August 26, 2020

A Mary Oliver Poem for anyone who’s Learning to Trust their Wings.

For some more Mary Oliver goodness: “Tell me about Despair, yours & I will tell you Mine”—Rare Live Reading by Mary Oliver.


Self-liberation is not a singular experience.

I am learning this as a fledgling learns to test her wings. That day she hops from the familiar comfort of her nest onto a tree limb, stretches her wings, and drops into the naked space of air is monumental.

But this is only the beginning of flight

She must do this again and again, falling to the earth. She risks injury, capture, and death. This is the only way she can begin to know, to trust, what she is capable of. This is the only way she can know her wings as an extension of herself, one that releases her into the wholeness of who she is. 

She was born a bird—but she must birth herself into flight. 

The fledgling learning to fly doesn’t concern herself with what the other birds around her think of her process of becoming. She is not apologetic or self conscious; she is single-minded in her purpose. She will do this one thing she was born to do or she will die trying. 

Months ago, I jumped from my own nest and I have vacillated between flight and free fall, leaping and resting. Flight has not come easily, as it rarely—if ever—does. 

But I keep trying.


Yesterday, I was driving past an apple orchard encircling a pond. The sky was darkening, the wind gusting, thunder rumbling, and between the trees I saw a flash of white—an egret. 

I pulled the car over and stepped outside to get a closer look. I can count on one hand the number of egrets I have seen in my life. Today seemed like a visitation.

She was stalking the water’s edge, as heron tend to do, with measured precision. One long bamboo leg lifting, sweeping through the water, and then another. Her body moved in harmony with her one purpose. Focus, step, pause, repeat. Keep going. 

I watched until the raindrops fell from the sky, until she opened her expansive wings and took flight, trailing those long legs.

And then I came home and found this Mary Oliver poem, which I read aloud to myself, several times, until it sunk in.

My favorite lines:

Where the path closed
down and over,
through the scumbled leaves,
fallen branches,
through the knotted catbrier,
I kept going. Finally
I could not
save my arms
from thorns…

…three egrets – – –
a shower
of white fire!
Even half-asleep they had
such faith in the world
that had made them – – –
tilting through the water,
unruffled, sure,
by the laws
of their faith not logic,
they opened their wings
softly and stepped
over every dark thing.


At first, what spoke to me was the opening of wings, the softly stepping over every dark thing that lies at our feet. This, too, is the path of liberation. 

But after several reads, what made the tears fall was this: I kept going.

Through the leaves, the seemingly closed paths, the brambles and briers. Through sweat and blood and mosquitoes. I kept going.

This is also the path of liberation, of flight. 

When the path seems to close in around you, if you keep lifting one foot and then another—stepping over every dark and tangled thing—you will come to the water’s edge and see the flashes of light, the feathers lifted in the wind, and you, too, will lift again. 

And again, and again, and again, as long as it takes to trust that these wings are capable of flight. 

It was what you were born to do. 


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