Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Change in the Landscape

It is eight o’clock on the morning after Christmas. One shelf of the refrigerator holds nothing but blue-lidded plastic tubs crammed with leftovers. The trash can by the back door is stuffed with paper and ribbon, cardboard and plastic, tin cans and Styrofoam. The closet where I keep the wrapping paper is gorged with empty boxes that I will eventually make the time to break down and store until the next broad round of gift-giving.
Everything is full. Even the clouds. So full that they are saturated and dripping in heavy wind-swept drops over Sandhill. The road is slippery, but not very. Rutted, but not too. Muddy, but not markedly. The rain is hard, but the warnings of possible hail seem a bit dramatic. The weather is annoying and not much more.
It is now about 9:30. I look up from my computer and realize that the sun is out. The sky is a translucent baby blue, the clouds are high and white, and the puddles in the street look like mirrors. It occurs to me – not for the first time, of course – that it doesn’t take long for the landscape to change completely.
The fraction of a second it takes to make a choice in anger that would never have been made in calm. To speak simple words that complicate everything – "It’s cancer." "I’m going to have a baby." To pull a trigger.
I was driving home from Kate’s graduation when I heard the news about the Newtown shootings. Just the night before I’d been sitting high up in the stands at Kennesaw State watching her confidently stride across the stage to receive her master’s degree. There was a little plus sign by her name in the program – honor graduate, 4.0 GPA. My heart swelled and my eyes watered and I couldn’t stop smiling. It was one of those moments when the future was the largest thing in the universe.
In a few hours, though, that future – for 20 first-graders and six women who tried to protect them – would not exist. It doesn’t take long for the landscape to change.
The light outside my window grows brighter and I think that, in a matter of days, a single stroke of the clock will turn one year to the next. Advertisements and fluff news pieces and conversations are littered with the phrases "new leaf" and "clean page" and "fresh start." We live as though change is voluntary, that it waits to be initiated by our desire, that we are never its victim, its passive object. In doing so, we live in deep denial of the fact that we are, far too often, powerless against the winds that drive the clouds that empty the rain of adversity and pain and heartbreak onto our flimsy umbrellas.
Are those the only alternatives then? To convince myself that I can exercise and organize and meditate myself into perfect stasis or give in to the reality that at any moment the foundations of my existence could crumble?
On Christmas Eve I watched intently as the presents were distributed. As each recipient accepted a package, Adam’s Jackson, two-and-a-half and an uncanny recreation of his father, hurried over to assist with the unwrapping. He reached up to touch the bright, curly ribbon first. “Ooooh!” he whispered.
His tiny fist curled to grab at the taped seam on the box and pulled to hear the satisfying rip. “Ooooh!” he whispered again. And as the paper began to fall away and the contents came into view, there was always one final, elongated, “Oooooooh!” before moving on to assist with the next treasure.
That, I’ve decided, is the third alternative. I don’t have to pretend I am in control or despair in the knowledge that I never will be. I can approach each moment, this present moment as the gift it is. I can resolve to be amazed over and over again, acknowledging every change in the landscape with an appreciative, “Ooooh!”
Copyright 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

This Year's Christmas Play

 It is the season of wonder, after all. And, so, I have been wondering. Wondering how long it takes to decorate that huge tree at Rockefeller Center. Wondering how a person is supposed to learn all four verses of any particular Christmas carol now that school music programs are “holiday” performances. Wondering how our little planet looks from the satellite that takes the photos for Google Earth when all the houses in all the cities and towns across America have their Christmas lights turned on.
But mostly I’ve been wondering who I am in this year’s Christmas play.
One year I got to be an angel, but that was only because there were only two blonde girls in our Sunday School class and the script called for three. I don’t remember ever getting to be Mary, gazing beatifically at the baby doll wrapped in a flannel blanket and lying in a what somebody thought looked like a manger filled with a variety of hay that would never have existed in Bethlehem. (Directors, even when they are elementary school teachers, tend to type-cast and meek and mild has never been my strength.) Usually, I was the narrator, the one with the words.
Which makes it interesting that this year the character I’m feeling an awful lot like is Zechariah. Pious and proper, wise and mature, he’s the one who couldn’t bring himself to believe in a miracle and got struck speechless as a result.
Maybe it’s just because I’m tired. Lots of time on the road, away from home, and the negotiation of more traffic and social conventions that I’d like is a slow but steady drain. Maybe it’s because, in the last few weeks, a lot of people whose mortality I’d managed to ignore have become seriously ill or died. Nothing like a thinning of the generational cushion between oneself and ultimate vulnerability to give one pause. Or, maybe, like Zechariah, it’s because I’ve been paying too much attention to the acting and not enough to the experiencing.
Put on the priestly robes. Check. Walk respectfully into the sanctuary. Check. Light the incense. Check. Get out of there and go home.
Mail the Christmas letter. Check. Hang the wreath on the front door. Check. Get the gifts bought and wrapped and delivered and the parties attended and the hostesses thanked and ...
Poor Zechariah. Doing exactly what he is supposed to do. Following all the rules. And he gets interrupted by an angel who offers him a miracle. But, because it doesn’t fit into what he knows, what he expects, what everybody waiting in the temple courtyard knows and expects, he doubts and, because he doubts, his ability to tell the story is taken away.
Poor me. Doing exactly what I am supposed to do. Following all the rules. Have I been interrupted by the offer of a miracle and doubted? Is that why I’m feeling speechless in this holiest of seasons?
Like most miracle tales, Zechariah’s doesn’t end in silence, but in cries of joy and shouts of laughter. The angel’s promise materializes. An impossible thing is made real. And, finally, Zechariah gets to tell his story.
A story made better by the building tension of imposed silence. A story made more compelling by the passage of time. A story made timeless by the knitting of skeptical and miraculous, human and divine, earth and sky.
This year I am Zechariah. I am lighting the incense and listening for the whisper of an angel. And I will be silent until the time for telling the story comes.
Copyright 2012

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Human Hearts and Veterinary Science

Once a month Lily takes heartworm medicine. It is a chewy, brown rectangle that, now that I think of it, bears a passing resemblance to the chewy brown rectangle of calcium that I take every morning. A long time ago Saint Buddy showed me a 3-D model of a canine heart infested with heartworms intending to make an impression. He did. So for 23 years – through Ginny’s life and now through Lily’s – I’ve dutifully administered what I’ve hoped would protect my dogs’ hearts from becoming the living representations of that model.

I operate under no delusion, however, that either of them remained completely heartworm free. Ginny lived, Lily lives in the country. Running wild through fields, chasing down and scavenging wild animals on occasion, spending their lives outdoors means that one can reduce the odds, but not completely eliminate the chance of getting the one bite from the one mosquito that will infest a healthy beating heart.
And, yet, I try.
A few days ago I dropped by Saint Buddy’s to pick up a refill. Whatever the number of cats and dogs that may be present, I am always struck by the clean chlorine-y smell of the place – like a swimming pool or a freshly laundered white towel. It is the scent of competence, a perfume made from a mixture of science and compassion. It makes me feel safe.
Among the many angelic beings who spend their working days at Saint Buddy’s is delicate and ethereal Amy, a near-doppelganger for a young Emmylou Harris. You can tell from the light in her eyes that she speaks the language of children and animals and I am always glad when she is the one to take Lily’s leash from my hand and lead her toward the treatment rooms.
As I explained to her the reason for my visit – to pick up heartworm medicine – she looked up from the computer where she was looking up the prescription and asked, “For Miss Lily?”
“Yes,” I said and then laughed. “Though I could probably use some myself.”
Amy laughed, too, and said something like, “Couldn’t we all?”
Our eyes met. And held. And in that second, that two, three seconds, something important happened. A social exchange became a real conversation. A commonplace chat became a significant dialogue. An ordinary encounter became a memorable moment.
My laughter faded to a breathy chuckle. “Some days,” I offered, “I’m convinced that my heart is absolutely full of worms.”
Still smiling, but now less photographically, Amy nodded and said, “And if somebody offered me a pill for it, I wouldn’t even have to have it wrapped up in cheese. I’d swallow it whole.”
I’ve known Amy for a long time. We’ve spent lots of moments together. But this moment, this particular moment, I will never forget.
There was another woman at the counter. She must have overheard our strange back-and-forth, but she didn’t acknowledge it. Just stood very straight, very still. I suspect that she was staring into a corner somewhere, pretending to be invisible.
I don’t blame her. I’ve been her. I’ve been the woman without the time, the patience, the courage to engage in the bigger, deeper questions. I’ve been the woman who just wanted to get it done, whatever “it” was. Couldn’t bear to think any more than absolutely necessary because I knew where thinking would take me.
Funny thing is, that never works for long. At least, not for me. I am convinced that we, all of us, are connected and it is in having the conversations, sharing the moments, telling the stories that we find the connections.
And, now that I think of it, it just may be that those connections are exactly the heartworm medicine that we humans can’t live without.
Copyright 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tales From Uncle Remus

When I was a little girl, our vacations always sent us north toward Rock City and Ruby Falls, Stone Mountain and Grant Park, Cherokee and the Great Smokies.   And, in the absence in those days of an interstate highway system, our trek always took us through Eatonton, home of Joel Chandler Harris, creator of Uncle Remus. 
Fast food dispensaries were, like the interstate, a fixture of the future and the thought (not to mention the expense) of eating in a restaurant was anathema to my parents, thus we used up most of the car trunk space to, in the words of my mother, “pack a picnic lunch.”  The picnic area at the Joel Chandler Harris Museum became our regular stopping point and when I remember those summer road trips the memories always include the physical sensations of the cool concrete bench under my bare legs, the softness of Sunbeam bread collapsing in my mouth, the feel of thick green grass under my bare feet.  And the laughter.

