How to Fly

The Eagle wasn’t always the Eagle. The Eagle, before he became the Eagle, was Yucatangee, the Talker. Yucatangee talked and talked. It talked so much it heard only itself. Not the river, not the wind, not even the Wolf. The Raven came and said “The Wolf is hungry. If you stop talking, you’ll hear him. The wind too. And when you hear the wind, you’ll fly.” So he stopped talking. And became its nature, the Eagle. The Eagle soared, and its flight said all it needed to say. –Marilyn inNorthern Exposure, Season 5

I blush to admit it, but Northern Exposure was actually one of the main reasons we went to live in Alaska.  My husband and I have been watching the old episodes recently, and we laugh at how Lower Forty-Eighters were fooled into thinking the series actually had anything to do with Alaska:  it was filmed in Washington, had few Native Alaskans in its cast, and generally was a fraud perpetrated on an ethnocentric nation.  Loosely based on one of our favorite villages, Talkeetna, it told a tale about a village that moved all over the state, depending on what each week’s plot demanded.  And yet, there was something about the eccentricity of its characters that did indeed evoke the peculiarity of living in the real Alaska.  But back to the Eagle:

I have a problem with people who talk so much that I don’t get to talk when I’m with them.  I’m sure that part of my problem arises from being a therapist:  I generally feel obligated to do most of the listening, and I’m inclined to step aside and let the other guy have the field in conversation…and afterwards, to feel resentful, if I don’t happen to be in a magnanimous mood that day.  I wish I were more saintly about this sort of thing, but I’m just not.  Yet.

It is odd how many people seem to need to carry the conversation, seemingly not noticing that they are the one’s who are doing most of the talking and very little listening.  Or perhaps, for some reason, I just tend to have friends like that (is it possible other people don’t?).  The odd thing about this, I notice, is that some of the most reputedly erudite figures in my life have been the most garrulous.  It is strange to me that, at some point, these people don’t notice that they have learned nothing, in conversation, that they didn’t already know.  One could draw the conclusion that they most enjoy hearing themselves, and not the other, talk.  Take our friend the eagle, above:

Yucatangee talked and talked.  It heard only itself. Surrounded by the wonders of nature and other creatures, Yucatangee was only interested in hearing itself.  What motivates this need?  Not the river, not the wind, not even the Wolf. Not even the wolf!  To put oneself in that kind of danger in the interest of holding forth to that degree is either a brave or foolhardy thing!

And then our friend the Raven, the Trickster, came along:  “The Wolf is hungry.  If you stop talking, you’ll hear him. The wind too. And when you hear the wind, you’ll fly.” It seems to me that it would take quite a bit of courage to stop talking long enough to hear the wolf:  is it possible that Yucatangee thought his words would keep the wolf at bay?  Yet eventually, it became brave enough to take a chance, and when it did, it heard the wind, and it was able to fly.  So he stopped talking. And became its nature, the Eagle. The Eagle soared, and its flight said all it needed to say.

Words, words, words….they weigh us down, they build a wall, they keep us separate.  When the words stop, our flight says what we wanted to say all along anyway.

2 thoughts on “How to Fly

  1. I just watched this episode and was very much moved by it. I see a connection with the mythology of the eagle in this instance and my own experience with meditation. Shut up a minute and things become more clear. I feel like I’ve been lost a lot in my life because of this lack of silence, the lack of mental quiet. It’s hard to listen to yourself when it seems that your mind is just reverberating all of this stuff that’s been told to you. Anyways, thanks for writing this up. Marilyn Whirlwind is another one of those very interesting characters. What an entertaining show.

    1. “Northern Exposure” was (blush) probably why we moved to Alaska! The irony of this, of course, is that it wasn’t even filmed there, and most of the “Natives” were Native Americans (including our beloved Marilyn). As for our inveterate “Monkey Minds,” we’ve all got them, it seems to be an invariable feature of this journey. But we can keep trying to move back into our natural silence…

      By the way, if you are interested in the actress who played Marilyn, she is in another of my favorite films, “Smoke Signals,” but a completely different character. There is an entry on it here… Just use the search box to the right.

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