Sometmes Beginnings Seem Ugly – Recalling the Beauty of the Ugly Duckling

About a month ago, I moved to a new town that was about 1300 miles away from where I had been living for the 14 years prior to that time. At first, the move seemed inspired. Nothing could go wrong, but eventually, reality framed the picture, and I found myself having to unpack boxes, set up new utilities, to equip myself with a new set of household necessities, to move my identity to a new state, to deal with seemingly never-ending changes, and to face a plethora of new decisions. I started my move with the euphoria of pledge spirit, but by the time two weeks had passed, I was feeling strung out, wrung out, and drained, and I began seeking a renewal of things that had always consoled me before.

Jacki Kellum Garden in New Jersey

In New Jersey, my garden was where I always found solace, but I have moved to the rocky soil of the Ozark Mountains and at first, gardening also seemed impossible in my new home. But I began by creating a wall garden on my tiny deck, which has a wooded area in the backdrop.

My back deck is about 20 feet above ground, and soon after I began planting on it, I was walking up the steps and found myself face-to-face with the ugliest little bird creature that I had ever seen. It almost looked prehistoric.

Baby Cardinal – Jacki Kellum Graphite Pencil Drawing
https://fineartamerica.com/featured/baby-robin-new-beginnings-jacki-kellum.html

For a moment, both the creature and I froze. I deduced that I had encountered a baby bird and because it didn’t fly away, I thought that it must have been injured. I didn’t want to further alarm the bird, and I stood motionless for about a minute and finally, the bird flew away.

Baby Cardinal – Jacki Kellum Watercolor
https://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-baby-robin-new-beginnings-jacki-kellum.html

The next day, I left for a short vacation, and other than thinking that the little bird looked the way that I felt, I forgot about him.

Before I left for my trip, I placed 2 little bird feeders on my back deck, but because the deck is so tiny and because the feeders are only about 10 feet away from the center of my kitchen, I had no bird diners before I left for my vacation. But while I was away, my feathered friends must have acclimated themselves to my provisions. The morning after I returned home, I looked out my kitchen window and saw a young cardinal eating from my feeder and then bathing himself in my little bird bath. He was beautiful, and I recalled the story of The Ugly Duckling and how he, in his awkward ugliness, became a swan. I wondered if I, too, as I endeavored toward my new beginning in Arkansas, would become a swan.

Written by Hans Christian Anderson, who lived from 1805 to 1875, the story of the Ugly Duckling includes the following passage:

“That was the first day, and as time went on it got worse and worse. The wretched Duckling was chased about by everybody, and even his mother and sisters were nasty to him, and kept saying: “I wish the cat would get you, you ugly devil.” And his mother said: “I wish you’d get right away”; and the ducks bit him and the hens pecked him, and the maid who had to feed the creatures kicked at him. So he ran away, and flew over the fence. The little birds in the bushes shot up in the air in a fright. “That’s because I’m so ugly,” the Duckling thought, and shut his eyes, but ran on all the same, till he got out into the wide marsh where the wild-duck lived; and there he lay all night, for he was very tired and very unhappy….”

― Hans Christian Andersen, The Ugly Duckling

Read the entire book free at Gutenberg Press Here

I enjoy literature that employs the vehicle of the seasons to express the element of time, and we revisit the Ugly Duckling again in autumn:

“Autumn now came on: the leaves of the wood turned brown and yellow, the wind caught them and made them dance about, and above the sky looked cold, where the clouds hung heavy with hail and snow, and on the fence the raven perched and cried “Caw! Caw!” for the mere cold. Indeed, it regularly gave you the shivers to think of it. The unhappy Duckling had a very hard time.”

Again, we see the duckling in winter:

“The winter grew very very cold: the Duckling was obliged to swim about on the water to keep it from freezing quite over, but every night the hole he swam in became smaller and smaller. It froze so hard that the ice cracked again; the Duckling had always to be moving about to keep the water open, till at last he was tired out and sat still, and was frozen fast in the ice.”

I encourage anyone to read the original text of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Ugly Duckling. Until today, I thought that I had read it before, but I realize that I had only read distillations of the text. Today, I needed to read the entire story. It spoke to me.

I won’t be deceptive and say that moving to a new and strange town at the age of 68 has been easy. It has been trying and several times, I have felt discouraged. But I know that like the baby robin that I met on my deck, I have been granted new life.

“New beginnings can be terrifying, but sometimes the best things are born from the darkest days.”― Claire Farrell, Soul

It doesn’t help that I arrived in my new Southern home in 90-degree weather +. I recall the winds that blew from the ocean toward my home on the shore of New Jersey, and the heat in the South singes me, but I am transporting tons of new soil to my rocky yard, and I am watering. Occasionally, I feel a breeze and I wonder how long it will be until autumn. I look forward to autumn’s bronzing and relief.

Today, I looked out on my little deck, and I wondered if I could over-winter a live evergreen there [in a pot]. I’d like to light it and hang treats for my new robin friends in its boughs. When the waters of my little fountain freeze, I’d like to celebrate the seasons in another way, and soon, I shall have passed half a year in my new home–and then, spring will come again.

“Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

Oddly, even when I became the most discouraged with my having moved, I never longed to return to the place that I had left. When I left New Jersey, I knew that it was time to leave.

“The only real battle in life is between hanging on and letting go.”
― Shannon L. Alder

“Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.”
― Shannon L. Alder

Native American Legend says that when you encounter a cardinal, you are about to experience something good. I believe that my little, ugly, baby cardinal came to me to tell me that everything will be okay and that I have earned a passage into a new beginning.

“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”
― Meister Eckhart

 

 

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