Oh, the laughter.  Mama and Daddy with their best friends and traveling companions, Mr. John and Miss Frances.  Me and Keith with their children.  Everything was funny.  Even the mishaps.  It was summer and we were on a road trip and the trunk had been too full of sandwich meat and potato chips and powdered doughnuts to leave any room for seriousness.

Last Saturday I was back in Eatonton for the first time in probably thirty years.  I’d been invited to speak to a women’s conference.  I arrived early, greeted my hosts, and got my bearings. I turned down an offer of coffee, explained that I take my caffeine cold and carbonated, and asked for directions to the nearest place open at that hour that could provide the same.

I’m certain that the directions were good, but the IGA to which I’d been pointed didn’t come into view when I thought it should, so I kept driving.  Though it had been a while, but I’d figured out that Eatonton hadn’t grown so much that I was going to get lost looking for a Diet Coke.

I was admiring the quaint shops in downtown, the well-kept yards in the Victorian houses on the side streets when I came to a stop sign and, trying to decide which way to go, realized that I driven right up to the Uncle Remus Museum.  Thoughts of caffeine momentarily left me and I pulled into the parking lot.  It all looked exactly the same – picnic table, log cabin, statue of Brer Rabbit, and the placard of Brer Rabbit with the big arrow tucked under his arm pointing the way to the museum.  

I felt my face stretch into a smile.  I felt my chest begin to vibrate with laughter.  Under my long sleeves I could almost feel the summer breeze, could almost taste the Kool-Aid and the Pecan Twirls.

It has been a long time since I felt like a child.  Actually felt in my body that lightness, that expansiveness, that wholeness that exists when you don’t yet understand the concept of boundaries.  When you have not yet experienced limitation or loss.  When being certain is all you know.

And it has been a long time since I felt so scolded.  Scolded because –  it should be clear, I suppose – that if the mere sight of this place where the innocence and security of childhood was epitomized can send me straight back to those moments, that posture, I should be able to get there at will.  I should be able to remove myself, when need be, from the things and people that would steal my joy, kill my optimism, destroy my faith.  All I have to do is remember.

It is almost Thanksgiving.  The leaves that are left on the sycamore are limp and the color of cured tobacco.  The ones that litter the ground at my feet are brittle and leather-brown, their edges curling like a hand making a fist.  The marshals who enforce the laws of nature are finally, after weeks of effort, wresting those hands loose from their grip on summer.  

I close my eyes and fold my arms across my chest against the chill wind, but under the jacket and the sweater, my arms are bare and I feel the warmth of June sunshine.

Copyright 2012

Monday, November 05, 2012

By The Waters Of Babylon

Our ninth grade literature textbook included the post-apocalyptic short story, “By The Waters Of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benet. The story follows a young boy, the son of a priest in a primitive society, as he journeys far beyond the borders his people have long honored. His long and dangerous quest takes him to the city of the gods where he stumbles across the ruins of the great towers that once filled the city. Two of the rocks have words written on them, words he doesn’t understand: UBTREAS and ASHING.
I remember this part of the story particularly well, probably because Marcia Lanier quizzed and prodded and cajoled us so thoroughly on what we thought those two words might mean. Probably because the entire story turned on those two strange words. Probably because when we finally put it all together and figured out that the words were really only parts of words, it became clear that the stones were fragments of landmarks in New York City, the United States Subtreasury building and a statute of George Washington, and that the story took place not in the distant primitive past, but in a very possible not-so-distant future.
Just the other day I found myself remembering “By The Waters Of Babylon” and wondering what a young priest or priestess who came tip-toeing through the wreckage of one of our cities might find. She might stub her toe on a large piece of signage on which was written “ART” and be led to think that the tower over which such a designation had hung had once been dedicated to truth and beauty. Or that he might trip over an equally large section on which was written “ALM” and think perhaps that the place had been an temple where care was provided for the poor and ill. Both of them would, of course, be wrong.
Because, of course, both ART and ALM would be broken off pieces of a Walmart sign.
That’s right, Walmart, the store into which I walked two weeks before Halloween to find Christmas decorations already available for sale and realized two things. First, the date upon which I have to stop going into Walmart until after Christmas (the actual December 25th Christmas) in order to avoid crowd-induced anxiety attacks and general ill-temperedness has reached a record early date on the calendar. And, second, when the apocalypse does come most of the bodies will be found inside Walmart Supercenters under mounds of flat-screen televisions, cartons of 500-count LED Christmas lights, and Dora the Explorer pajamas.
Okay. Maybe mine is an extreme reaction. Maybe there are those who don’t mind, who actually enjoy navigating a maze of aisles lined with plastic holly wreaths and Lady Stetson gift sets in search of candy corn. Perhaps there are people who are not disturbed by the odd juxtaposition of a jack-o-lantern with the Baby Jesus on the end-cap of the express lane. There is even the possibility that, living here among my own people, there are folks in whom there is not created a sense that can only be described as the heebie-jeebies when one is accosted by the voice of Bing Crosby crooning away about a white Christmas from behind a rack of Darth Vader masks.
Extreme reaction or not, I couldn’t help wondering, when our end comes, if it is in the nature of a cataclysm, whether we will be leaving behind anything worth rummaging through, stumbling over. For the ones left behind or coming after, will they think we were dedicated to truth and beauty, that we provided for the poor and the ill? Or will the evidence of our existence leave them thinking, as the young boy in Benet’s story thought, that we had lived in a place of great riches but that we had squandered their magic?
I want to believe that somewhere, between the racks of Spiderman costumes and the shelves of scented candles, between the fun-size candy bars and the needle-pointed stockings, behind the scarecrows and hay bales, under the blow-up snowman, those great riches still exist. I think we can find them.
Copyright 2012

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Dancing With The Seeing Eye Dog

When I was a girl, the only college football games on television on Saturday afternoon involved teams whose nicknames I did not understand (Sooners, Buckeyes) and whose players’ names all seemed to have not enough vowels. I had no connection to Oklahoma or Ohio, Nebraska or Notre Dame and it took me a long time to realize that I watched not for the competition itself, but for the broadcast. I watched so I could hear Keith Jackson.
I probably heard him call thousands of plays over the years, but there is one call – probably because it said less about football and more about life – that I will never forget. It was late in the game. The quarterback of the team that was trailing had not had a good game. He’d been intercepted. His completion percentage was negligible. He sat on the sidelines looking like, as Keith would probably have said, a whipped pup.

Conversation in the broadcast booth turned to whether the coach would, when his team got the ball back, put in another quarterback. The starter clearly didn’t have his best stuff. The back-up was pretty good. It would make a lot of sense. And maybe the back-up could surprise the defense. Maybe there was a miracle waiting to happen.

The camera got a close-up of the head coach – dressed in a coat and tie, notes rolled up in his hand, yelling out instructions as the offense took the field. And there was the quarterback, the starter, the struggling starter running out with them.

"Well," said Keith Jackson in that stentorian voice that never lost its Southern accent, "looks like the coach believes that you dance with the one what brung ya’."

I have no recollection of how the game ended, whether the quarterback crafted a storybook ending or walked away the goat. I remember only that with those few words, an expression that, surprisingly, I’d never heard before, Keith Jackson presented me with an axiom that over the years has become something like a koan, a paradox upon which to meditate, a question with more than one answer, a story that in the telling and re-telling I somehow get closer to intuitive truth.

On that day, that autumn Saturday so many years ago, I understood the story to be about loyalty. The coach put the starting quarterback in for the final set of downs because of a previously affirmed allegiance, a declared determination to perform certain acts in support of a common goal. The act may well have been less a demonstration of confidence than a dare to condemn. No matter what happened, no one could fault the man for being loyal.

It is another autumn Saturday and I am outside working in the yard. The car radio is tuned to the UGA pre-game show and the volume is turned up loudly enough for me to hear it as I re-set the concrete edgers around the hosta bed. One of the broadcasters mentions Keith Jackson, long retired to California and endless rounds of golf, and with that mention sends my mind careening back to the unnamed coach and the quarterback with whom he chose to dance. For the first time in a long time the koan appears, its feet (iamb, anapest, molossus) skipping, then tromping, then running breathlessly through my thoughts, looping around and around until I am nearly breathless myself.

I am staring at the clouds. They are high and white, appliques fused to the pale blue baby’s bib of the sky. It has been 40 years since I so assuredly analyzed the coach and the quarterback, their relationship and the dynamics of the moment Keith Jackson memorialized with a quaint colloquialism. I have experienced my share of interceptions; my statistics have been less than stellar in any number of categories. And I understand now, in this moment of re-examining and re-telling, that it was not simply loyalty that put the quarterback back on the field. It was trust.

Loyalty is strong, but it is often blind. Trust is its companion animal. It prevents loyalty from stepping out into traffic and alerts it to unexpected changes in the environment. Trust knows when to abandon calls for reason and disregard demands for explanation. Trust can see in the dark.

