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Urban Quest Field Note #176: The opposite direction can make all the difference

I usually walk west on the path at the lake, but last Saturday, I walked in the opposite direction.

Heading around the curve adjacent to the softball fields, I spotted a duck (species unknown), that was flapping along the surface of the water, clearly snagged by something.  The angle of its approach showed the flashing of something gold attached to its right wing – foot.  It attempted to free itself, flapping about as it headed directly towards me.  Eventually, it found its way into the brush and rested still for a moment.  Looking down on it, I couldn’t see what had it ensnared.  Three or four others had gathered by that point, offering conjectures about the issue at hand. The animal was clearly in distress and needing help.

Soon it flew up on the path right at our feet.  At that point, the fish hook and line were apparent.  “Does anyone have a pocket knife,” I asked aloud, thinking this would at least decrease the tension of the line and the risk of further entanglement.  Almost as soon as I said this, one of the men squatted down to take a closer look.  The duck remained quiet and still as he gently placed his hand on her back to keep her still. He then reached back to dislodge the 3-prong fish hook attached to her right foot.  The removal drew bright red blood oozing onto her orange webbed coverings. She didn’t move, allowing this rescue to unfold.  He was careful to hold the hook tightly so as to avoid getting snagged himself.   She sensed the release and limped off. I tracked her for a moment, but she seemed like she would be just fine without further assistance.

As part of the clean-up, another fellow rescuer pulled and pulled at the fishing line, gathering what seemed to be an endless supply from a hidden spool beneath the surface of the water. I climbed down closer to the water’s edge to see if I could see the spool to pull it out.  Naturally, the fishing tackle debris needed to be removed so another water being would not meet a worse fate.  Finally, the invisible spool gave way to the last length of line.

In just those few moments, it was an inspiring feeling to be a part of a rescue mission for a helpless being in clear need of assistance. We all seemed to know and do our part in the sharing of the task.  One man commented to me, “I’m so glad you spotted her.”  I smiled.  Reminded me of my days as a lifeguard.

Writing field notes: A spiritual practice of connection

It’s been a couple of years now since I set out to explore and cultivate a deepened connection with the natural world right outside my door. Like many, I live in an urban setting with ample amounts of cement and asphalt, but I was not to be deterred.  I wanted to know the names of the trees and plants in my yard.  I wanted to know the names of the winged ones coming to the bird feeder, the ones hanging out in the nearby city park as well.  This desire for deepened connection sprang from an evolving, awakening of spirit, and a discovery of new capacity to wonder and to pay closer attention to what’s happening around me, especially in the natural world.  It also emerged as I became more conscious and curious of what interdependence meant on a day by day basis.  To realize that my place in the interdependent web of life is actually NOT at the center after all, I am being reoriented to place and to growing relational capacity to be able to receive freely extended revelations offered by the living beings around me.

Today, I confidently identify a fair number of birds and water fowl by name.  Coots and Cormorants, Mergansers and Wigeons, Shovelers and Mallards, Ring-billed and Mew gulls, and those Northern Shovelers, recent arrivals.  Juncos, Chickadees, Finches and Sparrows of various stripes, Wrens and Towhees, Robins and Cedar Waxwings. Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks.  Yes!  The sighting, the naming delights me endlessly!

This practice of cultivating connection with the living beings in my yard and neighborhood takes expression as a spiritual practice I refer to now as urban questing.  Urban questing is about knowing where you are, knowing who’s with you, and being where you are. Seeking to explore and build connection, I’m practicing placing myself out there in the field of my yard, in the field of the local park, by the fields of waters, listening, receiving, because I know I must now.  I am a part of the interdependent web of life and I have so much to learn yet about being in relation this way.

Identifying, naming birds, can be a first incremental step of connecting, discovering one’s place in the larger scheme of things.  What I’ve noticed in placing myself outside time and again, is that I’m beginning to really care.  Yes, you heard me say it.  I CARE about the beings in a way I never cared before.  I care about their habitat.  I care about the conditions impacting them.

So there are natural consequences for practices like this, some intended, some discovered.  I am finding welcomed, new capacities to see, to hear both in the outer fields, but also within. I’m becoming more finely tuned to the pace of the places I enter.  The places are requiring me to slow down. I’ve also noticed that as my care is deepening, I’m challenged to look more clearly and soberly at the impact of my way of life on the environment.

There are consequences to practicing connection.  If you care enough to make connection, you eventually will face a disorientation that comes when you become aware of how your actions are directly impacting the wellbeing of the larger web.  Eventually, there will be a necessary review and reorientation that reflects a deepened re-alignment of your behavior with this new consciousness.  It will be too uncomfortable NOT to realign yourself, otherwise, the connection is doomed.


SONY DSCPaul Kingsley Platts, 12/30/34





Warm Presence

A Great Tree

Steady as they come!


Restoring Your PLAY Factor: “Playing Along”

Recently, on a morning walk through my neighborhood, I found myself within earshot of a lovely interaction.  A young family was walking to their car along with their 2.5/3 year old daughter. The child informed her parents, “Baby is in the car.”  A brief moment passed, and I heard the mother say with genuine enthusiasm, as she opened the car door, “Hello Baby.”   I thought to myself, THAT’s PLAYING along!  May not seem like such a big deal at first, but what this mother offered in FOLLOWing the cue, was a great big ‘ole fat gift of affirmation to her child and for herself to let go…and to rest into the opportunity presented to play.

Imagine UPPING your ‘playing along’ skills.  The ‘over culture’ says that being a leader is all about initiating stuff. The truth is people can’t be leaders if no one is there to follow…to play along…ecstatically…full on!  Truthfully, following, can actually be restful, energizing, without being passive.  Give it a go!

Benefits of PLAYING ALONG:

  • Allows us to REST our initiator side, that part of us that needs to “work” on stuff, or make SENSE of everything, or be extra ‘dazzling’
  • Opportunity to back someone up
  • Affirming the side of us that’s willing to throw it all in and just follow – receive  what’s happening around us


A couple of weeks ago, I led a sing-along at the annual staff recognition gathering where I work. Honestly, even though I’ve done this kind of thing before, I always feel nervous, because I want to bring something that’s fresh and engaging, and I wonder if I’ll figure out what needs to come forward. As I anticipated this, I was clear that singing traditional holiday tunes would not cut it given the recent challenging times with my colleagues. What would we sing? As I began preparing, I found myself thumbing through the pages of the Unitarian hymnal, “Living Traditions,” an inclusive collection of songs and readings, and was drawn to the song, “Guide My Feet.” I had an immediate energetic hit in my bodyspirit because I could imagine this group doing this, even more, I could imagine the group up on their feet.

After we sang a familiar song to warm-up our voices, I invited the group to stand, and they popped up, surprisingly, with great relief. “Take a step to the right, and then a step back to the left,” I invited them to follow. And there we were, stepping to the right, and then to the left, the sound of unison movement. I invited them to listen to the sound of stepping with their friends and colleagues. The steady rhythm of the simple march, felt soothing in my body. They were smiling, in sway together.

“Guide my feet, while I run this race. Guide my feet, while I run this race. Guide my feet, while I run this race, for I don’t want to run this race in vane.”