Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Return to the Wood

A Return to the Wood
(excerpt from Still Life, a work in progress)

The stillness is strange to a stranger. As the rolling hills, hollers, and creek beds assault your senses with a natural cacophony, you find yourself instead engulfed in a flood of nothingness. For long stretches only the crack of a tree branch yawning another ten years of solitude. A black racer sounding like an old page turning, as it slides a head quietly beneath more moldy leaves. The scurry of raccoon and 'possom across open paths. None echo for long. No part of their world records such things, but simply allows an ebb so the small can make their point, before swaying tidelike back to the void.

Stare for a good year or two at this angelic hub, your eye eventually plumbs toward the horizon, to the tops of the trees, which are everywhere. Caught, it’s a cloister drawn from inside your own contentment, away from the irritated tempo of the city. Where one tree ends and another begins is unimportant, even to the part which normally seeks such discretion. Instead it gives in to the atomic clarity willing to let all the life there, both literal and imagined, take up residence inside itself. Before long you see the tables have turned. The healthy pulse from the soil to the sky reveals you have been deluding yourself. The beauty here has you out-lifed. Here you are nearer the leaf than the slug burgeoning beneath it. Standing still, you are the strange-thoughted rock beside the creek bed. What use are you in this steady organism? Lose it while walking in a deep, breathing viscera. Is this what young Buddhist monks give up with the million OMMMs designed to pickpocket their desire and concrete delusion? The more I take in, the stranger I seem to it all, the harder it is to make sense of my very human existence. Taxes, profit and loss. Even your love life becomes the subject of nonsense.

In contrast to these walks some 25 years ago, I find my attention split between the natural beauty and the faster thoughts that seem entirely out of place. There is a constant reverberation among the million things we feel we must do and the colors of the countryside. The hues lend themselves to easy interpretation. According to mood, rusts and auburns are sad examples of the rigors of age, the decay of the natural and infiltrating the best of us without apology. Other times they reach out as gold from the floor of the glen, Goethe’s gilded world of pride and awe, an Ars Poetica scribed by the farmer hands of God. Hundreds of subtle shades impress on the heart how the speechless universe can be at once infinitely complex and but the utterance of a single call note. To some it’s the science of genus and ecosphere. To another, a wellspring of emotion made flesh—Whitman’s Grass, Frost’s mossy grandeur. Oak instead of Lindens lining the pages of Schiller. A fallen tree becomes a heart-broken arbor imposed on the sorrows of young Werther. The rectangular sky above reflects a Potomac ideal—a turquoise blue adorned with insular clouds from the space directly above and expanding a mile or so in all directions. It has somehow become this -- perfect water suspended above you, reflecting the slow ripple of eternity.