Four-way Looking Glass

forest mist slice

To us there is a difference between the fallen and the brave. We may sort out the backs of the dead. We may separate the coats, gray from blue. Time and borders and affiliations sift about and spill over as they do and must. This is all seen in red and white, too. I had, picking strawberries, hunted about the overgrowing vetch which had blown over from afar, from another farmer’s field last season, for something succulent and sweet to eat. So it seems. So it was. So it had been. And even down the low narrow line in the forest, I had witnessed the doe in the mist, her head lowered while the world itself was framed by constant death. The butternut tree had fallen, and the beetles had undone to rough yellow the bark of the standing ash. While for some, all human records of these are deemed memento mori, I had not been able to agree. Not from my standpoint, not from the toss of space where I had landed. For me, all had been some visions of life. Chaff and wheat. Fool and sage. Villain and hero. And so on. The usual dualities never applied. Never were. Never had been. There were just gradual mixtures of dusts in the heavens, in earth, and somewhere in the seas, too.

Homeward Bound Forever

stone cut stepsI can’t have said who the people were, who they had been. They had separated themselves, distinguished themselves, naming themselves that before all others and all other things. There had been traces, remnants or remains—it can be hard, difficult, sorting out broken pieces of stones, shards, the rubble of earthenware—just as sometimes war and nature precede the overlapping moments when the future’s eye turns backwards upon the sands of Egypt, and so on. Walls that seemed to have been forever were in fact only erected a short time ago, not even two hundred years. A hundred fifty, perhaps. And before that, who knows! Who knows what plains, and deserts, and oceans had been before all this.

There had been some world, long before language. Twelve thousand years. Sixty-eight thousand years. 2.5 million years. All these funny numbers! As if mapping out all human history (and all human pre-history) would make some difference. Instead: when the driving rains come, the black carpenter ants will seek high ground, scurrying and hunting for refuge anywhere they can perhaps find it in your house. And when the driving rains have stopped, the same ants will, too, recede as though they had never been, and find the low ground again somewhere outdoors. All this, like child’s play upon the shoreline of a beach, the wet holes dug in sandbars, cities on the lower cusp of Africa, as well as the tiny village of Kirkenes at the tip of the upmost world, will be washed away and filled in. What the people had known was this, and all their days was a sort of profound and elemental mourning, in full scope, in full knowledge of what had been, who had borne their own witness of it all like eyes within the bubble of a growing but rather thin-skinned universe.

Two Rocks Sitting

two rocks bThere had been times to do nothing at all. Nothing to make. Nothing to mend. Nothing to buy, even if it might have been needed. There really had been no need to polish anything at all. The brass pin that I had worn on my lapel, I could not remember even when I had stuck it in on the left side of my jacket, let alone gotten it. The peeling leather of my watch strap, same kind of thing. What it had been to be reminded of them now, like the weathered wooden pickets to a country fence grown gray and showing their grain splitting over time, is that these alone are the bring-about of death. When looking at an old canvas field coat, or a pair of well-worn boots, that is exactly in step with one’s own working, one’s own walking.

Some things, like gardens, renew themselves each year. And, if they are tended well, each year they grow a little better—only because the gardener has learned perhaps one small thing last season. But the gardener is older. Other things, inanimate, forever lifeless, they, too, have their own sullen beauty—stuck the way they are, almost the perfect emblems of eternity. If any change should ever come to rocks lying about the forest, such would only be through something cataclysmic, or something human and mad the way smashing them up to rocky small bits with a hammer would be mad.

The simple fact is that things wear out—valves to kitchen faucets eventually leak; tomato stakes rot at the ends; bicycle tires will get flats. That is how it goes with tree stumps chucked over the stone wall, with a sweet pile of sunflower seeds sifted through by the careful paws of bears, and with people, too, falling asleep to the back-and-forth sounds of katydids chirping again at night when the middle of summer has passed, the way I had in childhood.

