each has found a place of reverence.

Why bones? It seems gruesome to some until I explain that I am awed by structure. We create within our bodies these complex structures. It reminds me of what we are underneath and the grander scheme of things. There is a beauty in bones an intimate puzzle. They are life and a symbol of death. We leave behind this bit of ourselves, although it is not who “we” were. They’ve been described as a structural temple for the spirit…supporting timber and joists…like an old cabin sitting abandoned in the fields.


The artist Georgia O’Keefe painted a lot of bones…skulls mainly. She found an intricate simplicity to them…a beauty that not many appreciate. Being in the desert, I have found that fascination. It is a sacred tribute of what went before. In different native lore, bones become a spiritual connecting point with a totem or hunted animal…a power source to be drawn upon.

Weaving beads about the top, I will add a pelican feather and place it on my altar as a reminder. Like that bird, my spirit is free and I can fly over the lake and find peace when I’m in need of it. I can dip down into the water and find sustenance in the cool depths and inspiration in the shimmer and dance of the fish. Warming myself on the shores of summer, I feel the wind in my hair as the bird rises up in flight, even though it’s winter. Even though it’s cold.

That is the freedom I find in the bones.

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