And when the game – or something more important – is on the line, it is that ability to see in the dark which will determine who gets to dance.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Few Good Boys

There are five of us around the table. The four children are seated; I am standing, walking from end to end, looking over their shoulders at their work. Strung along the center of the table are bottles of glue, pairs of scissors, and stacks of magazines. In front of each child is a single piece of white paper. The exercise I’ve given them in this class for young writers is to make a collage representing an object each of them has drawn from a bag. One of the girls has drawn a broken seashell, the other girl a ceramic miniature of an English country church. The two boys have drawn strangely contrasting items – an iron railroad spike and a makeup brush.
I am teaching this class for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I love children, enjoy watching their faces as they struggle to grasp new concepts or think of the right word. They don’t know yet how to mask their emotions or feel the need to equivocate. It is good to hear the truth from the mouth of someone who doesn’t yet know that there is another option. One of them, when I asked what words they would use to describe me, said, "Old." There was a quizzical look on her face when I gasped in mock horror.

I am also teaching this class because I enjoy being a student and I know that whatever I may teach these children about words and writing they are sure to teach me at least as much about life.

There is a time limit and, with five minutes to go, I remind them that they need to start gluing their images to the paper. One of the girls, the youngest in the class, has discovered that each of the bottles has a stopper inside that must be removed before the creamy white glue can be squirted out of the bright orange twist-tops. I didn’t know this. I’ve never seen such a thing. We pause a moment and discuss why the glue makers might have done this. Someone mentions something about getting glue on clothes. There is, obviously, a story behind the comment. Maybe that story will get written down.

Each of the bottles has now been liberated, but one of them, the one being used by the boy with the makeup brush, is still not flowing. It takes me a moment to realize what he is doing to address the dilemma: He has taken the big orange-handled scissors, gripped them in his fist by the shaft of the blades, and begun trying to jam the closed blades into the tiny hole in the glue top.

I burst out laughing. I can’t help myself. They look at me as though I’ve lost my mind. I try to explain: "Look at you! You’re a man! This is exactly what a man does! Something doesn’t work and you grab the biggest tool you can find and start hitting on it!" I am about to lose my breath.

This child is 10 years old. Cute as a button. Smart as a whip. (Did I mention we are working on similes?) He’s got this impish smile that alerts you to the fact that he’s up to something, even if it’s only in his imagination, and makes you want to squeeze his cheeks – which you don’t, of course. He is ten years old and still a little boy and, yet, he’s already approaching problems in a gender-specific (and, maybe, stereotypical) way.

I don’t stop him. I stand close by and make sure that he doesn’t hurt himself, but I allow him to do it his way. He manages to unclog the glue bottle and finish his collage. And I finally stop laughing.

The irony of his choice of objects from the bag is not lost on me. This boy’s boy pulled out a makeup brush, even had to ask me what it was, but he didn’t complain, didn’t ask if he could choose again, simply set about the task at hand. And when a problem arose, he tackled it head on.

He wants to be a writer, but after today it occurs to me that if writing doesn’t work out this boy would make a mighty fine Marine: "Improvise, adapt, and overcome."

Copyright 2012

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Poems and Pellets and Photosynthesis

My very first class at Wesleyan was Survey of American Literature taught by Dr. Leah Strong.  The class met on the second floor of Tate Hall at the end of the second floor  overlooking the library.  The ceilings were tall, the walls plaster and the dark wooden windows so heavy that when they were opened, which was fairly often because there was no air conditioning in Tate at that time, you could hear the chains creaking in the sashes halfway across campus.  It was a beautiful Indian summer day and the sunshine seemed to move in waves with the breeze that ruffled the gingko leaves.  My classmates and I, probably 10 or 12 or us, were sitting in old wooden desks whose tops had been scarred with 50 years of initials and class names carved by the pens and pencils of daydreaming Wesleyannes.

 I was sitting there wondering just how long one was supposed to wait for a professor when a figure came scurrying through the doorway.  It was a short, chubby gray-haired woman wearing grannie glasses, black polyester pants, a Hawaiian print shirt and shoes my father would call brogans.  She was carrying under her arm, not a briefcase or a textbook or a sheaf of lecture notes, but a motorcycle helmet.

 She strode determinedly across the front of the room, set her helmet down in the middle of the desk and then walked around to the front and jumped backward onto the desk, leaving her short legs dangling like those of a marionette.

 She looked around the room at us and said, "The definition of poetry..."  We hurriedly opened our brand new spiral notebooks and poised our pens over the clean white page.

 "The definition of poetry ..." She looked around the room again.  "When I was a child, my father used to bring home packages of paper pellets.  These pellets were the size of BB’s and when you dropped one of these pellets into a glass of water it would slowly begin to unfold and unfurl until, a few minutes later, the pellet had become a beautiful flower.  Each of the pellets was different.  Each one produced a uniquely beautiful flower." 

 She looked around the room a third time.  "The poem is the pellet and you are the glass of water."
 I realized I was staring.  I had not written a single word.   And all I could think was "Oh, my Lord, I’m going to love college."

 With such an introduction, it would be understandable if Leah Strong did not live up to the expectations created that day.  But she did.  She introduced me to the ideas of popular culture and folklore and taught me that the stories my family told, the songs my family sang, the language my family used – MY family, strong and wise and unaffected country people – were things to be valued and preserved.  She trained my ear to the cadence and melody of Southern voices, alerted me to the layered meanings of colloquialisms, made me tender to the weightiness of words like "home" and "place."

 I did not know these things, of course, when I shook her hand for the last time before I left Wesleyan as a student.  I did not know how to articulate them when I saw her years later at a reunion.  It is too late to tell her now.

 I was thinking about Dr. Strong today as I remembered a conversation I had over the weekend with Katherine and Kate.  I’d just returned from a visit with an older friend who is losing some of her independence and I couldn’t find the words to express the feeling of choking grief that had me by the throat.  I started crying.

 "The whole cycle of life thing?"  Katherine asked and I nodded.

 Kate looked at me quizzically.  "You’re crying over photosynthesis?"

 It is difficult to laugh and cry simultaneously.  Hard to tell which one is causing you to lose your breath and which is making your stomach hurt.  And this time, at least, it didn’t matter.

 Just like the poem as pellet, Kate had found the perfect metaphor.  Or something like that.  And in the warm September sun I could see Dr. Strong sitting on the edge of that desk and she was smiling.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Place In The Middle

On one side is a field of cotton. The stems are blooming with pink and white flowers, soft and sweet like appliques on a gingham sundress. On the other side is a field of corn. The stalks are stiff, the fronds brittle, the ears hard as a brick bat. What was pulsing, quivering green is now lethargic tan, the color of a cup of coffee gone cold. In between, in the middle, is the road.

That is where I am. The middle. Looking from side to side. Comparing and contrasting. Noting that this is an odd season, one in which some crops are made, ready for harvest, and others are on the cusp of what they are yet to become.

I want to sit there a while, listen to the voices of the cotton and the corn approach from either side and mingle over my head. There is something in the middle that wants to be heard.

I drive on.

Occasionally Adam e-mails me a YouTube video. It is usually country music or a vituperative political commentator. Today it is a television interview of Erk (Interesting, isn’t it, how some people don’t need last names?) done during the 1987 playoffs. Vintage Erk – Beautiful Eagle Creek, Snooky’s, the rattlesnake story. I listen like I listen to hymns in church, with half an ear because I know them so well.

But then I hear the voice-over mention that Erk was 55 when he came to Statesboro. It startles me. That’s how old I am.

I write Adam back: "You were five years old. You grew up going to those games and watching him coach and you didn't even know what you were seeing. He was 55 when he came to Georgia Southern and the work for which we remember him most he did after that. Kinda makes me think I might have a little something left in me."

I hit "send," hoping he will laugh, hoping that maybe he will respond with something along the lines of, "Don’t be silly, Kap. There’s a lot left in you."

He does not.

I get back to work. I make telephone calls, answer telephone calls, draft petitions. And all the while the corn and the cotton are humming in the background.

On the way home I stop to visit with a friend. Conversation turns to a book she is reading, that I have already read. It is titled "Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis" and includes a chapter called "Middle Voice." There are a few languages, the author points out, including ancient Greek, that have, in addition to the active and passive voices, what is called the middle voice. It is used to indicate situations in which the subject of the sentence is changed by the action of the verb, but not just passively acted upon, when the subject is at least partially responsible for what has happened. "When you are somewhere," she writes, "between the agent and the one acted upon. When you have something done to you. I will have myself carried. I will have myself saved."

My friend, who is almost my age and asking herself a lot of questions these days, has just read this chapter. "I think," she says, "that maybe I am in the middle." There is something in her words that sounds exactly right, so I nod in agreement, but it is only later, that I realize they are also revolutionary.

Middle voice has little use in a society in which self-reliance is the religion of choice, in which pop culture deifies defiance, and in which daily doses of doomsday prophecy eviscerate even the hardiest of souls. And, yet, there is such a need for it. A need to deliberately choose to be less than deliberate, to purposefully yield to the current, to intentionally sail with rather than against the tide.

I will not be 55 much longer. Another birthday breaks the horizon. There are things that are finished. There are things that will not be done. But sitting in the road between the cotton and the corn I think that, perhaps, I may have finally come to the place where I will have myself carried. The season between the blooming and the dying will have itself lived.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

10,000 Acres and One New Word

In opening the back door, I flush a flock of birds at the edge of the branch, their wings fluttering fast and thick like shuffled cards. They rise and disappear too quickly for me to make out any markings and they make no sound from which I, were I a person who knew birdcalls, could identify them. The strip of field grass, broom sedge, and dandelions that separate the branch from the backyard is relatively narrow and, on this filmy, overcast morning, their small feathered bodies are little more than momentary smudges across my contact lenses.