Pretty Little Mushroom

mushroomWhile I could not remember who exactly—Anaxagoras, Democritus, Plato, or Aristotle–somebody had claimed that for all things that come into being, there is decay. And me, I had for most of my life, for the eternity of it, held this precept as close to my chest as Roy Batty holds a white dove to his own. For that is not all. No, there are moments of decay’s beautiful impermanence to behold. Seeing the child looking at the sand pouring from between the small fingers of the child’s even smaller hands. The paws of raccoons having left their marks behind the overturned garbage cans in the mud. The smiles on photographs of unknown relatives before they are burnt up behind the closed metal doors of the woodstove forever. The sweetness of the smell of blackberries in a large, glass bowl just picked. The ubiquitous rattling of a brood of cicadas portending my death if not in the next seventeen years, then in the next seventeen years after that. And after summer rainstorms, too, the forest is spotted here and there with the wildest growth of things—mushrooms and fungi of different colors, different shapes. They stand so briefly whose spores will fall out in a day or two like red rubies tumbled from a fallen crown. While alive they have an animation that defies the natural order of things, as if to say they alone have the privilege and the momentary pride to halt time itself, for just as long as they are able to support themselves, and no more.

After the Rainfall

orange mushroom

It really had not been that difficult to forget, so difficult. It really wasn’t. If, when reading the newspaper or paying attention to a plane crash elsewhere, or some presidential wrangling, oh, then it was. Then it was impossible. Then it was like being not much different from a brightly colored gumball, a red or yellow or green or blue or white or purple ball being carried along on a conveyor belt. It was like that, then. Being part of the scrabble and the rabble of the news and the news industry and all the industry’s sundry entailments.

However, had I just wandered off, just a little bit, just off the double-yellow painted road stripes which had insisted no passing everywhere, for as long as they ran, then, when I did, once I had, the world was completely, the world was wholly different. Really, so much of the world is silent, quite silent. And in this silence there really are the velvet points of growing antlers to be shed and shed again, brown leaves from last autumn, and orange mushrooms decaying after rainfall.

Alive Man Walking Fall

stone in leaves b

Apart from people—I love. Nothing pushing against the self. Pornography’s left hand absent. Morality’s right gone. Antiquity’s Roman columns are become unimagined. The divide itself between “I” and “am” not there at all. Adrift walking. Crackles. Stumps. Spectrum of colors, hardly close to the bumble-bee’s. Yellows. Oranges. Reds. Browns. But enough. Rot decay mild oozings of decomposed living. It is enough. Perhaps the stilly murmur of the distant sea occurs and then it goes. But that, after all, is more fabric now of being itself than trumped up literary memory. At this point. And besides he, Coleridge, was a special man. The quiet of earthly love. Crows noisy blue jays fighting in the new pines unseen but overheard. Fluffs of bird’s death on a green mossy log. Where belonging is. Where human footsteps mark the sound they leave with almost, close to their own nothing. Emptiness. Silence that isn’t silence. Noises without the chatter of human language shaking out its ink blots always going, “There! there! there!” as it happens. Like a chance to walk with God who lets me come back—unlike Enoch heard from no more the beloved—to the little world as I step over the low stone wall back into my leaf-covered yard I love a little less than this but live in.

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Gentle Goes The Day, And Gentle Goes The Night

There are so many things when I am walking that I no longer touch. I may see a leaf or I may see a stone, and these objects in the woods are so lovely I want to take them home. But I have learned to keep my hands still at my side. I have learned to see with my mind better, and look with my eyes. Even dead forked sticks that have fallen from far above, once I had sought to clean them up as I might clean up debris. But these suspended branches are really just hanging there in balance for a time. Nobody could position them as they are. Human hands are really no good for this. Instead, how long will this be so? Instead, what breeze is that? Instead, what life will bring a man at times to walk like this, and what events befallen him just as softly, gently sometimes to his knees?

