Nature, up close and personal

Nature plays a fiddleThere are some moments in life where things just seem overwhelming, where life makes little sense and tumbles on ceaselessly like ocean waves, a true samsara.  And it is precisely at these moments that we need to break away — to run, actually — and find a quiet place to sit and reflect far from the noise and tumult of life.

Yesterday, I did exactly that.  I took my father’s 21-speed and headed off into the woods.  The sun was warm and people were out, wading in the sparkling lake water to catch god-knows-what, or riding their bikes into the awakening forest.  It took me some time to find a quiet spot, away from the fat women complaining about food (yes, there were, even in the woods), away from the teenagers with their gold chains and hats turned to the side, away from everyone and everything.

I carried the bike across a small stream made passable by logs and other debris.  I found a spot in an emerging fern forest, and there I sat.  Not a soul was in sight.

Words spilled out of my head and my mouth.  Why in my life this?  Why in my life that?  I knew the words and questions would come.  It’s part of my ritual.  And after a while — I had no basis for time: I left my cell phone home and I don’t wear a watch –  my perception shifted.  The torrent of words slowed, and my eyes truly opened.

That’s precisely when the world around me came alive.  The sun peered down through broken clouds while birds sang their different tunes.  Below me fuzzy little fern fiddleheads, like tiny balls of cotton, rose a quarter inch above their stumps, readying to unfurl their nautilus shells, one by one by one.  In a few weeks there would be thousands of them.  Moss grew freely over everything, just waking up from its long winter sleep.  Centuries of growth and decay made the ground spongy, like walking on cushions.  The buds of the trees began to break open, little bursts of green in a sea of gray.  Another species of tree, some sixty feet tall, dropped thousands of crimson clumps whose insides, I noticed after picking one up, held tiny and delicate rye-like seeds.  The forest floor, covered mostly with mulch, peat, and competing undergrowth still had room enough the smallest of seedlings to grow.  It had been partially buried under a leaf, but I freed a tiny, hair-thin sprout from the shade.  Who knows if it would ever be anything without my hand?  Who knows if it will ever be anything still?

White fungus clung to a dead log’s sides like frozen sea-foam.  I broke a piece off to examine it.  Its undersides looked like tiny coral.  I dug my hands into the wet earth and smelled it.  The odor reminded me of my youth, gardening with my father in our backyard.  I remembered reading somewhere that George Washington Carver could tell you the region and quality of the soil just from its smell.  I thought this soil smelt like Long Island (reserve your smirks for later), Paumanok actually, the Island before suburbia covered it with expressways and home extensions and parking garages for SUVs.  The soil smelt fertile and alive.

For a long while I just sat there, without words.  They came, but they were few, and they meant less; they had less power.  They fell off of me like leaves in winter, to fall onto the ground, to decay and become food for a host of living things.  The forest, the great recycler takes it all back.  She wants it, because it is food for her, and in return she gives life. 

I felt tired as I finally headed home, but renewed, ready for spring.  I had shed my leaves and waited for the rain to help me grow new ones.  And last night it did rain, pushing up those fiddleheads another inch, bursting a trillion more buds open, growing that fungus another millionth of an inch.  Words fail me now because she took them all away.