The Unraveling

Animal animal photography animal world avian


Kingfisher was putting on a show. Circling overhead as I soaked my parched skin in the rocky pool, fed by the hidden spring. They landed on a branch near me, turned one way, then the other in fashion model vanity. My mouth was agape with jaw dropping wonder, my mind debating whether I was seeing a flying sapphire or a bird as I was listening to the piercing rattle of their song.  Kingfisher effortlessly skims the water, daring my mesmerized eyes to follow, my attention locked in focus. I believed they could sense my awe and appreciation and so continued the dance, as if playing a continuous encore for an audience begging for more. I have struggled with this notion, as it assigns humans a role as the main character in the story of nature. But the great remembrance is of course, we ARE nature, and those of us willing to enjoy our Mother at her finest will receive the joy she provides and, dare I say, messages that our human brains interpret to guide and inform us. In this moment of Kingfisher’s circus show in the sky, I was a part of the moment, within the ecology of this landscape all woven together with a barefaced palpable presence.  It was easy to revel in the performance and playfully accept the possibility that this is happening TO ME remind ME of how to LIVE, and Kingfisher’s exceptional form is on display for my enjoyment. I was backpacking, nowhere to be, no deadlines in my head, nobody to answer to. All my basic needs were beyond fulfilled and I was following my bliss spontaneously.


But the unraveling does not always give off the perfect display. The mirror is a prop in a twisted fairy tale and if I am real with myself, you, the reader and the wild, I can admit my own desire to take rocks and smash the reflection when I am shown what I don’t want to see. In times of hatred, anger, shame, and exhaustion, I hunker in the darkness, with little response, and Kingfisher’s ballet fails to impress. I no longer stay for the encore and my focus is distracted with human made importance, leaving little time to accept the invitation of connection.


Seasons circle round and like spirit divers, leaves drop down every fall in search of what is below. With a whisper or a gust, the petiole weakens its grasp from an outlying branch, knowing the time of fluttering, swaying, rattling and shaking has come to an end and descending as mischief makers. They twirl, float, careen and dive, surrendering to this moment of flight, until they touch bottom. On my darker days…or weeks…or months, I too am the leaf that cannot hold on any longer and, with defeat, I fall. Sometimes I fall so low, I am certain I will never rise again. I will never see Oak in her reigning beauty, holding a humble court on the mountain. I will never appreciate the way these life giving elders stand so grand, entertained by our foolishness. In these moments the oaks have only prickly leaves with which to hurt my tender feet. The bark seems dry and crumbly while the crown bears the weight not one entity should bear the burden of. I am defeated and I can no longer see myself part of nature’s song and dance. I can only relate as a player in a game I no longer want to play.


I have seen Coast Live Oak trees one thousand times with majestic glory. Watched squirrels attain acrobatic brilliance and delighted in woodpeckers of various species master forethought and planning. The shade has given my children and me respite from a warm sun and those sturdy branches a place to climb and crawl, hide and be found. I know all of this to be true and yet, when I fall, Lord how I fall. I vividly recall the beauty and can reach a place of gratitude, but the awe, wonder and appreciation I so desperately want to uncover has fled, leaving no tracks or sign of how to find the elusive emotion. It is akin to experiencing bitter cold and recalling that sizzling day at the beach but falling to feel the sun’s warmth infuse my bones.  The graphic memory remains but the body sensation is lost.


Eventually, I come back to finding expanding paradise, and I notice the tenacity of dandelion growing through the sidewalk crack. Typically this happens after I have remembered to love, allowed patience with myself and done some form of sinking back into the wild. I have surrendered to something greater than Ego and been reminded that wild nature holds no judgement and honors the entirety of life.


When I can find the crossroads of allowing myself to shine or shiver and remember the Truth (capital T) of how intricately I am part of all life on Earth, I give myself permission to experience the full spectrum of what my life has to offer. It will never be all glorious Kingfisher, all surrendering leaves or all prickly Oak. I won’t have continuous adventures with the wild or forever be stuck without the light, but it is the slow dance with both that eventually leads me back to wonder and curiosity. Like Lorde and Oliver, Rumi and Rilke, when I surrender to nature’s power, she shines and I fall in love. The stars too make me blush while the cactus can also take my blood.


Flash Fiction by Sharon Tollefson

Sharon is curious about what inspires people to say “Yes!” She believes in a practice of gratitude, deep love, engaged senses, and quick wit. She serves as the program director for Wilderness Youth Project ( in Santa Barbara and comes alive when children delight in being outside.