I Can Go On, I Must Go On

deer jawbone and leaves

Several years ago, or, as I’d say, a few years back, I had glanced upwards and saw a lone deer making its way down the steep half-wooded hill behind my house. It did so holding its broken left back leg up, the hoof never touching the ground. A pretty big animal, it slipped and skidded down the leaves and scattered snow there. Once I saw it had crossed my yard, I next saw it crossing the iced-over road, where it fell. It scrambled on the slippery asphalt before it rose. Lame, hobbled, damaged I watched it disappear into the forest on the other side. And I thought about this poor beast’s days being numbered. Despite pain, injury, and hopeless winter survival it did not give up. We of course do. And when we foresee coming despair, we sometimes do strange things. We have ourselves tied to ships’ masts lest singing voices carry us away. We have ourselves anesthetized lest we drive far off into the night and accuse our forsaken lovers of fistfuls of treacheries. We half-booze ourselves to death lest we feel the Earth’s own sorrow. But the will and pacing of this deer was something else. It was more than symbol, and more than sign. It was the very breath of life, whose only certain destiny was to one silent day stop somewhere in the woods alone.

Friendship Among Cats, Birds & Foxes

antlered deer leaving

It’s a sad thing to look at animals as just things that do things because of what’s done to them. Naturally, a feeder filled with seed will attract birds; and a feeder, once full of seeds, now empty, will tend to lose the birds it had previously attracted. This mechanical outlook of animal behavior doesn’t take into account how happy they are flitting and flying back forth. It doesn’t regard the swoop of their flight as happy. It ignores the sheer numbers of these feathered friends of ours, their turn-taking around the feeder’s mesh, their playground-like antics around the feeding perches, and even their occasional bullying. The other view is that such creatures, essentially without mind, have been anthropomorphized—that such creatures of mere want and instinct are being seen through human eyes and given, by us, human attributes, attributes that are only, or especially human. But this seems all very backwards. Ancient peoples long sought to be part of the animal world, for the different traits different animals possessed, to honor and even themselves acquire sundry animal characteristics they looked up to. This is not to oppose the quintessence of dust that also makes us human—speech and memory-making past our own mortal existences being the peculiar trait and characteristic of our own species. Though to think that a cat who climbs over a bedside table, and, placing its paws with its claws pulled in, purrs there on the chest of the reclining human being it lies upon merely to eke out the next meal, this is not only shallow and obtuse and reductively crass, but quite willingly and even forcefully overlooks the simplest and most obvious thing of all: the cat likes you! Why is this so hard? And this comes about, too, because the person likes the cat. It is, rather, the kindness—not the hellish realm of feared punishment, nor the heavenly aspect of hoped-for reward—that makes this what it is: a harmonious and desirable relationship between animals and human beings. This was the surprise lesson the Fox taught The Little Prince, and how what becomes friendship between them becomes the responsibility, really, later on, of both of them.

Stopping By A Sunny Morn

bear climbing to feederbear on limb

She came by to see the bear in the tree. She lived across the street. It was gone when she did. “It was up there,” he said pointing to a crook in the tree, “trying to get to the bird feeder.” He had strung the feeder almost thirty feet high, far out on a limb. It was engineered with pulleys, and rope, and with a boat cleat at the bottom of the trunk to tie it off, to keep it hoisted out of bears’ reach. “Wow!” she said, when she saw the video clip of the black bear pulling the rope that raised the feeder. “Wow! That’s incredible!” she said when she saw the bear raising and lowering the bird feeder attached to the rope-and-pulley system as the bear tried to solve the bird feeder and rope dilemma, able to realize, eventually, that it couldn’t—which was the solution. “I had never imagined a bear would be able to do this,” the man, her neighbor, had said. He took her to his garden and cut her chard. He cut her kale. He cut her collards. She declined tomatoes as she had plenty of small red tomatoes herself.

The gnats had been flying about, and the woman kept trying to whisk them away from her eyes. The man came back from inside his house and handed her a straw hat. “A wide-brimmed straw hat, I’ve discovered, keeps the bugs away,” he said. “Is it the straw?” she asked. He didn’t know. “I don’t know, but if it works, you can borrow it for as long as you like until you get your own.” It had been friendly of the man to send his neighbor, who was a gentle and kind woman, a text message about the sunflower seed-sniffing black bear up in the tree. And it was kind of him himself to give her those vegetables from his garden. He had several straw hats in a stack from a big party. Long ago. Another time. Once he had said it, the man knew how strange it was, and how odd it sounded to himself to have told his neighbor that he was only lending her the hat, not giving it to her. He had two or three more. That would have been perfect.