for Deb and Kathy
On my morning walk through quiet woods today, I came to an emerald clearing swathed with rising mist. Instinctively, I saw it as smoke from burning grasses as if I were in the place in California I have just come from, but in fact it was dew on grass dissolving into the early Fall morning air on a path through green green woods in Vermont.
I learned last night from a friend in California that he’d had to flee a brushfire yesterday, saying he understood why I had to pack up and leave. My body knows I did the right thing as my fear muscles are slowly letting go, and the tight joints in my legs no longer creak with pain. It’s been a pleasure to breathe deeply again.
Today dawned cold—the crisp bite of Fall—but yesterday was muggy and hot, and my friend Kathy and I went down to the Connecticut River where it flows through Putney, and we took off our shoes and waded in to cool down. A minute later, shedding our shorts and tee-shirts, we belly-flopped all the way in and swam wildly, but Kathy, who knows more about rivers than I do, found her footing quickly and slogged right out again. I forgot that rivers flow downstream—unlike ponds or lakes that stay put—and next thing I knew I was taking off towards Connecticut and had to scramble out of deep water, grab her outstretched hands and get hauled back to Vermont terra firma, where we’d left our clothes!
It was pretty funny—but also profound, I think. Rivers flow; so does Time. The planet spins on its axis and rotates around the sun in a galaxy that also moves through Space; we humans get born and die; plants spring from seed, grow and drop new seeds … change happens and eras pass by …
You and I and everyone we know will also move through this world for our allotted time and then sink back into the ethers, as will our civilizations and our histories and our precious memories, perhaps to join the collective memories of every other being this planet has ever hosted through Time, from Mayflies to mountain climbers.
So, I ask myself, what am I doing here—this ‘me’ called Carolyn, wife of Herb, mother of Ethan, Rebecca and Michael, writer of these little pieces I have been sending out to all of you for over ten years now? In this precipitous time in the world, in the final years of my own life and who knows, perhaps our species’ life, what is mine to do? What gift is mine to offer all of you and the world itself, the particularity that makes me this person and no other?
Why, in fact, have I come all the way across the continent right now, somehow knowing I could not do what I needed to do in the droughts and fires of California? As I settle in here, in this beloved green land, it becomes even clearer that this is where I need to be—but to do, what?
To go very still, is what my body tells me. To rest. To feel. To observe the mist rise and watch each leaf yellowing and drifting through air to the ground. To feel, in my body, the metaphor of endings and change, and to know that whatever happens, all is well.
No matter the sturm und drang of humans fighting out their fears, it’s all part of built-in changes, necessary to bury the declines of a season in transition and allow the old ways to mulch. The old becomes the history, the compost for the new. Everything cycles: seasons and lives, breath and blood, renewing the Whole again and again from the tiniest atoms to boundless universes, everything always in motion, spiraling ’round and ’round and ’round again.
Have you ever seen Mikhail Baryshnikov do his famous turns? Around and around, relaxed and perfect as his eyes ‘spot’ to prevent dizziness and his muscles work together to keep him in motion. He knows, bone and sinew, how Nature cycles on every level constantly since the beginning of Time, his own body following laws of a Dance as grand as the Cosmos.
We call them the Laws of Nature, and we are subject to exactly the same laws as rock and water, as we are the human element of this Earth in all our gracious beauty and profound suffering. We may be stupid, but we are also brilliant; courageous but also afraid; inventive and artistic but also stuck in a rut…
We are the human people, trying to figure it all out the best we can, and hoping to learn how to love.
Speak for myself: I am hoping that before I die I will understand in my whole being, how to love.
Here, the trees are turning; in California the trees are burning.
I am tempted to find a way to also use the words learning and yearning, but perhaps I should spare you that …
Did that make you smile?