The chipmunk sat upon its branch, posing perhaps, or so it seemed. He or she gave me all the time in the world to kneel in the dry grass and focus my camera. She stayed in place as if asking me to see only her and not the tumult of competing thoughts thrashing about in my head. “See me,” she said. “And then see all that today brings.”
I obliged. I saw then the puffball cracking open to release its spores. I saw the wild sarsaparilla taking height among last autumn’s leaves. I saw the yellow-bellied sapsucker high in the aspen. I saw the carpet of tiger lilies, green in the south woodlot. I saw columbine in the shade of the oak. I saw all of this as I’d never seen before.
Of seeing, N. Scott Momaday wrote –
I remember coming out upon the northern Great Plains in the late spring. There were meadows of blue and yellow wildflowers on the slopes, and I could see the still, sunlit plain below, reaching away out of sight. At first there is no discrimination in the eye, nothing but the land itself, whole and impenetrable. But then smallest things begin to stand out of the depths — herds and rivers and groves — and each of these has perfect being in terms of distance and of silence and of age. Yes, I thought, now I see the earth as it really is; never again will I see things as I saw them yesterday or the day before.
Scott Momaday (1969). The Way to Rainy Mountain. New Mexico.
Heading west across the plowed field, I hiked toward the shrubline, not in snowshoes as I had during the long winter months, but in hiking boots navigating the uneven furrows beneath my feet. I felt a longing for the cold landscape of winter. In the rush of the new season, in the life bursting around me, I felt the tug of a yesterday when I trekked alone across the frozen field witnessing the singular flight of crows or the sudden appearance of a sharp-tail on a drift. I remembered the richness I’d found in the sound of the wind or the freshness of the cold air against my face. I remembered discovering animal tracks and dens dug in snowbanks. I thought of the thistle standing magnificently against the elements in late February. I reflected on the many lives I’ve lived and the many seasons I’ve been a part of, and I wondered if the world had gained or lost in my participation. Perhaps these are the thoughts of a life long-lived or simply a life lived long enough to have learned that some mistakes cannot be absorbed. In such moments, I confide, there is a yearning for quiet, a yearning for stasis, a need for a landscape where the wind and cold shape one’s thoughts and insist that attention be paid fully to what is at hand. “See us,” they insist. “See us, and then live.”
Stanley Kunitz writes of loss and living in his poem, The Layers –
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
Kunitz, Stanley. “The Layers.” Collected Poems. New York/London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.
Arriving at the shrubline, I saw with delight Juneberry and chokecherry shrubs waking. Soon treelines would be awash with blossoms. In days, not weeks, aspens and elms would sway heavy-leafed in the wind. The oak trees would follow not long thereafter.
The lawn has grown inches on itself now. Soon, very soon, the smell of freshly cut grass will fill the air. The world transforms, and so must I.