Two or three times a year Daddy or Keith, swinging the rotary cutter around the edges of the adjacent fields, will turn wide to include my little strip, but most of the time it remains as it is now – knee-high in something, soft and crunchy underfoot.

A few weeks ago some friends and I visited Little St. Simons Island, one of those "I’ve always wanted to go there, can’t believe I’ve never been there" places. Accessible only by boat, it was formed from the sediment of the Altamaha River and has doubled in size since the first survey was made in the 1860s. In the last four years alone, it has gained 30 feet of shoreline.

Bouncing around in the bed of a white Chevy pick-up, we ducked to avoid the branches of live oaks and Southern red cedars, pines and palmettoes, a canopy of trees that has never been harvested. We saw a black-necked stilt, who has the longest legs per body length of any bird, and a roseate spoonbill, two of the 283 species of birds that live among the 10,000 acres, and a fallow deer, descendant of the first ones brought to the island from a zoo in New York in exchange for alligators.

The heat was bad, the gnats and mosquitoes worse, but I was so overwhelmed by all that I did not know, had never seen, wanted so desperately to remember that neither the heat nor the pests were much of a bother. And in the midst of all the sensory onslaught, I learned a new word: ecotone.
Words are playthings. They are tools. They are tastes and textures and smells. And a new one is a gift wrapped in tissue paper and tied up with wide satin ribbon.

An ecotone is a transition area between two different patches of landscape, a habitat particularly significant for mobile animals because it allows them to exploit more than one set of habitats. The barrier islands of Georgia are an ecotone – anteroom for entering the mainland from the ocean, foyer to the ocean from the mainland. Marsh and reed bed and wetlands, all forming a bridge between worlds. So is, I realized as the unidentified birds flitted away from my noisiness into the dimness of the branch, my narrow isthmus of land, my band of untamed, unmown grass and bush and weed.

It seems fairly obvious that the concept of ecotone doesn’t need to be limited to topography. Landscape exists within a personality or a lifespan. It can be found within a relationship or a conversation or a performance. It is that place or moment when movement becomes obvious, when change has to be acknowledged, when the next thing is no longer frightening or strenuous or disagreeable, but simply the next thing.

And it is equally apparent that the ecotone, at least in the non-topographical sense, is a temporary locale. It is not a place for abiding, but sojourning. A place for catching one’s breath, perhaps. For taking a last look in either direction before setting out for good.

I see that now. I realize that it is time to move. Time to explore another habitat. Time to see more of those "always wanted to go there, can’t believe I’ve never been there" places in the world and in my heart.

All is silent. The evaporation of the birds into the mist has left the morning gray and green and still. I untie the ribbon, unfold the paper, and toss the brand new word into the warm summer air.

Copyright 2012

Friday, August 03, 2012

Peanuts and Progress

For a long time I have wanted to build a labyrinth at Sandhill, a spiraling path for intentional walking. I’ve imagined it in the side yard, deliberately visible from the road and open to the sky. I’ve imagined in the backyard, a few yards from the pond and a bit more secluded. For years I have collected stones from various places I’ve visited (including one protected seashore whose status I didn’t know until after I’d pilfered the stone), written the locations and dates on them with permanent marker, and dropped them in flower beds to await their ultimate destiny as part of my construction project.

Tonight about eight o’clock I went outside to get a closer look at a fawn that was nibbling away at Daddy’s peanuts in the field on the west side of the house. He’d been there earlier in the day when a couple of friends were visiting, but he’d been spooked by a passing car. In the late afternoon sun he’d ventured back out for another meal of the smooth green leaves and tiny yellow blooms folded flat like cut-out paper Valentines. I moved slowly down the field road with my camera in hopes that when he noticed me and took off running for cover I would be able to get a video for my friends.

He did eventually notice me and I did get a little footage of his tiny white tail bouncing across the field. When he disappeared from view I realized that I had tracked him into the middle of the field, that there were long straight lines stretching out on either side of me, and that the sandy white paths running between the rows reminded me of a labyrinth. Kind of.

I walked down the full length of one row, counted over ten rows – a random number that seemed just the right width –, and turned back into the field in the opposite direction. At the end of that row, I counted over another ten rows and began again. Up, over, down, over. Up, over, down, over.

No one can be sure, but it is thought that the first labyrinths, built thousands of years ago, were meant to symbolize the paths to be followed in life, in daily and seasonal cycles, from birth to death to rebirth and to mimic the path of the sun in its circuit across the sky. Later, they were adopted by Christians as a substitute for long pilgrimages and symbolized the long and difficult path that the Christian followed toward redemption.

A true labyrinth contains no tricks or deceptions, no dead ends. It is a single wandering path that leads from an entrance to the center and back again.

At first I strolled slowly, hands clasped behind me, and I could almost see myself in a loose brown robe, barefoot, hair springing out in all directions, the reverential abbess of The Abbey of Sandhill. The venerable vision didn’t last long, however. My natural stride, long and quick and purposeful, took over and it was just me moving up and down, back and forth.

I didn’t move so quickly, though, that I missed the signs of life at my feet – the divots of dirt left by the deep treads of marauding deer, the patches of grass sprouting up through the peanut vines, the wide tractor tire tracks. Across the way the sun was setting, warming the horizon with a low flame. The heat of the day was lifting and drawing with it into the fading sky the distant sounds of dogs barking, four-wheelers revving, my own thoughts almost audible.

I figure I’d walked about a mile, weaving back and forth, by the time the flame went out over the treetops. And, just as with a real labyrinth, I came out where I started. So what, then, is the point? Isn’t a pilgrimage about getting somewhere? About making progress?

In Greek mythology Theseus went to the center of the labyrinth in order to slay the Minotaur, the monster inside. There is, of course, a monster inside each of us. The monster of selfishness, of insensitivity, of pride and greed and envy. The monster will not slay itself and it will not come out on its own. We, each of us, must walk the narrow path to the center of our selves, face down and destroy the monster, and find our way back out. Out to the place of beginning.

In a few weeks the peanut vines will be lapped over, the rows hard to distinguish, the field one broad swath of dark green. Beneath it will be footprints finding their way to the center and back.   Copyright 2012

Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's A Long Story

I am, I’ve been told, a good storyteller. I’ve been told this enough that I’ve come to accept it as true.One should be careful about what one accepts as true.

Last week I took off a couple of days to spend some time at the beach with friends. One night a number of us gathered at a local barbecue place for supper, sat outside at a long weathered picnic table, let the wood smoke settle into our clothes and hair, and forgot about the world on the other end of the causeway. The food and atmosphere were good, the conversation better.

When we’d finished off the barbecue and potato salad and fried Oreos, our bodies tired from a long day in the sun and our brains just about empty of things like deadlines and to-do lists, we adjourned from the barbecue joint and reconvened a few blocks away at my friends’ family beach house – a remodeled ranch with just enough bunk beds to hold all the grandchildren. The collection of four girls had ice cream cones and chased the dog around the backyard and then came inside just about the time the grown-ups sat down to continue the conversations that, somehow, you just never get around to having at home.

And that’s when the stories started. Something reminded somebody of something and we laughed and that reminded me of something else and I said, "Remember when?" and, the next thing I knew, Katie Anne, the youngest of the four assorted girls, was on the arm of my chair, her face locked on mine, mimicking my expressions, smiling and scowling at all the right moments, laughing on cue.
"Tell us another story," she said. And I gladly did.

Eventually it was time to break up the party, but I promised Katie Anne that I had more stories, one really good story, in fact, and that I would share it the next day at the pool where we’d all agreed we would see each other again.

I looked forward to telling Katie Anne the story. It’s a good story. Everybody I’ve ever told this story liked it. Katie Anne would like it, too. I was sure of it.

I shouldn’t have been.

The next day, as the other girls squealed and splashed in the pool, chased each other and the sole boy cousin who had come along, Katie Anne sat at the end of the lounge chair where I had spread out an appropriately garish beach towel and listened to the story. Except this time her face didn’t stay locked on mine, she didn’t mimic my expression, she scowled a good bit more than she smiled, and she – most obviously – did not laugh.

When I got to the end, she stood up and walked over to the ladder at the deep end of the pool. "So, Katie Anne, did you like the story?" I called.

"It was long," she offered and jumped into the water.

Her mother, who was sitting nearby, and I now did the laughing. So much for being a good storyteller.

She was right though. The story was long. And long is not what Katie Anne had wanted, expected, or needed when a pool full of children was right there within reach. Life can be like that. When what you get isn’t what you want, expect, or need it can seem nothing short of long.

Notice, though, that Katie Anne didn’t say the story was too long. She didn’t offer that it was longer than necessary, desirable, or right. It was simply long. And it is in that differentiation that I found the real point of her declaration.

Life – in its entirety or on any given day – isn’t too anything. It simply is. Long or short. Exhilarating or exhausting. Confusing or enlightening. The same goes for one’s work, relationships, dreams. None of them is more than or less than necessary, desirable, or right. Attaching adverbs like too and very and overly to people and experiences is disrespectful at best and dangerous at worst. We steal from ourselves when we choose to do so.

