November 24, 2013

North Cairn: So many thanks worth the giving

For cool days and mackerel skies, for brittle nights singed with cold and a thousand stars, I am grateful.

For hillsides mottled with wool-thickened sheep and the clerical-collared flocks of Canada geese resting in mown fields, I give thanks.

For coastal waters, rising and falling with the rhythms of Earth’s breath, spreading the sunlight like shattered glass across the surface or pretending to pewter under cloud cover, I rediscover my thanksgiving each day.

For the matte green of the hemlocks in the afternoon’s glow given to early sunset and the last leaves in the oaks muttering under the suggestion of wind, I watch and listen, letting the remembered images of this place drape across my shoulders like a comfort.

I drive and walk through the quiet of late autumn and early winter with the noise within me settled into silence – and an undeniable peace.

Thank you.

Beyond these few acres of woods – in their way as wild as the north lands – and along this truncated rock coast I revisit whenever I can, I know that the world is shifting into high gear, working its way under the thin skin of acquisitive humans, in expectations and high hopes for material accoutrements to all this that nature already has perfected.

I try to steer away from the clusters of stores and the crowds of fretful consumers; I am gathering other gifts. I raise my face to the sky on these frosty nights, my breath rising like smoke from a sacred flame. I sniff the frigid air, clear enough to embrace bear and moose.

I hold a burst milkweed pod, its seeds still clinging, and recall how soft and sturdy survival is. Right here seeds are broadcast on a breeze or carried off on the coat of a rambling coyote or coon, lifted from the site of their origin to inches or feet farther, where a whole new generation of plants will begin and re-enact the drama of vegetative life, evolved over millennia.

I find that it is best for me to keep my vision fixed on what passes for simple things, especially as the world becomes more complicated than I can trace or make sensible. I can witness the sky just above the line of the horizon fill with birds, swirling in flight as minnows in pond waters would in another, warmer season; and I can be convinced that movement has a purpose, making tracks a plan.

These form my own “steady storm of correspondences,” as the poet Roethke described the phenomenon in “In a Dark Time” – the linking of ambiguous and highly personal correlations between one natural thing and another, a particular habitat juxtaposed with one seemingly unlike it, a certain creature with an apparently unexpected other – all disclosing some elemental quality of inner being:

“In a dark time, the eye begins to see,

I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;

I hear my echo in the echoing wood —

A lord of nature weeping to a tree.

I live between the heron and the wren,

Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.”

The essential need and promise for me is the grace that comes with peace.

I live quietly and not quickly, except for the busy, inquisitive probing a puppy is capable of pursuing. Only sleep relieves her imperative to dig, literally, and discover whatever is worthy of scenting in a limited forest world that proves to contain everything she needs to be captivated: small stones to lug between her sharp baby teeth, strips of birch bark that coil round her snout when proudly carried to the door, evergreen twigs scrubbing like toothbrushes when dragged through her mouth.

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