and so we wait…
down where the earthworms stir, there must be stirring. all the science books say so. but from here, at my kitchen window, it takes some convincing to buy into the notion that this here is springtime.
i know the calendar says so. i know sun and planet earth did their vernal doh-si-doh, as big ol’ sun inched its way north across the equator at 4:58 p.m. (chicago time) day before last, and suddenly spring had sprung. but round here, there’s not much springing to be spied. we’re in the crouch-down-low days of earliest spring, when your knees have to get in on the act if you really want to catch mama earth in her opening numbers.
the surest sign that earth is a rumbling is what’s happening up in the trees. and i don’t mean the leaves. i mean the cardinals, flitting and chasing and carrying on like red-feathered banshees. males chasing males. aerial cartwheels. rabid games of catch-me-if-you-can. male and female flirting like nobody’s business. pheromones must be filling the air. the occasional female butting in on somebody else’s romance. (oh, the vociferous protest!) it would be safe to assume baby cardinals — flocks and flocks of them — will soon offer proof of unseen ornithological joinery.
me, i’m just stationed here at my old maple table, filling my hours with words — birdsong as backdrop. my lifework seems to have settled into the sedentary task of reading and writing. my eyes and six of my fingers seem to be the only moving parts of me many a day. my brain, though, and my soul and my heart, they’re all deeply engaged. it’s just that, from the outside, you can’t see them expanding. sort of like the hard work of mama earth in springtime. sort of like what’s happening down where the earthworms wriggle. (or start to think about wriggling, anyway.)
the stacks by my side seem to grow taller and taller. occasionally teeter. if i’m not careful i’m going to turn into a hoarder. a hoarder of big ideas and snippets of poetry. not a bad affliction. this week alone i welcomed these fine friends to my flock: the late essayist and editor brian doyle (a book of uncommon prayer: 100 celebrations of the miracle & muddle of the ordinary and god is love: essays from portland magazine); historian and storyteller extraordinaire jill lepore (these truths: a history of the united states; brilliant!); diarist etty hillesum (considered the adult counterpart to anne frank, her diary and letters, written during the darkest years of nazi occupation, testify to the possibility of compassion in the face of devastation, and the combined work — diary and letters bound in a single volume — is titled an interrupted life: the diaries, 1941-1943 and letters from westerbork); two jewish books of blessings called “benchers,” prayers and songs in hebrew and english (for a class i’m teaching). and finally, and emphatically, mary oliver’s long life: essays and other writings. in the wake of her death, i have found myself reaching back into her bookshelf, finding titles i’d not known before. long life is a beauty, one from which i scribble and scribble, taking notes like a chimney — a poetry chimney — puffing up bellows of something like holy incense.
here are just a few bits i couldn’t help but add to my Mary O. litany:
30. “What can we do about God, who makes then breaks every god-forsaken, beautiful day?” — Long Life, p. 17
31. “I walk in the world to love it.” — Long Life, p. 40
32. “All the eighth notes Mozart didn’t have time to use before he entered the cloudburst, he gave to the wren.” — Long Life, p. 88
and then there are these two longer passages, which i tucked into my ever-growing file, titled “book of nature notes”:
“This I knew, as I grew from simple delight toward thought and into conviction: such beauty as the earth offers must hold great meaning. So I began to consider the world as emblematic as well as real, and saw that it was—that shining word—virtuous. That it offers us, as surely as the wheat and the lilies grow, the dream of virtue.
“I think of this every day. I think of it when I meet the turtle with his patient green face, or hear the hawk’s tin-tongued skittering cry, or watch the otters at play in the pond….” (Long Life, p. 87)
“A certain lucent correspondence has served me, all my life, in the ongoing search for my deepest thoughts and feelings. It is the relationship of my own mind to landscape, to the physical world — especially to that part of it with which, over the years, I have (and not casually) become intimate….
“Opulent and ornate world, because at its root, and its axis, and its ocean bed, it swings through the universe quietly and certainly. … And it is the theater of the spiritual; it is the multiform utterly obedient to a mystery.
“And here I build a platform, and live upon it, and think my thoughts, and aim high. To rise, I must have a field to rise from. To deepen, I must have a bedrock from which to descend.…
“It is the intimate, never the general, that is teacherly. The idea of love is not love. The idea of ocean is neither salt nor sand; the face of the seal cannot rise from the idea to stare at you, to astound your heart. Time must grow thick and merry with incident, before thought can begin.
“It is one of the perils of our so-called civilized age that we do not yet acknowledge enough, or cherish enough, this connection between soul and landscape — between our own best possibilities, and the view from our own windows. We need the world as much as it needs us, and we need it in privacy, intimacy, and surety. We need the field from which the lark rises — bird that is more than itself, that is the voice of the universe: vigorous, godly joy.” (Long Life, pp. 89-91)
and thus, my dispatch from the muck days of spring….
what’s expanding your soul this week?
I drew deep draughts of this post straight into my roots. Thank you, my beautiful B, particularly for these marvelous Mary Oliver quotes! The one about the wren has me in fits of extreme delight! It has already been scribbled into my commonplace book. Wishing you bright days filled with cardinal’s song and new green shoots pushing up through gentle earth. xoxo
dear darling, because typing out Mary O quotes is one of the great balms of this season, how bout these delectable ones?
(love the idea radiant in this sentence):
“We are gifted wherever we look — the asters, the goldenrod along the highways have taken heaven’s light, and dyed themselves with it…”
“dyed themselves with it….” oh my…
describing her pond, as “no more than a blue comma on the map of the world.”
or a slithering tiny snake: “like a running shoelace” (!!!)
“Twice in my life, not once, I have heard the wild word duck call her hatchlings down from the tree nest. God is lavish.”
and, finally, for this spell of Oliverness:
“And I would like to be simple and devout, like the oak tree.”
wishing you, too, those green shoots crowing through gentle earth….
Oh!!! I adore these, too! Stunning, each of them…. She had superpowers of observation and description, didn’t she? I’m getting my commonplace book out again to record these lovelies. Thank you for sharing them! xoxoxo
I’m enjoying Mary Oliver’s nature essays from her book “ Upstream “ as I look for signs of green out my kitchen window.
i LOVE that one too. i dove into that a few weeks ago, and my head was spinning from its beauties…….
Oh, what a fitting prelude your missive is today, of spring out my window! The surprise, after 18 years of hoping, of 2 bluebirds sitting on my fence searching for a nesting place, and the cherry blossoms pushing themselves out of their buds. Mary Oliver and you put treasured words to all these simple beauties. Thank you, dear!
oh, dear gracious! lucky bluebirds, your cheery pair!!! what i wouldn’t give! i hope longingly for an owl, any owl, wise or not so wise. just to hear that haunting call. keep us posted on your pair.
My mostly adorable and lawer-brained husband surprised me with a book yesterday…Devotions, a hardbound collection of Mary Oliver’s poetry. He was wandering through a bookstore and heard a woman waxing poetic about it (pun intended). He thought “Joan likes poetry…will get it for her.” Upon gifting, he said to me, “Do you you know of her work?” Marriage is like that some days. I figure I would have the same reaction to a question or book about some sports figure. It makes me smile. I am only a few poems in and reawakened to Mary and gratefu for the marriage momentl…like I am for Spring.
Love love love this! The story, the gift, and, yes yes yes, the book!