My story was long. Just long. I’m still a good storyteller and I will tell that story again. Just not to Katie Anne.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, July 01, 2012

4224 Second Street, East Beach

This week my friend Lea found herself packing up and leaving forever a place that she dearly loves. It has belonged to her family for over 40 years and has held, not just the funky, eclectic mixture of furniture that houses at the beach normally collect, but significant memories for four generations and more than a little piece of each of their hearts. Her last night there it was just Lea and a blow-up mattress and two lawn chairs. She wrote on her Facebook wall, "Feeling like Sam in the last episode of Cheers where he is the last person left, takes one last look around, then turns out the light, walks out and closes the door behind him."

The next day she sent her friends an e-mail listing all the items that had been crammed into her car in the hours before vacating the premises. It was a long and impression list and included, among things one would expect like clothes and work items, "five brooms ... two rolls of toilet paper ... 1 plastic box of paint brushes, 1 large plastic tub of craft paints, 3 large plastic shopping bags of craft supplies ... 1 big box of things I need in my car (sharpies, paper, tape, koosies, etc) ... 1 big metal tin of books and stuff I keep in my car always ... 1 iron to give away."

One of her friends replied, "That is going to be a mess on the road if you have an accident." All I could think was, "Lord, have mercy!"

It would be a mess if Lea’s car, like a defective pressure cooker, spontaneously erupted somewhere on Highway 17 spewing brooms and paintbrushes and small appliances all over the right-of-way. It would have been a bigger mess, however, had she not loaded that car, had she not taken one last look around, turned out the light, and closed the door behind her because this is what I have observed:

There is a point in every growing season at which the growing medium – field, garden, plot, pot – becomes messy. The rows lose their delineation, the individual plants lose their edges, and it becomes impossible to identify any point as the beginning or the end. It is in that moment that the farmer/gardener/tender of soil loses control of the structure, the aesthetics, and the end result.

Example: The cornfield outside my window is now beyond plowable, its edges crowded by a jumble of knee-high grasses and weeds and its canopy of wide green fronds woven together in uneven bands like the warp and weft of the potholders I used to make on a little red metal loom. Another example: The verbena at the corner of the house that started out as six little identical plants has morphed into wild and spindly vines spread all over the ground like fingerpaint – randomly, awkwardly, all over each other and the stone edgers meant to contain it.

I don’t like messy. I like neat and tidy. I like order and organization and anything alphabetized, and so it has taken some time for me to learn that messiness can not be avoided if one wants to grow. Plant a seed and dirt will make its way under your fingernails, despite the gardening gloves. Write a story and the first draft will end up in a wadded up paper ball on the floor. Open your heart and take the risk that, like Lea’s car, a bump in the road or a crash into someone else could send everything inside flying out into the open sky.

It has taken time to learn those things, but I have learned them. I have learned them by planting the seed, writing the story, opening my heart and, consequently, scrubbing my fingernails, picking up the endless mounds of paper balls, and standing on the side of the road watching the wind from speeding traffic carelessly toss about that which I hold most precious.

The result is that I have grown. And I am still growing. And the messiness of that is something to embrace.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cornfields and Kool-Aid

With all the rain we’ve gotten lately, from Beryl and various other low pressure systems, the corn may well be as high as an elephant’s eye. My memories of the Grant Park Zoo, formed when I was considerably shorter than I am now, leave me a little vague as to how high that is exactly, but it is, I think, safe to assume, higher than my head and the corn is definitely that.

When we were children, Keith, Aunt June, and I used to run through the cornfield chasing each other and playing "Bonanza" while Mama, Daddy, and Grannie broke the ears that would be cut and scraped and bagged and put into the freezer so that on every Sunday table for the coming year there would be a bowl of sweet creamy summer. We ran through rows that still held the warmth of late afternoon sun, tattooing our bare feet with stone bruises and tagging our arms and legs with the graffiti of bright red blood, tiny cuts sliced by the razor-edge of corn fronds.

Stray hairs decoupaged with sweat against our foreheads, we did not stop until dark, until our parents’ arms, buckets, car trunks were full of heavy green ears and we could rush inside, past the swarm of bugs dive-bombing the porch light, and fall on the floor in front of the window-unit air-conditioner. We stayed there, cotton shirts stuck to our backs, the salt in our sweat making tiny white clouds appear on the fabric as it dried, until Mama appeared with glasses of Kool-Aid, red like the jagged lines on our legs, in glasses dripping with condensation all the way across the kitchen floor.

Some afternoons Daddy would walk outside to the edge of the field and break three of four ears on his way in from work. He would shuck them, strip away the ribbed husks and silky tassels, crack off the hard stems on the end with a quick snap, and toss them under the broiler for a few minutes to roast. The kernels turned brown and chewy like caramel and we would sit on the front steps to eat them, hands grasping either end of the cobs, elbows propped on knees to eliminate all unnecessary motion as we gnawed our way from one end to the other of this first, blessed offering of the season.

There were no questions then. No uncertainties. No mistrust of anything in my world, the one that was triangulated by home and school and church. The one populated by people whose stories I knew, whose names were among the first words I learned, whose faces still materialize when I smell honeysuckle or stoop to pick verbena or taste homemade lemonade.

Wistfulness moves through my body like a sudden chill. I am sitting on the deck, staring across the yard – not 25 feet – at the cornfield that rises like a green curtain, glowing with the sheen of a full-detail wax job. Straight as a plumb line the stalks stand in endless rows that stretch from here to there. From here to beyond there. From here to somewhere else. The tassels are pale gold and bobbing like a jester’s cap, a windsock of sorts. The ears are jutting out at just the right angle, three to a stalk, medals pinned to the chests of soldiers at attention.

It could be the same field through which I ran wildly 45 years ago, slapping my thigh as though it were the flanks of a stallion, chasing Indians across the flat acres of the Ponderosa. But it is not the same field. I am not the freckled ten-year-old. My fatigue cannot be assuaged by a glass of Kool-Aid.

I realize that I am halfway listening for the voice of James Earl Jones to come rolling out of the branch, the stalks to part and Shoeless Joe Jackson to walk into the yard. I am looking for salvation from a world beyond this one because – having left undone those things which I ought to have done and done those things which I ought not to have done far too often lately – I am too tired, too spent, too frustrated to save myself.

There is, of course, no voice, no appearance, but I keep staring into the shimmering emerald shadows and, as I do, I feel my breath slowing, slowing to take in the sweet green scent of corn, which tickles me somehow. I laugh. At the memories, at my "Field of Dreams" imaginings, at the preposterous idea that I could, tired or frustrated or at my very best, ever save myself.

And, suddenly, I recognize where I am. Not just at the edge of a cornfield, but at Point A of a brand new triangulation, a re-bar set, a monument laid, an altar where I can offer up a prayer of gratitude for all the stories I don’t yet know.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Basil and Invisible Topography

Basil, it is said, wards off dragons. I learned this long after having started growing basil in the big clay pot on the deck. Long after having mastered the technique the witty and beautiful people of the Food Network call "chiffonade" (the process of rolling the deep green leaves into tiny cigars and slicing them into slender ribbons of fragrance). Long after having decided that, when the time comes, I’d like my casket filled with fresh-cut basil so that I can leave this world surrounded by the scent of spring.

I learned it, in fact, only recently and cannot attest to the truth of the statement, but it does occur to me that whatever beasts of the dragon variety may live in the far reaches of the branch behind Sandhill have been held at bay to date.

I am a farmer’s daughter. I know a little something about sowing and reaping. Seeds or plants go into the ground with the eye toward reproduction, multiplication, harvest of more than that with which you started. In a world of insecticides and fungicides and herbicides and outside the realm of organic farming, there’s not a lot of planting for defensive purposes.

So the whole idea of this tiny little plant arresting the advance of a monster arouses my curiosity and the thought that what we plant, what we grow, what we tend and nurture does more than produce, but also prevent now has me wondering about the other green things I’ve stuck into the ground like stockade poles. I’m not necessarily concerned with whether the chinaberry tree, that source of my father’s constant wonderment, has some part in forestalling the advance of ogres or whether the thyme and sage guard against trolls. I’m not even thinking about whether the azaleas, the hydrangeas, the hostas are anything more than decoration, sort of like the Queen’s Guard outside Buckingham Palace – standing there and looking nice, but not much of a defense against the wildness that would overtake the yard in a matter of weeks left untended.

I’m thinking of other lands, more exploitable and vulnerable lands. Miles and miles of what the old westerns called the frontier, that which lies beyond a boundary, beyond what is known. The ground that is most susceptible to dragons and other hellish creatures is not that which creeps beneath my fingernails or blackens the bottoms of my bare feet. It is not surveyable, conveyable, devisable acreage. It is the interior real estate. The land of the heart, the soul.

There is a reason we call it a stream of thought. A field of study. A flood of emotions. The landscape within has its own topography. Rivers and creeks of memory and curiosity, pastures and deserts of interest and intellect, tides and currents of anger and sadness and love.

Often sight-seen and visited, occasionally occupied or squatted upon, frequently over-logged or strip-mined, but only rarely, I think, is the heart, the soul cleared for construction of a home, a place to stay. Too seldom do we, do I unroll the plat and walk the lines, dig under the fallen leaves to find the rebar set at the corner so we know what is ours.

It is not impossible, however. Too seldom doesn’t mean never. The terrain of one’s heart can be learned like the farmer, the hunter, the hiker learns a piece of land – with intention and attention. With slowness of pace and undistracted vision. With time, lots and lots of time.

