One Held Breath

Okapi ~ image found on Pintrest

Okapi ~ image found on Pintrest

She is inhumanly alone. And then, all at once, she isn’t. A beautiful animal stands on the other side of the water. They look up from their lives, woman and animal, amazed to find themselves in the the same place. He freezes, inspecting her with his black-tipped ears. His back is purplish-brown in the dim light, sloping downward from the gentle hump of his shoulders. The forest’s shadows fall into lines across his white-striped flanks. His stiff forelegs splay out to the sides like stilts, for he’s been caught in the act of reaching down for water. Without taking his eyes from her, he twitches a little at the knee, then the shoulder, where a fly devils him. Finally he surrenders his surprise, looks away, and drinks. She can feel the touch of his long, curled tongue on the water’s skin, as if he were lapping from her hand. His head bobs gently, nodding small, velvet horns lit white from behind like new leaves.

It lasted just a moment, whatever that is. One held breath? An ant’s afternoon? It was brief, I can promise that much, for although it’s been many years now since my children ruled my life, a mother recalls the measure of the silences. I never had more than five minutes’ peace unbroken. I was that woman on the stream bank, of course, Orleanna Price, Southern Baptist by marriage, mother of children living and dead. That one time and no other the okapi came to the stream, and I was the only one to see it.

~ Barbara Kingsolver
(The Poisonwood Bible)

When I stumbled across this picture of an okapi on Pintrest it brought to memory this passage In Barbara Kingsolver’s amazing book, The Poisonwood Bible. It stuck with me because I had a similar experience with a stag when I was little, a moment of transcendence, when time seemed to stand still for this six-year-old.

I was introduced to Barbara Kingsolver’s writing by a physical therapist who was coming to the house regularly to work with my dad. One morning the three of us were sitting around the table, waiting for Papa to finish eating his late breakfast. Her name was Betty-Jean, which reminded us of my mother, who was called Betty-Jo by her parents. We fell into a conversation about my mother’s love of nature and Native American culture.

Papa mentioned a visit he and my mother had made to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe on Cape Cod, and that he had inadvertently offended a young man when he “stepped into his circle.” I wasn’t sure what he meant and he had trouble trying to explain it to me. Betty-Jean thought perhaps it had something to do with a vision quest. “What’s a vision quest?” I inquired, full of curiosity.

The conversation meandered around for a bit after that, but before Betty-Jean began her session with my father, she asked me if I was familiar with Barbara Kingsolver. I had never heard of her until then, so she said she thought I would like her book, Animal Dreams. I ordered it as soon as I got home that night and have been devouring her books ever since. They way she weaves spiritual journeys with nature resonates with me deeply.

A Good Saturday Night

darwilliamssign…sign at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center
photo by Tim

dar.williams

“Dar Williams” by Andrew Rogers

The Kate is a relatively small venue, very cozy and intimate, and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing Dar Williams perform there. We didn’t even mind having to sit a row apart, in the same seats, Tim in the row behind me. But Tim wasn’t in his seat much, poor guy. He still has a lingering cough from the bad cold he caught early in January. For much of the concert he was out in the lobby, where he could listen to the music without disturbing the rest of the audience.

Dar was amazing! These are some of the songs I remember her singing – no doubt there were some more: FebruaryThe Light and the SeaThe Beauty of the RainIf I Wrote YouBuzzerI Have Been Around the WorldWhen Sal’s Burned DownMercy of the Fallen ~ Crystal CreekStorm King, which she dedicated to Pete Seeger. All of us joined her in singing If I Had A Hammer in memory of him, too. Her stories in-between the songs were heartwarming and funny. It was wonderful spending an evening immersed in her music and inspiring lyrics. Beyond wonderful…

"North Star" by Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) Czech Art Nouveau Painter

“North Star” by Alphonse Mucha

Oh my fair North Star
I have held to you dearly
I had asked you to steer me
‘Til one cloud scattered night

I got lost in my travels
I met Leo the lion
Met a king and met a giant
With their errant knight

There’s the wind and the rain
And the mercy of the fallen
Who say they have no claim
To know what’s right

There’s the weak and the strong
And the beds that have no answer
And that’s where I may rest my head tonight

There’s the weak and the strong
And the many stars that guide us
We have some of them inside us

~ Dar Williams
♫ (Mercy of the Fallen) ♫

what happens next…

Piping Plover by Mike Morel/USFWS

piping plover by Mike Morel, Puerto Rico

The details don’t matter – they belong to all of us – and loss, after all, is mostly a story about what happens next. What’s next for me, it seems, is the story of realizing that if there are answers at all, they might not be found in the broadest expanses. I find myself mostly lowering my habitual gaze-out-to-sea and settling down to rummage in these greenish-brown, often stinking, bug-infested wrack lines, the likes of which I must have skirted or stepped over thousands of times in my younger-me rush to get to the water. Sometimes I notice what lies tangled within them: the moon snail with its grotesque foot, trash turned into sea glass, driftwood, egg cases, jellyfish. And sometimes I notice what’s gone. Not just my grandiose quest, but also the vanished tangible.
~ Barbara Hurd
(Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts & What Remains)

mental optics rove…

Giant Gas Cloud in System NGC 6240 by NASA

Giant Gas Cloud in System NGC 6240
Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/E. Nardini et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.
~ Phillis Wheatley
(On Imagination)

far enough out…

“Earth at Night” image by NASA

If you go far enough out
you can see the Universe itself,
all the billion light years summed up time
only as a flash, just as lonely, as distant
as a star on a June night
if you go far enough out.

And still, my friend, if you go far enough out
you are only at the beginning

- of yourself.

~ Rolf Jacobsen
(Night Open: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen)

Roots

5.10.09 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

Plants are the young of the world, vessels of health and vigor; but they grope ever upward towards consciousness; the trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment, rooted in the ground.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Meditations of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Into the Green Future)

5.10.09 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

5.10.09 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

5.10.09 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground.  But they never seem so to me.  I never saw a discontented tree.  They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do.  They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!
~ John Muir
(The Wilderness World of John Muir)

1.27.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

5.10.09 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

5.10.09 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

Who do you agree with, Emerson or Muir?  I wonder, are trees frustrated by their lot in life, glued to one spot, or are they content to be firmly anchored into the ground?  Or perhaps, like people, each tree has a different way of embracing the world…

5.10.09 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts