There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around as though with your arms open.
And thinking: maybe something will come, some shining coil of wind, or a few leaves from any old tree—
And now I will tell you the truth. Everything in the world comes. At least, closer.
—from “Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?” by Mary Oliver
It is February. It is Lent. We walk through the white woods, and the winter does not bite. The snow sags and melts, forming clear pools ringed with ice. A vole, running low, slips between two worlds and descends. Remnants of beech leaves curl inward and turn slightly in the breeze, resembling tiny wings when they meet. The bones of the world are heaped around us. The skeleton trees stretch up and out, hatching the gray sky with their dark branches as their roots tangle and sink deeper . . . into the dust from whence all creatures come.
And, yet, a voice on the wind is singing: Behold, I make all things new.
Another year gone, leaving everywhere its rich spiced residues:
Vines, leaves, the uneaten fruits crumbling damply in the shadows . . .
moldering in that black subterranean castle of unobservable mysteries –
roots and sealed seeds and the wanderings of water.
—from “Fall Song” by Mary Oliver
Even as this summer’s growing season was winding down, and despite putting up almost more beans than the freezer could hold, our bean plants continued to flower and produce pods. Given that our vegetable gardens are quite humble in size and scope, I had never attempted to save the seeds from anything we grew, but something had to be done with those beans. So, I pulled up the plants, tied them together with twine, and left them to hang in the garage for awhile. When the pods were satisfactorily dry, and the hard beans rattled around inside, we brought the lot into the house and carefully extracted the smooth, hard little seeds. Now they will sleep through the cold, dark winter and perhaps—if we are lucky—they will bring forth next summer’s harvest.
Dank fens of cedar; hemlock-branches gray
With trees and trail of mosses, wringing-wet;
Beds of the black pitchpine in dead leaves set
Whose wasted red has wasted to white away;
Why hold ye so my heart, nor dimly let
Through your deep leaves the light of yesterday . . .
Is it that in your darkness, shut from strife,
The bread of tears becomes the bread of life?
—from Sonnets, First Series (Sonnet VI) by Frederick Goddard Tuckerman
Northern white-cedar, eastern hemlock, soft white pine . . . I gather them in the quiet afternoon hours of the first Sunday in Advent. In early December the sun rests low in the sky, mostly hidden behind the leaves and needles of the conifers that half-ring our yard. Not one of these trees belongs to me—they sit just outside what I might call my own—but I do not think these stolid natives of the eastern lands much mind the quick snips of my shears, or my pilfering just a few sprigs from their still-lush beauty. The trees are who they have always been and I do what we have always done, as the wheel of the year turns and the darkness descends. The evergreens bear on, and we fragile creatures of the earth gather their boughs and wait for the Light.