E. says often lately that “beginning again” is everything now that we are getting older. We are guaranteed to have trip-ups that will keep us off the trail and make it difficult to lace up the shoes and get out there. The key now isn’t to aim for improvement, it is to aim for continuation, to get up again. To keep getting up again.

The last two days have begun with beautiful sunrises, while the weather is clear and cold. The fire-bright bleed before the sun actually rises. The still water that mirrors the sky. All this makes it easier. I lift my chest and drop my spine into the center of my back, shoulders relaxed. I let go of thoughts about work, or about books, and I notice the birds. The mourning dove this morning flying unusually low to the ground, perching on a low branch in the same tree where the small squirrel lives now. Three grackles were tussling mid-flight.

The strangest thing was that we passed a group of people, 7 maybe, walking in a tight cluster. It’s unusual for people to be out so early, but it has been a year since so many people have walked to closely together. It’s a sign that the county has finally stepped up the vaccinations. It’s odd that I feel almost an apprehension about things returning to the way they were. I am ready, and I’m not. I think it’s because I feel that I’ve failed at this Covid society so far. I need to figure it out before I have to move on. I feel like I’ve missed something important. I have no idea what it is, but there’s something. A lesson? An accomplishment? An epiphany?

Maybe I am thinking that if I haven’t found the time to calm down and do things like read for fun, go for long walks more often – when will I when things speed up again? I am not ready for things to speed up. Am I alone with this feeling? Stop, stop, stop until I get my head wrapped around all of this.

Of course I’m not alone. Again, I think we can hear something over and over and think we understand it, until we experience it. “Get off this rollercoaster” is so general it can be applied over and over in our lives, and mean entirely different things: Oh! NOW I get it for real. Oh, no, I didn’t really get it! But NOW!

But what is the name of that ride where you stand, back to the wall, while everything spins and plasters you to the edges while it tips sideways? The Graviton Theatre. How could I forget?

That. Who knew the designers of carnival rides were poets working with physical metaphors for our lives to come?

When I was about 6 my mother was trying to sweeten the pot when leaving me with new babysitters: They’re making tacos for dinner. But the couple was from Mexico and their “tacos” were something I’d never seen before. Creamy, greenish, bland chicken, soft tortilla shells. No cheddar. No jalapenos. What?! I remember thinking it tasted very “grown-up”. There is little worse (to this day) than anticipating a dish then being presented with some twisted version of what you know and have been salivating at the thought of.

I have no idea why that popped into my head. I suppose we learn that words aren’t always a reliable indicator of a shared reality. I suppose it has something to do with the five aggregates, staying in the moment, and not clinging to expectations.

And I think the five aggregates have everything to do with poetry.

A good poem (in my opinion) works through all of them: form, sensations, perceptions, ideas, and discernment. Maybe poetry is nothing more than the attempt to overcome the limitations of words through metaphors.

My love is like an overripe peach
too soft to touch without
bruising in spots – sweet
maybe, but too round
on the tongue, too
indistinct

I have to admit to myself that very little of my life has gone according to plan. It would be comforting to claim that this has been for the best. But it has been, such that this is now.

I find myself circling back to old desires that were somehow discarded along the way – like a dream where you are traveling with a baby and then suddenly you’re not. There’s no panic, no regret, just wonder: I wonder how that slipped away so quietly.

Things never look entirely the same when one returns to a place stamped in memory. Buildings are smaller, people are less attractive – or more so. A novel we remember as almost finished is a half-page of notes.

“I want to be a fireman” is an hour’s deep impression, not a long path through childhood. I’m not expressing an original thought when I say that significance warps our perception of time.

The common advice for rekindling a sense of desire is to try to remember what you enjoyed doing when you were younger. What you were doing when time seemed to fly by. But I think the problem is that our memories are biased. We remember what is reinforced. What is stamped in our memories under personal or cultural pressure.

In the past months, I’ve been sorting through notebooks and computer files. So many times I’ve stumbled over declarations and confessions that I don’t remember writing. Poems and outlines for projects that are so like soft-boned babies that somehow slipped away in a dream. These are flashes of desire. The signposts of paths not taken.

Yet.

Where I come from, the words most highly valued are those spoken from the heart, unpremeditated and unrehearsed.
LESLIE MARMON SILKO

Maybe the greatest privilege of this time of my life is the time to circle back. There is a roundness that comes with age, a natural and new returning like a second orbit with a slightly different perspective. And a slightly different perspective can change everything.

A decade ago I left a thousand and one eggs on a blog with the same name. I’d forgotten about them. These things – now uglier and more beautiful than I’d understood. These flashes of desire that I recognize as genuine.

I have a plan to circle back.

These days I’m under far less pressure and I’m excited by
the rough roundness of eggs,
the ugliness of hatchlings –
the fearlessness of flight.

Sunday. And still in my pajamas.

The skies are clear and the air is cold, and at some point I will get up from this desk, get dressed and go to the beach. It is one of those days that – in recollection tomorrow – will be smudged across my mind: leaving just a fraction of an hour of something meaningful -something like

squinting against sharp reflections of the late-afternoon light
while watching a tern searching the foam for something to eat.

And this will be better than most days.


Later tonight E. will take a Covid test before heading offshore for another fortnight. I expect autumn will take hold in his absence. And the space between the points of the timeline of my days will stretch wide: Work. Home. Work. Home. I’ll walk the dog. Keep up the routine. And darkness will creep over the edges of the days until there is precious little light left.

Sometimes precious little is more than all the rest.

