on the subject of ephemerality…(and other long-lasting truths)
in an already cruel april, this seems the cruelest of april’s jokes, this pillow fluff falling from the skies, soft as it is, quick as it is to melt on the tongue (i know; i was just out there with mouth wide open, agasp at the softness, the quiet of this particular snow). this meringue of ice crystals clasping the prayer hands of all the buds just on the verge. the leaden sting of waking up not just to a snow-falling morning, but doing so in the latter weeks of april when the earth has finally, triumphantly, broken through the thawing crust, when the whole globe is aching, is straining, is trying to muster resilience and make it to the other side…
instead, a lesson in ephemerality. the suddenness of slipping away. magnolia? velvety perfumed petals, now on ice. spring beauties, flash-frozen. i dashed out last night, clippers in hand, on a late-night salvation run through the garden. trying to save the soon-to-be stricken.
in any april, a snowfall is crushing. this april, it might knock the last breath of wind out of these tired old lungs. this is the april when we’d already drawn in, drawn quiet. when we were down on our knees, some of us, begging the earth to come to the rescue in the form of easter-egg pastels rising up amid the bursting-forth green synonymous with spring.
when the news pages read apocalyptic — when a zoo in the german town of neumünster is making a sacrifice plan of which animal to feed to another; when krakatoa, the great indonesian volcano, sent “violent puffs” (plumes of smoke and ash and flame) into the skies above the sundra strait, making like some sort of mountainous dragon; when the red-ringed virus crushes our hearts, day after day — we need something akin to a life rope.
the ephemerals of spring carry the whiff of that promise. it’s the evanescence — the now-it’s-here, now-it’s-goneness — that cups the germ of its beauty. the japanese, long wise to this notion in its cherry-blossom iteration, teach this as the truth of the sakura season, in an island nation that maps the bloom from first hint to full blossom.
and, now, it’s all gone. or buried under inches of snow here in the middlelands, here along the lapping shore of lake michigan (where these days it is so very quiet, i could count out the waves by the minute).
so we will need to turn inward again, further and deeper inward. i’ve taken up morning prayer (the serious kind, with flickering candle, the turning of pages, sliding a ribbon from section to section in the book of common prayer). i’ve taken up sourdough baking. and, soon as we can rustle up some plain white rice (the boys protest my usual brown), the homebound college kid and i are honing in on the original nursery confection, from-scratch, stirred-in-a-pot, rice pudding.
amid my red-ringed survival plot, i’ve stumbled into a global book discussion group through my friends at emergence magazine. we’re reading the breathtakingly beautiful robin wall kimmerer’s braiding sweetgrass: indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. kimmerer is a mother, scientist, botany professor, and member of the citizen potawatomi nation. each week, these past corona weeks, i find myself in small-group clusters that stretch from bern, switzerland, to tribeca, from the mexican countryside to south portland, maine.
this week we read a chapter titled, “the honorable harvest,” a framework for living centered on the insistent question that arises for kimmerer — and for us, i would argue, as we ache to plot a way forward, out of this corona siege into a recalibrated symbiosis with the world all around — as she pulls fat white bulbs of leek from forest floor:
“if we are fully awake, a moral question arises as we extinguish the other lives around us on behalf of our own. how do we consume in a way that does justice to the lives that we take?” kimmerer asks (italics, for emphasis, are mine). kimmerer, a plant scientist who lives and breathes indigenous wisdom, turns to her ancestral instruction for answers.
“collectively, the indigenous canon of principles and practices that govern the exchange of life for life is known as the Honorable Harvest,” she writes, and goes on to say that the guidelines aren’t in fact written down, but rather reinforced in small acts of daily life (the best such codes anyway). if you were to list them, and i will, she writes that they might look something like this (and, again, i’d add that there is here a particular resonance for mutual reciprocities in the age of corona, when hoarding — and stripping bare grocery store shelves — seems an instinct worth batting down):
know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
introduce yourself. be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
ask permission before taking. abide by the answer.
never take the first. never take the last.
take only what you need.
take only that which is given.
never take more than half. leave some for others.
harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
use it respectfully. never waste what you have taken.
give thanks for what you have been given.
give a gift in reciprocity for what you have taken.
sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.