I went walking in the woods the other day, scooting carefully down the hill from the path over the pond dam into a circus tent of bright green leaves. It had been a long time since I’d given myself over to purposeless roaming and it felt good to be surrounded by nothing but tall trunks and slender branches. I did not pay attention to where I was going. I didn’t have to. I have spent hours walking these woods. I know them. I know what grows there.

I believe I know the countryside of my heart and mind just that well. I believe I know what grows there. And, just in case there are dragons, I’ve planted basil.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Fairy Tale

I step out on to the deck and take a deep breath. The breeze, brisk but mild, brings no scent of flower or bough, but only the sound of the wind chimes dangling and dancing in the white light of morning. The wet towels I have shaken out into limp flags are draped over the railings of the deck and by noon they will be dry and sun-rough.

It has been a busy few weeks. A schedule full of good things, good times, people I love. But I am tired. I am, like Martha, careful and troubled about many things. I am glad for a Saturday on which no one is expecting me to be anywhere, to do anything.

The plan is to engage my body, not my mind – weed the perennials, dead-head the lilies, edge the ivy that threatens to overtake the corner of the carport. I smear a little sunscreen over my cheeks, stuff my hair up into the new pink baseball cap, and pull the stained gardening gloves over fingernails that I suddenly realize are in serious need of attention.

That’s when I notice it. The fairy path. Wending its way from under the low drooping branches of the sycamore tree across the back yard toward the cornfield, a clearly curving line of irregularly spaced and oddly shaped mushrooms. Several the size of large buttons, a couple as big as a demitasse cup. Three huddled together like matryoshka dolls.

According to the folklore of the Celtic peoples, fairy paths are routes taken by fairies between geographical sites of significance – fairy forts and mountains, streams, thorn bushes, ancient stone monuments – and must not be obstructed by human construction. If one’s home is built on a fairy path, the doors and windows must be kept open at night to allow the fairies to pass through and the consequences of not doing so are grave. Sometimes, it is said, a fairy path, which is usually invisible, can be identified by a strip of grass across a field that is a different color green from the rest. And sometimes, as in this case, the fairy path or a fairy ring (used for dancing) becomes visible by the appearance of mushrooms.

I am intrigued. No. That is not right. I am mesmerized. I stand so still and so quietly that I stop hearing the wind chimes, the rustle of leaves, the birds in the branch. But there are things to do. Perennials to be weeded. Lilies to be dead-headed. Ivy to be edged.

I shake my head to break the spell. Kneeling down, my back to the fairy path, I push my hands into the dense green screen that is periwinkle and coreopsis and Russian sage and begin pulling out errant sprigs of grass and clover. There are roots that hold tight to the earth and whose grips will have to be forced loose. I twist and wiggle, dig around the edges, twist and wiggle some more. In my haste I pull too soon and end up with a fist full of stem, the root still in the ground. I sigh with exasperation, rest back on my heels, straighten my tense shoulders.

Weeding, dead-heading, edging must wait.

I have to duck my head to stand under the lowest limbs of the sycamore tree, the spot where the fairy path begins. There is great danger, it is said, associated with traveling a fairy path when it might be in use by the fairies, but there is no danger here. I am quite sure that I have been invited, perhaps even summoned.

Feet together, arms at my side, I take a step and then another. Deliberate steps with pauses between. Careful steps so as not to touch the mushrooms. I follow the curve, realizing as I do that I am walking east toward the still rising sun, away from the shadow of the tree.

And then I am at the end. The point beyond which the path no longer shows me the way.

I stop. Breathe. Shift my stance from attention to parade rest. Realize that I am hearing the wind chimes again, their music joined this time by that of the temple bells hanging in the chinaberry tree. I close my eyes and lift my chin to feel the sun land on my face. Raise my arms, hold them there, suspended between heaven and earth, until my muscles burn and twitch.

When I open my eyes there has been no miraculous extension of the path. I’ve been given no revelation as to where I go from here. No magic decoder ring has been placed upon my finger. But I am different. I am no longer tired. I am no longer troubled about many things. And the entire cornfield, not just one strip, is greener.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Bye, Bye Birdie

A couple of weeks ago I stopped for the mail and, before I could get my hand into the box, heard the distinct sounds of baby birds. I quickly drew my hand back, suspecting that I might be in the cross-hairs of the mama somewhere close by. A few seconds went by without the appearance of an angry female of the avian variety and I reached back in, this time seeing two baby birds sprawled across the stack of sale papers and catalogs.

They were scrawny and ugly. All thin skin and sharp angles, bulbous eyes and over-sized beaks. Still slick and gooey with the contents of their former eggs. They couldn’t have been out of their eggs more than an hour or so by my guess and their high-pitched squeaks and squawks conveyed a desperation that I interpreted as a call to action.

The nest filled the entire back wall of the mailbox, deep enough that an opening of only about four inches at the top allowed access. It would not be an easy chore to return the birds to the spot from which it was fairly obvious they had fallen, but I couldn’t just walk off with my most recent invitation to save money on car insurance, the Going Places magazine from AAA, and a slightly-soiled Penny Saver assuming that they would resolve the dilemma by themselves.

I rolled the magazine into a half-pipe and slid it along the bottom of the mailbox attempting to scoop up one of the babies. The angle from which I was working and the bird’s determined refusal to cooperate did not, at first, result in success. It took three or four tries before I managed to get enough of the tiny little thing hanging on to the slightly splayed edges of the magazine to lift it and shove it toward the nest.

The baby landed on the rim, promptly and wildly flinging his spastic wings forward so that he fell back on the spot from which I had so laboriously just lifted him. I sighed. I may have made a caustic remark or two.

I tried again. And again. Eventually, the baby bird and his/her brother/sister were both back in the nest and I was imagining a dinner table conversation in which the mama bird would offer up a tasty worm or two while the young’uns recounted their adventure trying to leave the nest – the perfect setting for motherly admonitions about behaving oneself and not trying to grow up too fast.

The next day was Saturday. I went to check the mail. It hadn’t been delivered yet and the two birds were, once again, outside the nest on the bottom of the mailbox. This time, though, there was no squeaking or squawking. They weren’t moving, but they seemed to be breathing. I stood and stared, hands fluttering like spastic baby bird wings, my thoughts running from past – "Should I have done something differently?" – to present – "Is there anything I can do now?" – and back again – "Did the mama abandon them because of something I did?"

Maybe they weren’t supposed to be put back in the nest. Maybe that had been their moment to leave, to fly. Maybe I had retarded their growth by a day. Maybe the mama was watching even now to see if they would struggle to their skinny little feet, flap their diaphanous little wings and take off.
I decided to wait. I would walk away. I would leave them to their birdness. I would not interfere.

It was hard.

Later, after the mailman’s car had slowed down in front of Sandhill and then taken off again, kicking up dust like newborn colt, I went back out. Mail, but no birds. Nary a sign.

I want to believe, I want really hard to believe, that they shook themselves out of their lethargy, girded their loins, and flew away from the mailbox into the perfect blue sky. I have no idea if that is what actually happened. There are other options, but I have chosen not to consider them.

I have also decided, I think, to clean out the mailbox. The nest that has been inside for at least seven years can’t possibly be the best place to lay eggs anymore. There must be mites and Lord knows what else in there. There’s really not enough room for an adult bird to comfortably get in and out, what with the accretion of twigs and leaves and thread by each year’s subsequent tenant. And, to be honest, despite my optimism, I’m not ready for the possibility of the need for another rescue attempt any time soon.

After a long time of living, I’m finally figuring out that, while I know I can’t save everything, I’m always going to want to try and sometimes it’s just better to remove the temptation.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, April 22, 2012

If I Had A Hammer

On Sunday afternoon, while the sun turned my arms a sweet shade of spring pink, I crawled around on the deck nailing nails. Not new ones. Old ones. The original nails that turned two-by-fours and four-by-fours and whatevers-by-whatevers into the structure on which I now grow herbs and watch hummingbirds and read books and, once every 28 days, walk outside to make sure the moon is compass-drawn round.

I was nailing the old nails because by some process that probably has a name given it by a mechanical engineer, but which just reminds me of that plastic plug in the Thanksgiving turkey that pops up when the temperature inside is just right, the nails over time start rising from their flush position in the wood to a perpendicular stance that, ignored, causes great pain in the bottom of a bare foot. I was nailing the old nails because things need to be maintained. I was nailing the old nails because nobody else was going to.

So there I was, as I said, crawling around hammering in what I hoped was a logical sequence so that I wouldn’t miss any of the recalcitrant nails, listening to the new wind chime hanging from the eaves outside the bedroom door, and thinking about the quote attributed to Mark Twain, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

The hammer with which I was clobbering the pop-up nails is not the only tool I have. I have screwdrivers – flathead and Phillips. I have pliers, a hand saw, a level, a retractable tape measure, and a cordless drill. I have duct tape, electrical tape, and blue painter’s tape. In the bottom of my tool box are any number of small plastic canisters containing screws and nuts and bolts of varying sizes. If the job had called for something else, then, I would most likely have been prepared.

But because the short and spiky pieces of metal protruding up through the floor of my deck were, in fact, nails and not just something that looked like nails, a hammer was what I needed. It’s just that after about ten minutes I realized that the hammer which is perfectly suited to tapping short, thin picture-hanging nails into Sheetrock might not be up to the task of pounding back into the deck what was by then beginning to look like railroad spikes.

