This article was originally published in the Summer 2010 edition of Nature Alberta Magazine.
By John Warden
It was another one of those mornings at Elk Island National Park when everything was perfect. There was no one else around - just me, Nature and the solitude. The rising sun had painted the sky pink and orange and it was beautiful. Swans and geese were murmuring and honking out on the ice and the air was warm and electric with energy. It was a buzzing energy, an energy of waking up, of melting snow and ice, of bursting willow buds and of life coming back to the land. It was wild and exciting and it was filling me up. It was building and bubbling and I felt that I just wanted to shout with the exuberance and magnificence of it all. Yahhh!
You know you make me wanna (Shout!)
Whoop! Out of the buzzy murmur of the morning bird babble, came the whoop of a tundra swan. It was clear and musical, a whoop with purpose, a whoop of exclamation. And then there was another, and another. Swans were whooping it up all around me. It was an ecstatic whooping of swans. A whooping celebration, a jubilation even for the rising of the sun and the warming energy of a glorious new day. And then the coyotes threw their heads back and joined in. It was an extraordinary experience of sight, sound and color.
Later that day, I was listening to a CBC radio program about an a capella gospel choir that was touring Canada. The program host advised that we should listen for the ‘spirit shout’ at the end of the song. Sure enough, apparently caught up in the wonderfulness of the song and overflowing with the energy of the moment, one of the choir members spontaneously shouted out ‘hallelujah’. And it caused me to think of the swans, and their clear note whooping as the sun came up. To my mind, it was also a spirit shout.
You know you make me wanna (Shout!) Kick my heels up and (Shout!) Throw my hands up and (Shout!) Throw my head back and (Shout!) Come on now (Shout!)
In the way that one thought leads to another, I considered spirit shouting in the context of the 20 years I spent training as a martial artist. In some martial traditions, students are taught to shout or ‘Ki-ai’ as part of their physical fighting technique, sort of like a battle cry. In other traditions, the spirit shout is an unconscious expression. Not something forced, but rather a natural vocalization flowing out of the mounting mental and physical forces coming together in combat, a shout with the spirit of life in a confrontation with death. The martial spirit shout can be very powerful, mystical even.
Singing and fighting are just two of the many activities that can fill our bodies with energy until it overflows and we’ just wanna shout’. But quieter things can have the same Impact. I can remember standing in front of a painting by one of the old masters at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa. The depth and mastery of paint was so amazing, so awesome that a quiet little spirit shout escaped me. Wow!!
Well, a sunrise is so much more than a painting. So as the sun rose over Astotin Lake, the swans whooped and the coyotes howled and I yelled. We were all spirit shouting in celebration as curls of mist rose from the surface of the lake and Nature, the oldest of the Old Masters, painted another masterpiece across a canvas of Alberta sky.
You Make Me Wanna Shout, an Isley Brothers Song from 1959