I like the smell of there having been candles –
I like it sometimes best.

Because the earth is round and its path is round,
we will pass by this way again, one way or another.

The darkness retreats, too . And we always miss it
as well.

Finally having returned to morning practice, I’ve moved back into my body – with the nudging aches and unexpected pains. With the roundness and the wrinkles. I’m making the required effort of moving with ease now.

I’ve settled into my fears and found them – tolerable. I mean: what’s the alternative? The world keeps turning, as they say.

The cows have moved into the nearest pasture now. I wonder if I will ever pay enough attention to recognize them. The calves are easy to spot, but I have no idea how many of last year’s cows have returned. How many are missing.

img_20200526_075912_1208553628812076858352.jpgI’ve noticed that the squirrels no longer seem to care much when we run by. They often run just to the base of the nearest tree, and wait there for us to pass.

Maybe they’ve just gotten lazy, but I would like to think that after 5 years of daily runs they know us.

I know that’s just a Snow White fantasy:

When people are difficult, I still imagine the animals sensing my fundamental goodness and accepting me. I imagine the deer will come out of the groves to nuzzle my hands. The hedgehogs would putt putt and butt my feet playfully. I’ll befriend the crows, and they’ll bring me gifts.

When I lived at the edge of a farm in Kentucky our dogs brought us a whole leg of a cow and left it on the porch. I have no idea how that was sorted out – or by whom.

Once they brought us a mole, with a button nose, looking decidedly unreal. Have you ever seen a mole? It was dead, but perfect.

In the spring the dogs would walk around the yard with screaming mice babies in their mouths. They’d eat them…eventually. I was fine with the fact that they weren’t interested in sharing. No doubt that Snow White is a vegetarian, so there was no reason for me to take that personally.

Sometimes on spring nights the cat would jump up and scramble down from my bed over and over, and I’d lie there until she stopped. Then I’d get up to fetch an empty tin can from the trash and look for the dead mouse whose heart had finally given way. She wasn’t sharing either. She was just bored: she was a cat.

Cat’s don’t recognize the fundamental goodness in anything.

On this morning’s run, dodging the slugs on trail, I saw a shiny black ball lying in the middle of the path. It looked like a sea anemone that had blown all the way inland from the beach. As I passed, I glimpsed back to see the splash of orange and red, and I realized  a cat – or a mink – had left the blackbird’s head there like a warning.

Or a gift?

Who knows. Nature is weird.

The world is round, but far from smooth. Gaia is craggy and temperamental. She is the quiet morning punctured with the screeching of crows.

And maybe fundamental goodness isn’t real at all. Or maybe the cats are right and know that we don’t have the perspective required to discern goodness…or beauty.

It is a frightening thought. And worth settling into.

 

And this year has not been off to the best start. A lag, and a rush, and dealing with new realities.

I read today about  – was it Seneca? – who admonished people for waiting until 50 or 60 to begin living life intentionally. And there was something about focusing on being present, not on accomplishments. Of course, the people telling us this have all accomplished enough to say such a thing.

With a straight face.

I arrived in London on the 23rd of December,  and ran down the escalators at every tube station. We ran 17K on Christmas Eve, and I woke up with runner’s knee on Christmas morning – only to bicycle across London to see the boys anyway. Now, two weeks and one painful New Year’s run later, it’s clear there will be no marathon for me in February. It’s a blow to my confidence.

And not the only blow to my confidence this month. There are work issues, other health issues. There is aging, which is probably somehow related to both.

There was a storm. And I find that I’ve let myself slip into an unproductive/objective (not present) perspective.

I’m behind in my correspondence.

20170108_132349.jpg
On the way to Synesvarden. Before the fog rolled in.

Today I prodded E. to head out for a hike. (Another thing on my holiday to-do list was to get a new winter hiking jacket. Not done. After 20 minutes, my coat was soaked through. Thank goodness for wool.)

We headed out to Synesvarden, which seemed like an ironic name for the spot today. White: a 360 degree view of white. We take what life brings us. Today, it came a few meters at a time. The cold-stiff orange and yellow tussocks, the granite rocks that might be coated with ice. Shadows that grow into figures that mumble or holler, “good day” as they pass.

There was a dog barking somewhere in the forest, and we circled back to find her. But she went silent.

Isn’t there a culture that conceptualizes the future as something that comes at us from behind to overtake us? Maybe they are the only ones to have it right. All this planning, all the mirages we see ahead of us. The clump of earth that should be frozen, but that rushes suddenly from behind to slip into the present, under your foot, in the form of soft and giving mud. And there you have it: the irretraceable moment that is a wet sock.

There have been bright moments. Moments that shine a bit, like glassy eyes after half-a-bottle of wine. And I keep telling myself this will pass. This grief.  Because that is what this is. It seems by body understood it long before my mind caught up to see what the problem was.

There is more to this new challenge: the surrender of ambition, the letting go of childhood dreams that were based on values that I may have never fully accepted, and don’t accept now. Fears can stand in the way, no doubt, but fear can also deflect the original aim of an ambition.

“Because we didn’t get enough love of children.” That is probably more of a paraphrase than a quote, from a fiction character in a musical.

There is that moment. When you get to the brink of where you deliberately headed, and you realise: this isn’t at all what I really want.

Coddiwomple: to wander purposefully towards a vague destination.

It’s time to admit it: to live intentionally doesn’t have to involve ambition. There is purpose in being in the moment, in being in the white with wet socks, and mist in your eyelashes.