And it might have been about that time that I remembered that not long before someone who shall remain nameless, but who has a Y chromosome, described mine as "not much of a hammer." At which point, said nameless Y-chromosome-carrying human produced a much larger version of a hammer and proceeded to prove his point by ripping apart, in less than a minute, an old wooden packing crate that I wanted to use to build something else.


I probably did need a bigger hammer. But I didn’t have a bigger hammer. And if I went to borrow a bigger hammer chances were that there would be an offer to do the nailing for me. And I wanted to do it myself.

I can be stubborn.

So I kept at it. One, two, three, sometimes four blows to send one nail back down through a channel that had already been cut. Four swings to level a nail that was offering little or no resistance. Four licks to accomplish what could have been done with one. I switched from my right hand to my left and back again. I got tired.

I can be foolish, too.

Not every challenge can be met with perfect efficiency. Sometimes you have to use a tailgate as a step-ladder, tack up a hem with masking tape, prop the door with a brick. Sometimes you have to make do. But sometimes, maybe even most of the time, you don’t.

I hit the last lick, stood up, and looked around at the once again barefoot-safe deck. I was glad to be finished, glad to have done it all myself, and glad to know that before it needed to be done again I was going to have a bigger hammer.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Dancing With The Scars

The saw-tooth oaks in the back yard, the ones that started out as knee-high, pinky-sized saplings, tower over me now. They move in the breeze like crinolined ballgowns, all hip-swaying, bodice-gripping green chiffon. Their widest branches reach out curving, almost touching, debutantes holding hands before their names are called. They look like Scarlett O’Hara at the barbeque, all insolent and saucy, dangerously aware of their beauty and its seductive power. And, because there are two, the Tarleton twins don’t have to fight. There is plenty to go around.

They are not inconspicuous. I notice them every day. In the morning as I leave, in the evening as I return. In sunrise light the dewdrops on their leaves are sequins. In the gloaming the dew is gone and the leaves’ thin veins are embroidery on smooth velvet. Bookends. A matched set.

Except, of course, they are not matched. If you look closely, take a peek up under the skirts of green leaves, you will see that one trunk is straight and true and its branches radiate out like bicycle spokes in orderly tiers. The other trunk is actually two conjoined trunks, one doing its best to grow straight and true and one growing away at a 45-degree angle as though afraid it might get cooties from unwanted contact.

The result is that the aberrant trunk and its branches monopolize one entire side of the tree. If I saw it off – an act I have contemplated more than once – the tree will be, if not ugly, at least not as beautiful as before. Misshapened and bald on one side. More Suellen or Carreen than Scarlett.

Perhaps, in time, new branches will grow from the remaining trunk. Perhaps, in time, the emptiness will be filled, the saw-scar healed, the severed trunk forgotten.

But there is also the possibility that the trunks cannot survive without each other. That the trunk with good posture, excellent dancing skills, and natural flirtation abilities needs the off-center trunk for something essential. Like balance.

Thus I have been living with, observing, and contemplating the saw-tooth oaks. To trim or not to trim, that is the question.

And now it is Easter. Or very nearly. I get out of the car, but stop on my way inside, still weighted down with purse and gym bag and the day’s detritus, to absorb the sensory bombardment. A line of bright red lilies stand straight as the Royal British Guards. The verbena at the corner of the deck is a broad swipe of brilliant purple, pouring over the edges of its bed like a waterfall. The basil and mint and thyme, the parsley and sage and cilantro are filling their pots and the air. The chinaberry tree’s pale lavender blooms mingle with the golden berries from autumn that, in the mild winter, have refused to fall.

I try to ignore the oak trees – the one so perfect in shape it could be a tree stencil and the other with its extra off-kilter trunk. I try not to look their way and be drawn back to my dilemma. I am unsuccessful. The breeze that has set the wind chime to singing has set the trees to dancing and from the corner of my eye I can see them – swaying and waving, bouncing and bobbing, nodding at each other.
And in that moment I know.

My friend Lynn loves to watch "Dancing With The Stars." She is mesmerized by the intricately choreographed movements of the quick-step and the foxtrot, the bold athleticism of the mambo, the gracefulness of the waltz. And she loves the shiny, sparkly, spangly costumes, especially the shoes.
But she knows that shine and sparkle and spangle are not required. And so she dances at every opportunity. In flip flops and bedroom shoes. In bare feet. In a bathrobe. With other people, with her cat, alone. She dances because dance is what we Easter-celebrants call "an outward manifestation of an inward grace."

I set down the purse, the gym bag, the burden. There is no perfect tree and imperfect tree. There is only tree. There is no part and whole. There is only holy.

Not to trim, that is the answer.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Risk of Melted Wings

The sun did not rise today.  It sprang.  Did not slowly inch into the sky.  Catapulted.  Went from being a clean, sharp, compass-drawn arc behind the tree line to a barely-round blotch midway up the sky, its lower half covered by a cloud like a towel wrapped around its waist.  A towel made of long-staple Egyptian cotton.  Extra thick.  Talcum powder soft.

I wanted to touch it.  I wanted to reach through the windshield, through the early spring morning, through the light that left the sun 93 million light years ago, and touch that towel, run my fingers through the pile, feel it tickle the thin skin on the backs of my hands.  I wanted to hold that towel up to my face and feel the just-out-of-the-dryer warmth on my cheeks, let my eyelashes catch on the loops like Velcro.  I wanted to wrap my whole self up in that towel like caterpillar inside a leaf.

But I remember my Greek mythology.  Icarus flying too close.  Phaethon driving too close.  The moral of those stories?  The sun must not be touched.  A respectful distance must be kept.  And so I pulled back my hand, curled it into a firm grip on the steering wheel, and steered my chariot north, away from the heat.

We are, all of us, good at that.  Equating a desire for beauty with danger and putting up barriers to prevent ourselves from getting too close.  Asserting a  need for personal space and justifying the behavior that allows the actual need for human connection to go unmet.  Resisting the urge toward relationship out of fear that our reach will be met with empty air.

We are good, really good, at not touching.

Most of the time.  But not all the time. 

Just the other day I was visiting at a friend’s house, sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter, when another guest, someone I know but not well, reached into the hair on the crown of my head and began playing with it – fisting a handful and then letting go three or four times.  I didn’t even turn around.  Curly hair, I’ve learned, is like pregnancy.  They both invite touch.  Not just intimates, but near strangers, feel comfortable in reaching out to stroke the taut round belly of an expectant mother or the tight ringlets on someone else’s head. 

Almost as though caught in an irresistible magnetic pull exerted on the digits, the hand rises and gently falls into a pat, a rub, a grasp and fluff.  The guarding of one’s own personal space and the reciprocal acknowledgment of another’s is suspended for just long enough to make contact, to reassure the one reaching that, yes, the curiosity is real.

Though we generally tend to trust the sense of sight over the others, preferring eye witnesses to any other kind, honesty requires that we all admit to having been fooled by a mirage or two.  There is a reason that we greet returning heroes, long-absent lovers, and newborn babies not just with adoring glances, but with hugs and kisses.  Touch proves the reality, spans the chasm, eliminates the distance. 

Somewhere only the road between Oliver and Egypt, on that stretch where the pine trees grow like the pickets in a very tall fence, I stopped thinking about touching the sun.  At just about the same time, the morning light suddenly began pulsing through the trees like a strobe and falling on my arms – the sun touching me.  Wrapping me up in a big, warm towel.  Extra thick.  Talcum powder soft.

Copyright 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Grammar, Astronomy, and Being Tamed

Somebody said that if I went outside around nine o’clock and looked in the western sky I could see Jupiter and Venus. So I went outside and stood in the middle of the big empty yard and stared at the place where I’m usually watching the sun sink. There they were, two white lights too big to be stars and too still to be airplanes, so they must be planets. I didn’t see any rings around either one of them – not that I expected to at that distance, of course – but it occurred to me at that moment that I was putting a lot of faith in what somebody else said, someone who might not know any more about this than I did.

The planetary fascination wore off pretty quickly and I had turned to go back inside when my attention was seized by the light in the sky on the other side of the yard – the moon, about half a wink away from full. Smudged a little by thin cloud cover, its relative nearness made it appear much larger than the planets at my back. What I know about the moon is no more certain than what I know about Jupiter and Venus. Men have been there, have walked on it, planted flags on it, and offered benedictory words over it, but I haven’t. And, yet, when I look at the moon, I feel entitled to use a possessive pronoun while leaving the planets with a definite article. Why?

There was a party at Sandhill last weekend. A celebration of the attaining of a dream. It was supposed to be an outdoor party and I planned outdoor decorations. Much-needed rain detoured those plans and everything got moved indoors, everything except a sign that my friend Lea helped me make. It’s a mileage sign like the one that stood in the center of the 4077th M*A*S*H* and it lists places beyond Sandhill that bear some significance to my life, that were the location of important events, that hold special memories.

When I finally stopped staring at the moon, my moon, and started back inside, my eyes fell on that sign, stuck in ground at the corner of the porch right at the base of a holly tree. The porch light reflected off the white letters like the sun reflects off the moon and as I read the words I inserted the implied possessive pronoun before each one: my Saint Simons Island ... my Wesleyan ... my Ireland. And in doing so, I answered my question.

Why is it my moon, but not my Jupiter or my Venus? It is, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Fox explains to the Little Prince, about being tamed:

"[I]f you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world. ... [I]f you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat."

Through long association, though not necessarily the intent to do so, the moon and I have become connected and when I stare at it, I do so not with fascination, but with longing, sometimes even wistfulness.

