Tuesday, June 26, 2012


And your silence continues, unexplained. No echos returned, but having gone to bed with bats, the evening of the shortest night, this morning I awoke with birds, a fascination of birds, a din of birds, and the need to be up, out, before dawn.

For the record, I usually sleep till nine or ten unless something wakes me up first. As with my father before me, sleep for me appears to be a heavy thing, so that if you charted my sleep habitats on the face of a clock you could see my bedtime and my waking both grow later, finally centering my sleep across the very bottom of the clock, my personal midnight, six AM. Sometimes, however, I do the unusual thing, and saver a dawn.

My husband would laugh; he doesn't see how I can claim to be a morning person, since I have trouble being awake in the morning, but when I am awake in the early morning, I really like it. I always have--I love the liminal, and also the elfin softness of the dawn. I remember, too, certain mornings when I was a child when I would wake, full to delight with the possibility of...something. I could never quite figure out what I anticipated, or, later whether the anticipated thing had actually happened. What, exactly, was I so hopeful that I could get? I never knew, so I couldn't search for it, except by getting up, getting into the day. It still happens that way sometimes, though remembering all the other mornings when the hope faded with no clear resolution dampens the feeling somewhat.

But I wanted to go out and hear the birds properly, not dimmed by the trailer walls and my husband's gentle breathing. I wanted, not to ID them, but to hear them, count how many voices I heard, untangle the skein of chatter and hear them one by one. I grabbed a blanket and ran out.

I couldn't do it, of course; there were too many. I could locate three or four voices, but then over in the trees was just a clump of chirpy sound. I walked towards the trees to hear better, and the voices just dispersed, dampened within the canopy, replaced in my attention by the vegetable details of trees and an ant. It was a very big, black ant, and I followed it for a while, to see what its ant business was.  I don't have the requisite obsession to develop the aural discrimination I need. I do have other kinds of obsession, however. I know all the trees here, and many of the flowers out in the meadow beyond the trees out by the river and the mud bank where swallows nest and strafe the invisible clouds of insects to get their daily bread. Grasses will be next. I'm becoming sensitized to grasses, seeing dozens and dozens of kinds when I used to notice only grass. I'm starting to learn them, feeding that lovely obsession.  These clumps of fine, flowering grasses that look like clots of cloud from a distance are, close up, caught pink and crystalline with droplets of dew, they look like the costume jewelry of a little, princess-preoccupied girl, such as my sister was. They ought to be scented with rose-water, my sister's first perfume, but they are not. And I will look these grasses up.

So, worst case scenario; you don't respond, don't answer my electronic calls. What would that mean? It would mean you could not answer, not that you wouldn't, certainly. It would mean you are sick, absent, or perhaps preoccupied by unending duties with which I cannot compete. And what would that mean? I shall not resolve the mystery of where you are in these pages, as whatever is going on is probably private--my bringing up a question I don't intend to answer probably counts as a cheap trick from the perspective of our readers, but that's the way it is. I won't give away confidences that are not mine to give. But I shall answer the secondary question, what it would mean to me if you didn't answer.

I would be disappointed, hurt, almost regardless of why, as a child can be disappointed by an adult's failings, a disappointment beyond excuses, beyond reasons, even if the adult has fallen short through no fault of his or her own, even if the adult's failing is only to have died. No child past weaning, of course, can avoid such a disappointment, for no human love but milk can ever be everything that we really, in our innocence, need it to be. So we learn to need less, we learn to be reasonable, not to expect anyone to be less fallible than we ourselves are. "So Eden bows to grief, so dawn goes down to day," as the poet says.

But there is a dawn every day. Every day the swallows wake and the grass shines pink like fairy chandeliers--

---Wait, that's not quite what I mean--I don't mean a renewed innocence, a willingness to start over believing that this time another human being won't disappoint. That way lies wreckage. What I mean is, rather, a secondary innocence, secondary in the medical, or perhaps the ecological sense, I can't think of a good example....What I mean is that there is a time before one knows one can be hurt, and we call that innocence, and after that there is a time of wounded caution, of knowing. But after that, maybe, there is a forest grown up again after harvest or fire, a secondary forest, a secondary innocence that comes from the knowledge that not only can we be hurt by other people but we will be hurt by other people, just as we have and will hurt others. Within human possibility is the ability to love boldly in the light of that knowledge, to let each other and ourselves permanently off the hook. 

And in that light, in the trees of that forest, sing the chattering birds of dawn.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Today, at the end of the longest day of the year, I found myself watching bats. They looked remarkably like Halloween fake bats flying by, with their little rounded, furry bodies and their scalloped, flapping wings. I have a memory of standing with my father in the garden when I was little and him pointing out the bats to me...and they filled the whole sky, the wings of each bat spanning broader than our yard was wide, huge. This is not literary hyperbole but a genuine trick of memory; they were 747's of bats, coming on down the length of the garden west to east like storm clouds, the way the Goddess of Evening comes in, in Fantasia.  I was not at all frightened, probably because at the time I saw them as they actually were, small, and they only inflated in memory.

I like bats. I like that they are mammals, like me, and yet so different. Aside from the whole flying thing, which is awesome enough, there is the prospect of living in a world of air and sound, dodging this way and that for flying insects...and they wake up at night. Daylight just seems like such a wakeful thing to me, but to them it means time to sleep. We live in the same world, and yet we don't.

These bats today fluttered this way and that between me and the row of white pines, and on the other side of those pines was a sunset yellow and orange like splotches of organic, free-range egg, and I did, indeed find myself. I've been doing that a lot lately. I look up and I notice the wind in the green trees, or a soft, brown caterpillar with two pale stripes walks across the grass in front of me, or a small, round black beetle alights on my laptop and I see it has round, yellow spots. I've been asleep, preoccupied, psychologically busy, for too long, and I'm waking up, decompressing, finding myself by finding things outside myself, or letting them find me. Is this why I've been so unproductive lately? Something in me needs to rest and wake up?

I don't think I could be a workaholic if I wanted to, just like I couldn't be fashionable if I wanted to, or...normal if I wanted to. It's inconvenient, sometimes, and there are upsides to all of the things I can't do...as I hope you know, given how much and how hard you work. I hope that has meaning to you; it has meaning to us. I only mean that there are things I can't seem to make myself do, and I really hope there is room in the gap, in the set of things I can do, for a good and noble life for me. I don't know...and maybe I won't know. I've known people who consider themselves failures for no good reason at all, and of course the public arena appears to be full of folks who are quite satisfied as to their own goodness even though they are busy destroying lives and ecosystems....This week, for myself, I feel pretty bad about myself. I don't always--I'm often pretty chipper. But this week I just feel a bit like a failure. An incipient failure, perhaps. I'm not concerned about it, though; I already know feelings are unreliable, they come and go like the weather. And meanwhile, rain or shine, there are deadlines to meet and my thesis to finish, dogs to walk and clean up after, and on and on. If I must be depressed, I shall not be depressed about being depressed. If I must worry, I shall not worry about my worrying. Untangle the knots, move the mutually reflective mirrors out of alignment, step out of the echo chamber of my own mind, and watch bats.

Bats navigating the chattering silence of their supersonic world.

And from you, a silence. I have not heard from you lately. I expected to, though perhaps without reason. I know you are busy generally, and perhaps something has come up, so in and of itself a period of silence is neither unusual from you nor cause for special concern. But in this virtual world of words and posts and updates without location, those who do not speak become effectively invisible. So I send my words out into the electronic night hoping that even if I do not hear you speak, I might at least hear an echo, and find out where you are.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Now We Are Six

Your birthday is coming up. I imagine that if I said that to you in person you would roll your eyes and say "don't remind me!" but I think that the fact that you have gone--how many years? More than me, anyway--without dying is a thing to be celebrated.
I remember, a few years ago, when I asked your age you sighed and said "too old," before actually telling me. Too old for what? I did not ask. I simply assumed that you meant older than you wanted to be, older than you thought people around you wanted someone like you to be, or even older than you think of yourself as being. Sometimes I'm surprised I'm not twenty anymore, even though I've had nearly fifteen years to get used to the idea, and I imagine that doesn't stop, that the passing years just make it harder and harder to wrap your mind around your real age. Like, sometimes your age does feel about right, not just accurate but right, and you think well, thank God I'm not the immature idiot I was even ten years ago!

And then you wake up the next morning and look in the mirror and think who is that old guy?

It's like that A. A. Milne poem that begins When I was one, I had just begun, and continues all the way up to When I was five, I was barely alive, before delivering the clincher; But now I am six and as clever as clever, and I think I'll stay six for ever and ever. None of us can ever really accept having been all the ages we used to be, because to some extent we were different people then. But none of us can ever really accept that we are about to become the people we haven't been yet, either. We think--wait, I'm not supposed to get old. Wasn't I going to stay six?

I don't think I will mind much getting old. I'm starting to look at middle age now, and doing it with a brave equanimity; I have my grey hairs, and I almost don't mind them. Maybe my attitude will change as I get more grey hairs and other symptoms, but maybe not. But I, too, have been "too old."

I never wanted to grow up. I fought really hard inside myself to not grow up--and no wonder, if you really think about all the awful things many grown-ups say about adulthood where children can hear them. But I turned eighteen anyway. What a strange birthday that was. I'd already decided to go ahead and grow up at that point (and yes, it's a choice; leaving childhood is a requirement, but adulthood is optional and must be deliberate), but wasn't I going to stay six? Becoming a legal adult was a good deal more disorienting to me than a few grey hairs are. Maybe it's because I've been "too old," and then come to like adulthood that I suspect I will like being old, when I get there. I've learned that reluctance to cross a milestone is no measure of what lies waiting on the other side.

I know that your birthday will find you either working, ensconced with family, or misanthropically avoiding the whole human race. I have therefore not bothered to plan any sort of party for you, and if anybody else is planning to throw you a party, they have not invited me. But I imagine that if I did invite you to a party and then told you that party was actually for you, you would grumble that you would definitely not be able to come in that case. After all, humans show up at parties. Your own species is the only one, not counting mosquitoes and flies, that you don't actually seem to like.

But I know it's only in the aggregate that you don't like us; individually, you can forgive us our species and become fond. So I can also imagine that if I did invite you to a party, and told you it was for you, you would probably smile shyly and say "no, I like parties. That would be very nice." I am somewhere between knowing you very well and knowing you not at all.

Last week, as you may have surmised, I was in something of a bad place, sad and frustrated. Everything I was sad and frustrated about is still true, and will likely sadden and frustrate me again, but at the moment I am not in the mood. I'm not in a mood for sadness! 

This week I am pleased by the success of my Ice Cream Socials, by the presence of my Chris here beside me, and by dozens of other wonderful things, including your existence, whether or not I can attend a party with you for it. I will formally wish you happy birthday nearer to your birthday, of course, but I'm glad you've stuck around for all these years. You have done and continue to do good and noble work, you are an interesting and kind human being.

I am proud and grateful to call you my friend.

best, C.