Among Rocks but in a Soft Place

AT first, this photo struck me as an incredibly beautiful study in the multitude of colorless shades: from speckled grays to marbled charcoals, from onyx to pepper, to pure white. A whole world of texture and line called for attention as well. My fingers begged to touch the wispy feathers, a downy swirl held to earth only by the nubs and crevices of its woven-stick perimeter.

But I was drawn in by more than the contrasts, textures, and composition. The nestled eggs are juxtaposed with rocks that have strikingly similar shapes, but which appear to be randomly strewn on the sandy ground.

Out of habit, I wanted to associate the eggs with life in a fragile waiting stage that needs to be protected from the hard rocks and knocks of the world.

Some elements of this photograph by Neal J. Menschel encourage that association. Although no parents are present in the image, parenting itself seems to be out in full force. What but an instinct to nurture and protect could have built such layers of softness and stability?

But wait, the photo challenges: What else has found a place within this nucleus? Like a sand castle built too close to the water's edge, my stereotypical ideas about life began to dissolve when confronted with the subtle humor of the image. Some of the rocks, against which I assumed the nest would serve as a protective barrier, are actually part of the family! Their quiet nuzzling defies the hard coldness I had earlier assigned to their type.

Where my sand castle once stood, the tide had left a fresh idea: Protection does not mean exclusion of that which is different. Look how a place has been made for the eggs among the rocks, and for the rocks among the eggs.

Look how the stones, whether smooth or rough, large or small, form an ordered curve around the nest, as if they had consciously made room for it. Not enemies, but friends. A little plant springs up between some of the rocks, declaring its place among the extended family.

Now I see life beyond the potential of the eggs. I see it giving everything place and purpose and, by including all in its expression, keeping home free from harm.

Safety without separation. There's hope for humanity in this model.

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