But it is not just the moon that I have tamed with my attention and with my affection. I have tamed Saint Simons and Sandhill and all the other spots on the map where my heart finds rest. I have tamed all the people who drove through rain and maneuvered through mud to gather for the celebration of the dream. I have tamed the words that find their way to the page, then out into the world.

It is because I have tamed them and because they have tamed me that they are my moon, my people, my words. And what I, what none of us must ever forget, is that as the Fox reminds the Little Prince, "You become responsible forever for what you have tamed."
Copyright 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wherever Here Is

It is Tuesday afternoon. I arrive home to find Mama and Daddy immersed in the project of burning off some undergrowth in the branch behind Sandhill. I am planning a party and they’ve decided – actually Mama has decided – that the place will look prettier without the dead vines and fallen-over trees blocking sight of the pond. Within minutes there are three or four piles of brittle branches and broken limbs stacked into pyres and throwing fat orange flames into the late afternoon air.

Over the next couple of hours the flames eat up the piles of dead wood and, finally sated, die down, leaving matte black scars at the far edge of my yard. Already I have a better view of the still, flat water of the pond, silver-plated with the light of the sun that is fading in time with the embers.

It is Wednesday morning. Ash Wednesday. I wake up in darkness. Shower, dress, make the bed, realize I’ve not decided what I will undertake as a Lenten discipline. For some reason the idea of "giving up" something – chocolate, caffeine, list-making – doesn’t feel right this year. For some reason and for the first time, the connotation that comes to mind has to do with "giving up" hope and that feels contrary to the whole idea of this spiritual journey to the cross.

I go into the bathroom to put in my contacts, brush my teeth. I don’t have to decide until I get to church tonight, I tell myself. There is still time. Something will come to me. I put up my hair, put on my makeup. Yes, I have all day. Something will come to me.

And then it does. Through the half-open blinds I see the topmost edge of the sun cracking the horizon across the way toward Miss Dottie’s and the Indian cemetery. It is as thin and curved as the liner I have just now so carefully drawn across my eyelids. It is the color of mercurachrome and it is pulsing like a hammer-hit finger.

I sit down and watch it. It is moving. Rising, we call it, though we know that’s not what is happening. Imperceptibly the arc grows larger and the color brighter and what had been silhouettes on the landscape grow another dimension. I time travel 40 days hence and see Easter, sense the expectation of things that break open and spill amazement into the world, hear the hymns of redemption that only daffodils can sing. I feel as small as I have ever felt.

My eyes grow large with the very simple realization that when we make Lent about self-denial and self-sacrifice it’s still about self. When the only examination in which we engage is self-examination the process creates isolation not engagement. When we focus what is wrong we can so easily fail to be grateful for what is right.

I catch my breath. I think that perhaps I cannot wait until tonight to have the ashes smudged across my forehead, that perhaps I will this very moment run out into the branch, fall to my knees, plunge my hands into the black soot staining the ground, raise them to my face, and smear them across not just my forehead, but my cheeks, my chin, my nose, my carefully lined eyelids. I think that I must do something to demonstrate to this wide and wild and wonderful world that I am just happy to be here.

That is what I will do. That will be my Lenten observation. I will be happy to be here. I will, every day, be happy to be here, wherever here might be – a courtroom, an office, a front porch, a dirt road. Alone or in company. Harried or composed. I will be happy. And I will let the world know it.

I release my breath. I rise from the chair. I gather my purse, my car keys, my sunglasses. I walk out into the morning where the gentlest of breezes stirs up the remains of yesterday’s fires and sends tiny wisps of ash floating out into the sky.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

No Words and Singing Frogs

The habit developed slowly, as all habits do, and morphed over the years into something more like a ritual: On the night of the full moon, just before bed, I walk out on the deck to tilt my head, stretch my neck, and gaze. Once every twenty-eight days or so, I reach out with my eyes for a touchstone, a reminder that some things remain true.

Last night I stepped out onto the damp wood planks barefoot, felt the pads of my feet immediately grow chilled, and, with a slight shudder, tightened the sash on the fuzzy pink bathrobe. I took a few steps to center myself on the platform and turned toward the southeast. There it was.

I have compared a full moon to many things over the years – a poker chip being a favorite – , all of them being round and clean-edged. This moon, viewed through uncorrected near-sightedness, was anything but. Its perimeter changed with every blink, curving back and forth, its volume waxing and waning like a lung. I decided it look like nothing so much as a poaching egg.

Satisfied with the souvenir of a perfect image, I allowed myself a sigh of contentment. But I wasn’t content. The ritual of the full moon involves not just locating it, affixing it squarely in the firmament over Sandhill. It involves words. It requires that I speak to the moon, that I acknowledge its faithfulness in appearing once again. And this time there were no words.

In the branch behind the house a sound rose up. It did not startle me; I am accustomed to the night sounds of farm and field. But it did surprise me. It was the sound of frogs. An amphibian basso profundo echoing out from the boggy edges of the pond. The sound that I can’t ever remember hearing in February, the sound that usually accompanies the mild breezes of April or maybe a warm March.

My head tilted toward what was a rising chorus – now with baritones and tenors joining in. The branch that had been completely silent when I walked outside was now pulsing with voices, sound waves surging like an advancing army past the leafless branches and into the navy blue sky.

My own voice still silent, I went back inside where thin strips of moonlight fell through the cracks in the blinds across a bed in which I would eventually sleep.

I woke up early. The moon had moved to the other side of the house, was pasted in one of the panes of the bay window in the kitchen and it reminded me that I’d left things unfinished. There are only so many full moons in a lifetime, I once wrote, and now I’d squandered one.

Regret is rarely useful. I know that. And, yet, sometimes I find myself determined to wrestle with it until my hip is out of joint and I can forever walk with a limp as punishment. And I might have done that this time but for the sudden realization that the words don’t always have to be my own.

Standing there on the deck, feeling nothing except my toes going numb, I had assumed that the only words worth offering were the ones that I could mint. And that if the vein had gone dry then I must be silent. But the compline offered up by the frogs enveloped every creature under the moon – the deer leaving valentine-shaped footprints in the soft sand of the driveway, the owl perched in the crook of the burned-out pine tree, and the barefoot woman with arms crossed tightly across her heart. The reverberative chant without translation was all the offering of gratitude, all the acknowledgment of grandeur, all the demonstration of grace that any life could hope.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ode on a Saw-Tooth Oak

The nest is delicately balanced between two branches of one of the saw-tooth oaks Adam planted at the edge of the yard eight years ago. At just-about eye-level, I have to ease up onto my tiptoes a bit for the right angle to see into its depths, to make sure that it is empty. It could not be more symmetrical if its avian architect had used computer-aided drafting – a cup-shaped scoop of twigs and thread-sized roots perfectly built for what? two eggs? three?

The ends of some of the twigs are clean-cut, sliced flat and even, and I wonder if they are the remains of logs trimmed with the chain saw and stacked up to be burned. Most of them, of course, are raw and ragged, broken by wind or rain or squabbling squirrels. I can identify some of the twigs by their bark – sycamore, scrub oak, no pine. Others have had their bark stripped away to reveal striations that look like veins pumping brown blood.

Caught in a fork in the outside edge is a leaf, bruised bronze and veined white. Dew drops, fat and tremulous, reflect the winter-morning light that is at my back. A tiny ruffle of pale green lichen trims one of the larger outside twigs, a surprisingly stark contrast to the browns and grays of the other building materials. Birds recognize colors, don’t they? Was the pastel accent intentional?

It is late. I should have already left for work and I’ve spent long enough staring. It is, after all, only a nest. And an abandoned one at that.

I walk back across the yard, prizing my 3½-inch heels out of the soft ground with some effort. The image of the nest – the colors and textures, the way it seems to hover – shimmers like the after-flash from an old Instamatic camera and as I get into the car, one leg in, the other still balanced on its thin heel, I grasp the thought that has just raced across my mind like a news bulletin: Abandoned. The nest is abandoned.

Like a rusted-out car, a falling-down house, a foundling on a doorstep, it has been left behind, carrying the weight of ending and loss and unrealized potential. Whatever eggs were laid there are long gone. It will not be used again to nurture fledglings. Eventually the elements will weaken the careful mechanical engineering employed by its builder and the building materials will scatter on the ground beneath the tree.

Yet, it has captured me. Captured me like nothing has in days. Beauty captures. And the nest, with its delicate roughness, its flawless imperfection, and, yes, even its emptiness that feels like nothing so much as anticipation, is beautiful.

I shake my head at the paradoxical thought, that something abandoned can be beautiful. That something forsaken, no longer wanted, damaged and/or worn could possess a particular loveliness. That something unobtrusive and easily missed, something without obvious value could be aesthetically pleasing.

Plato thought that all beautiful objects incorporated proportion, harmony, and unity. The universal elements of beauty, as perceived by Aristotle, were order, symmetry, and definiteness. I doubt, as I drive into the rising sun, that my nest (I have, in an unconscious act of benefaction, assumed guardianship.) qualifies as beautiful under the Greek ideal.

It doesn’t matter. I have learned that beauty is an idiosyncratic concept. The eye of the beholder and all that. What the eye beholds the heart answers and my heart has answered that this object, this fragile creation by an unidentified artisan, this nest – this abandoned nest – is beautiful.

This morning, this bright and clear January morning, that is all I know on earth and all I need to know.

Copyright 2012