Sunday, October 28, 2012

Half in Shadow

-I love everything that dazzles me and then accentuates the darkness within me-                                   

Rene Char
Squinting in the sun, I scan the terrain.  The nature of idleness; I am drawn like a moth into the calm. Venturing into the yellowing foliage of the vineyard, lured by autumn’s call, I search for evidence of a gathering – yet today it is not the laughing curve of blue sky sprinkled with  freewheeling flickers of songbirds or the taunting array of leaf colors that catches my attention. Instead I am drawn to the dark, creeping fingers of shadow blemishing the ground.

The month of October in the northern hemisphere highlights the progressive tilt of the earth's axis, which at the equinox starts out being inclined neither away from nor towards the sun, then continues its gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days until reaching the longest night of the winter solstice. What does the eye notice during the day at this time of departing light? On the white birch black leaves glitter - while a great snaking of dark weaves its way through the prized light of day, lengthening as the sun slides lower in the sky and gets caught behind a row of tall evergreens and the peaked roof of a red-planked barn. Entire landforms rearrange themselves to the eye, highlighted by the shifting shapes of their shadow forms.

 I cross the paved street, bathed in the bright aura of afternoon sunshine that heats the surrounding air. Climbing the short, steep ledge of dry grass and stone that separates cemetary from road, I stand at the edge of a landscape warm against my skin. Today the silence of this private resting place for the departed is serenaded by the soft murmur of leafy oak. Mirrored in the free-form, iridescent movements of a lone butterfly, an invisible transit textured with light, fleet breezes carries dry leaf and pollen grain on the wing.

Traveling from one gravestone to the next in tight circles, I pay close attention to the shadows cast by each monument. Discarded cloaks of human spirit stitched to the base, the shadows create a shape-shifting mosaic of dark that blankets the sun-bleached ground. This contrast of light and form, fine and intricate as thought, is a reminder of the eventual end to the long journey which we are all called upon to make. We travel as if blindfolded, spun around and pointed toward a destination that’s nothing more than an impulse weaving through time; a wild rose unfolding petal after petal ever wider until encompassing the entire universe in the beautiful expression of a single human life.

Because it is only for a brief time that we come to realize our belonging to the light of day, many of us yearn for contact with departed loved ones long after they have gone. We miss them, and ache for the intimate moments we shared, sometimes living our days wrapped in the barren, windswept crossing of the shadow side. Yet even hearing one's own voice echo in the stark, lonely landscape of a mountain pass seems to suggest that we are not alone. There is an ancient tranquility in nature. It never falls out of rhythm. When we go out alone and enter its solitude, we return home.

The sharp complaint of a blue jay brings me back to the day, sunny and filled with a flowing unknown. Circling back to the vineyard, I step through a sprinkling of crisp, dry leaves strewn across the dusty road. The soft twitter of songbirds swoops down along the vineyard's edge. So many times as I lay in bed at day's end and reflect on what I have seen that day when I looked out from myself, my gaze has completely missed the shadow side of bud and flower and shoot. I  have overlooked the darkness at the root; gentle weave of blackened wings following a flock of grey geese flying northward that gradually leaves my sight.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Frog on Kale

While we may well miss the stroking hand of sultry mid-summer days clotted with radiant sunshine, bathed and bleached, today the dappled light that shines through the open eyelids of this warm September afternoon calls us to herald the arrival of the upcoming season. Fanning their joyous leaves to shortened days swollen with a gathering wind, well-attired trees prepare to shed their green in a gradual promenade. How wide the world is. We peer inside.

Fallen leaves lay strewn along driveways and garden paths in steadily increasing quantities. So many leaves accumulate that any one of them can easily go unnoticed. Their silence is a delicate tap on the shoulder that prompts us to look more closely.

Untold wonders clink like small change in my pocket. The field bordering the orchard is a Monet of thistle, grass, and blackberry bramble. To reach the paved walking trail I must cross a channel of knee-high meadow barley dried to a fine golden brown. With stubborn burrs adhered fast to socks, my tender, sneakered feet complain further when poked by the sharp, dry grass stalks. A family of startled California quail flap into the underbrush as I transition to the smooth, grey asphalt.

Half moon, a glowing thumbnail hanging in the bottomless blue sky of day, wipes all stain from the sublime expanse unfolding before me. Oh mockingbird – how your swaying trill slits the quiet. My eyes follow the bight white lateral bands painted across the arch of your wings and silently applaud your angular, twitchy tail. So conspicuous, yet the ecstatic patterns of your flight remain invisible and leave no trace. Carried to the reel and ruffles of your spirited anthem upon the bough, your play of movements opens my arms burdened with wishes onto the lips of the day as I peer out through the flimsy lenses of my thinking and slowly raise my mind to wonder, who are you singing to?

A dry leaf skitters across the sun-warmed footpath lined with Queen Anne’s lace. Claret-colored umbrels of inflorescence that once spread their umbrella ribs, bright white and rounded when in full flower – now appear brittle and brown, folding in on themselves in a bird’s nest of self-embrace. They rim the sleepy field with a task no more exceptional than to multiply, one by one,  enveloped by an air both solemn and sweet, unblemished by the shadow of a tumbling melancholy that robs them of their youth. As the world that was not comes to pass, are they, like us, sick for the flourishing postcard colors of home?



Seasons build and emerge and frame our time here on earth with intensity and surprise. The beauty of the mind is its circular form writes John O’Donohue in his book Eternal Echos: Exploring Our Yearning to Belong. For if our lives were only a line through time, wouldn’t we  miss the strange way in which everything that goes forward is somehow still travelling backward  within the circular embrace of centerpiece, beloved pools of glimpses and gleans as fleeting as a kiss on the forehead, to be collected strand by strand and woven into kingly crowns?
We do not live simply in our thoughts, feelings or relationships writes John O’Donohue. We belong on the earth where the sun fosters life; where the moon blesses the night and the contemplative presence of nature is not cluttered by thought. As I walk alone among refreshing winds and high, thin, overlapping clouds, a slow and open-ended transition brings me to calm. And while this sense of calm doesn’t linger – but only visits, each visitation calls me to feel, think and act beautifully in the world.
What a pleasure, then, for these last, precious weeks of mild weather. As the day walks in circles around me I feel swept clean by the wind and gently swayed by the ballerina turns of light-winged flowers. The full-throated chorus of insects and birds, in their sculpted contemplation of rock and starry winking at treetops, slips me into the tranquility of a moment’s stillness. I'm as happy as a frog on kale - content to bask in the worthy call of late summer's glory, watching as the stuff of my mind scatters like seeds and fluff. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Bee Oasis

The pond water carries the rich, deep green tint of algae. Now that the tadpoles have grown legs and moved on, the honeybees move in – small hired wings of the orchard and vineyard. Floating free of their white hives they line the water’s edge. Some frolic on lily leaves, while others use rose petals for rafts. I venture to say that they are having fun.

The traffic is heavy and steady at the oasis. Individual bees fly in from the orchard, and then wander out again. One by one they form a steady, aerial stream. Some linger, resting on round, waxy leaves of water hyacinth, sipping cool pond water, rinsing dust from their striped backs and wings before returning to work. Pink-cheeked in the light of day, I am drowsing in the midst of this watercolor calm, dizzied by the honey smell of jasmine vines and blooming rose, this great butterfly of a summer’s day set off by the pond’s radiant glow.

As the golden dust of late afternoon settles I ponder the plight of the modern day honeybee. In her book The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us, Bee Wilson explores the relationship between humans and bees, including the current state of the bee-rental business. In the spring, bees from farms are prepared for shipping all across the United States. The honey bees are first stressed from being separated from their queen. Additional stresses come in the form of being poured into containers. Then further stresses include being shipped across country in shipping trucks. Hives are hauled long distances from field to field, exposing the bees to a wider variety of agricultural pesticides and genetically engineered crops.
It is a miracle any of them survive and remain in their new homes after going through such indignities. Large honey producers and agricultural landowners often treat bees as if they were slaves. Yet it is not possible to enslave them; nor can they really be enclosed. As Bee Wilson notes, bees, it seems, are a law onto themselves.  We may convince ourselves that the bees are working at our command, but they work for the purpose of their own industry. They work, but not for us.

Bees, in their great diversity, are the principle pollinators of flowers. The colorful buds and scents that draw bees to the daintiest blossoms are as pleasing to us as they are attractive to them. Bees may visit as many as a thousand flowers on each foraging trip, mixing the nectar with glandular enzymes before depositing the sweet liquid into the hive’s waxen cells.

Ancient Egyptians thought the bee a symbol of wisdom, regeneration, and obedience. Napoleon's robes were known for their embroidered bees because Napoleon saw the bee as symbolic of immortality and resurrection. Are the bees who work ceaselessly to produce sweet, dripping honey – purest nectar miraculously distilled out of air, food of the Gods, medicine as well as food – also messengers to humankind? If so, what are they here to tell us? How much longer will humans continue to search for truths about themselves within the gold of the honeycomb?

This year my summer goes the way of the everyday divine – a series of days, each much like the last, yet each adorned with a unique radiant echo. It is enough for a day to end, for an evening to approach, slow but patient setting of the sun, to be reminded that this particular day can never be repeated. I pay close attention to the growing, flowering, and ripening in my midst, relying on bees and butterflies as guides.

With head gently tipped back and eyes shut I unwind, my body’s pressing weight graciously supported by a striped cotton hammock, feeling strangely youthful as a distant airplane hums overhead – row of tall pines facing me. Savoring the richness of some old-fashioned rest and relaxation sweetened with a spoonful of summer in a jar, I ride the bicycle of my dreams, pressing the pedals along a straight, wide road.