The Black Cockatoo

This week I had an appointment in a very rural part of the mountains and, having left myself plenty of time to find the address, found that I was very early.  Not wanting to waste the beauty of a sunny day, I parked the car a little further along in a small, off-road area filled with banksias and callistemons.

The silence was almost complete: no passing cars, not a sound from the surrounding houses tucked into the seclusion of their sprawling gardens.  It was a blissful lacuna in a busy day.

Suddenly, with a loud rustling of wings, a large, dark shape fluttered into the callistemon next to my car, setting the spindle branches dancing .  I watched, delighted, as an enormous yellow-tailed black cockatoo set busily to work, cracking the seed-cases with its powerful beak, the sound as sharp as gunshot in the silence of the bushland.

Chattering softly to itself, it moved from branch to branch, spreading glorious tail-feathers as it balanced against the movement of the tree.  Never before had I enjoyed the privilege of examining these birds at such close quarters, as they usually perch in the canopy of larger trees.   The detail was amazing – the bright, red eye-ring, the pale golden cheek patch, the huge beak, the glossy, black feathers – the sheer size of the wonderful creature.

If only I hadn’t left my phone in my briefcase, now reposing in state on the back seat of my car…  I knew if I tried to retrieve it, the movement would frighten the bird.  Gradually, I realised that a camera was superfluous.  Why experience this moment through the lens when I could be present, fully present, to the beauty unfolding before my own eyes?

So often, we try to capture the moment and hold it, as though a photograph were capable of embodying the fullness of the experience.  Of course, there is a time to take photos, and all manner of reasons for doing so, because memory can fail and we enjoy reminders of happy times.  But, equally, there is a time to forbear, simply to encounter the beauty of the moment – and then release it, not clinging, not attaching, but simply allowing it to permeate and enrich our being.

The black cockatoo is reputed to be a harbinger of death, a strange synchronicity as I was on my way to a funeral conference that day.  But perhaps there was more to the encounter than that.  Perhaps this bird was, instead, a symbol of dying to attachment and to the need to exert control over my experience of the world.

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