i’ve one more morsel for the week, and it’s one worthy of its own post, but i’ll tuck it here instead (if i change my mind, you’ll see so in a subsequent post). my wonderful six-year gig plucking and reading and extolling the wonders of books for the soul for the chicago tribune has come to a close (slashed budgets, new owners, no money for freelancers), and the last of my tribune reviews is, fittingly, a book that deserves a trumpet blast. it’s a collection of breathtaking essays from the late, great brian doyle, and it’s titled, one long river of song: notes on wonder. if you are looking to survive this red-ringed siege with your heart and soul intact, read it. if you’re a high-minded soul and hope to emerge more vibrant and alive than ever, read it.
here’s but a bit of what i wrote:
At turns in “One Long River of Song,“ we discover Doyle the psalmist (singing the wonders of raptors and hummingbirds, otters or three-legged elks), Doyle as God’s acolyte (from the prayers to his unborn children to the one starkly titled, “Last Prayer”), Doyle as run-on sentence humorist (antics with his rambunctious brothers, basketball with toddler teammates). Over and over, his musings are canticles of joy, punctuated with occasional double-shots of heartbreak and humility. It’s the textured layering, the leap from shadow to light, that keeps the reader alert, and ever absorbing.
Always, emphatically, there comes wisdom; it’s a signature move, one you can count on. Have your pens aimed and ready.
It’s gospel of the ordinary, the shoved-aside, the otherwise overlooked. And at the heart of it, that ineffable and necessary unction, a holiness you can all but hold in your palms.
and with that, i will tiptoe away, to spend my day turning pages, stirring puddings, and awaiting the melt of the ephemeral snow…
bless you all. be safe. and be blessed….
since this morning is a bit of potpourri, have at it. leap in with any thoughts about anything corona. about the beauty of evanescence in your life and your world. about the honorable harvest and how you intend to live it….
I’ve been reading a thick doorstop of a book these past weeks about the life of President George Bush #41. I know, I know – but having watched his funeral, I wanted to know more about his life. His nickname as a child from some of his peers was “Have half” – because he always wanted to share half of whatever treat or sandwhich he had with another. I think that’s a good thought for this corona infested time. ❤️ to all the chair brothers and sisters.
Love that wild leap from indigenous instruction to Bushian doctrine. One if the things I love about the chair. And its sisters and brothers…
❤️ To you too…
The April snow did throw a stomach punch this morning (even though we knew it was coming). How I long for warmth and sunshine to help chase the “ heavies” away.
I am trying hard to balance the Grief and the Graces awaiting us daily. Trying so hard for the graces to outweigh the grief…but, somedays, not so. But I am not giving up!
Thanks for the graces offered at the table each week.
Beautifully beautifully put: that delicate balance of griefs and graces.
In search of the latter right alongside you. Because the griefs too often klonk us over the head.
How’s your healing serpent bite?
Jackie and BAM, nice eavesdropping on your conversation here. You are both abundant GRACE to me! xox
Not ready for line dancing yet but working toward it!
In this strange time that for weeks and weeks and weeks has made me feel quiet and quieter still, I am edified by your marvelous ability to string beautiful words and ideas together and post them here like blessed clockwork. Each day the sun rises, each day it sets; if the nighttime sky is cloudless, we can glimpse the moon and the stars of heaven; the seasons, though they drag slow heels at times, still circle round; and you, dear B., are a trustworthy companion who unfailingly shows us where beauty and inspiration and lovingkindness can be found. Thank you. Thank you a hundredfold, not only for your perennial generosity to readers everywhere, but most of all, best of all, to those of us here at the chair who are blessed beyond measure to call you friend. Keep on keeping on, my lovely. Many tomorrows wait to reveal their hidden treasures to you, and through you, to us all. xxx
ahhhhhhh, dear dear amy, and like clockwork, you chime in too. chime i use only to extend the clock metaphor. for your words are not chimey but, rather, good and true and deep and lasting.
especially now i feel the need to find rhythms wherever we can. they help settle those pulse beats that sometimes race in our hearts. this snowy day has now melted into simply a cold one. and a brisk stroll of my perimeter tells me my daffodils once again have triumphed resilience. might be a casualty or two among the flocks, but for the most part, they will rise with the sun again…..
i think you would especially love brian doyle. he will have you wiping away tears of all kinds, joyful ones, tender ones, heartbroken ones…..
sending love from my lakeshore to your riverbank. xoxoxo
Amy, I think this is one of the most beautiful passages I’ve seen you write… your choice of words is perfection. Thank you for saying how my heart feels, tho I could never find the grace to say it this way. So many talents you have! You stitch with needle and thread, with words, with love… 😘
❤ ❤ ❤