Grey Heron Nights 1: Old Crane Woman’s Winter Nest

There she is, Old Crane Woman. There she is, down by the river. Did you think she’d gone? She never leaves, not Old Crane Woman. She’s always here, whether she shows herself or not. She’s the oldest of the old. She doesn’t get to leave. Besides, she has a nest to build.

Who would build a nest in winter? Old Crane Woman, that’s who. She knows all about winter. Winter’s the time to build a nest, because building a nest takes patience, and winter is a patient time. Why wait for spring, the busy time, the shouting time, when you can build a nest in the nurturing silence of the long dark? Old Crane Woman loves the dark. The outer dark and the inner dark: the darknesses in which incubation takes place; the darknesses out of which we are rebirthed. Winter is a letting-go time, and Old Crane Woman knows how to let go. She let go of herself a long time ago; that’s how she became who she is. Life is simpler that way, and quieter. Old Crane Woman loves quiet. Old Crane Woman loves stillness. She can be still — oh, yes. But don’t you worry — she can dance up a storm when she needs to. Maybe she’ll show you how.

So Old Crane Woman is building a nest. What will she build it from? From secrets, that’s what. You think she’s too old for secrets? Ha! she shrieks. Hear her shriek? That’s the sound of Old Crane Woman laughing. She has her secrets: a bagful, and more. Her secrets are the secrets of the land. Secrets are best when they’re shared, and she’s going to share them with you, that Old Crane Woman. So creep down to her, if you dare. Go quietly, because Old Crane Woman is listening to the river. And that’s the first secret she’ll share. The first of the materials with which she’ll build her nest.

Rivers are the veins which run through the body of the earth. The blood of the Otherworld is carried in those veins: the same liquid that is found in the well of wisdom; the same liquid that is found in the great cauldron of inspiration. Stand by a river, and you stand on the threshold of understanding. Why do you think Old Crane Woman stands by the river? Listen to the river; the secrets it whispers are the secrets of life.


by David Wagoner

Your choice was always clear: not the long struggle
Upstream against the current, against the constant
Headlong pummeling of snow-melt and downpour
Nor the leaf-slow easy drifting
Downstream, the way all trees on a cutback bend
Before they fall, but simply staying
Here by the river where you watch and wait
For what appears, moves past, and vanishes.

You’ve learned what you can about this watery sky,
Its rearrangement of your slight reflections,
Its turmoil, each moment so subtly various,
You can hardly tell, can hardly remember
What you marveled over only a glance before:
The shimmering, the lovely formalities
Of a chaos you can touch with your finger-ends,
A surface whose tarnished and buried galaxies
Are born and borne away, but instantly
Return in a translucent blossoming.

You know under that surface always, no matter
What may seem apparent by sunlight,
Cloudlight, or moonlight, another life is passing,
Not just the stones and snags, the common bed-load
Of all rivers, not only the star-backed swimmers
Whose falls and springs once dazzled you into believing
You could dream your way to the source, but the Other

Whose body is never still, is always turning
Away from you downriver as if to stream
To an end beyond you through the deepest channels,
And yet remains beside you, whose light is lighter
Than air, whose breath is water, whose water is light.


17 thoughts on “Grey Heron Nights 1: Old Crane Woman’s Winter Nest

  1. I love the idea of using this time of year to reflect with Old Crane Woman. I have a special relationship with herons, so I find these blog posts move me into uncharted territory within. I look forward what follows.


  2. ‘You know under that surface always, no matter
    What may seem apparent by sunlight,
    Cloudlight, or moonlight, another life is passing..’

    what a secret
    to start building a nest with.


  3. I think Old Crane Woman is a kindred spirit of mine. And this is beautifully written, so very beautifully written. It will be with me all day – all summer – it will remind me the quiet dark nesting time will come again after the long blistering heat.


    1. How strange, to read this in the light half of the year. As a devotee of the dark half (yes, I love the growing things of summer, but suffer from an excess of light) I love this shadowy time where so much more seems to be revealed. Or is it just that we remember what’s hidden? Thanks for following the stories.


  4. Oh my how I love this, especially the description of a river. I’ve been trying lately to talk about a river with all its mystique and charms, and this did it perfectly. I think of the sea in the same way. It’s full of secrets, and I often wonder how far it has traveled and how many times it has pounded on the shore whete I stand. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing. I love the story of Old Crane Woman and it will stay with me now. Love and hugs, Natalie 🙂 ❤


  5. Beautiful.. We would all do well to listen to our Earth Mother.. I so enjoyed your story of the Old Crane Woman and the delightful poem By A River a wonderful choice to accompany your post..

    I came Via Teri’s reblog of your post and I am delighted that I did..

    Many thanks and sending Love and Blessings..


  6. I have been craving the dark, the still and the slow, and yet feeling out of step with what is around me. Reading about Old Crane Woman building a nest was like returning home! Thank you.


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