“What will you do with your one wild and precious life? —Mary Oliver
On this night the rain has come, and early autumn blows the petals from the sunflowers. Maybe by the time this writing is published we will have experienced that brief return to summer so blessedly common in Oregon. Maybe not. And so, I think of endings. TS Eliot says in my beginning is my end, and Albert Goldbarth in his wildly beautiful essay “After Yitzel”, says nothing ever really ends, or if it does end then the impulse is to make it again.
To redo, do over, re-nova.
And what if there is no again?
I just began the fall semester at Pacific University, and the Associate Dean’s speech during the Convocation ceremony addressed reinvention. “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known,” said Carl Sagan. Where do we find the incredible? Does it only exist after we become the person we always wanted to be? Or is the incredible with us always, breathing on our necks moment to moment. Not in the creepy way, but in that deeply sensual soul stirring delight that draws our attention closer to the present. To the gift that is, in fact, our most possible life.
Here is the secret: we are living it already, that life we always wanted.
Here’s another: As I write this I have Ella Fitzgerald making music with her lips some fourteen years beyond the grave, and a glass of 2008 Pinot Noir, fermented fruit now two years off the vine, is waiting at my right hand. The air smells like the newest earliest rain I spoke of in my first line, but the sky clears now, it is dusk, the drops have vanished in thirsty soil. Tomorrow promises dry clouds and sun. This is ending, this is change. How attentive can I be to the gifts and loss of every moment? “Time passing passes on sadness,” said poet Marvin Bell at the last reading of my last ever, most beautiful, MFA residency in 2007.
What is that tug in the chest? When I draw things down to the center, I feel the miracle of my breath (12 to 20 miracles per minute in an adult, more for children) the taste of garden thyme, the tap of my fingertips against these keys. When I recognize the sense of passing, all sensations are enough. Another breath here. We eat with breath the measure of our days. With that in mind, we maybe are enough, already, as we are. Why then do we reach against the moment? Stretch to the incredible beyond? Is the possible ever elusive, or does it wait for our honor in the hidden places of our breathing, our beating hearts? Does it wait, simple and small, for our notice?
A Story: I miss you southern Oregon. I dream of you here in Portland’s concrete wet. When I visit I know the relief of the familiar: small towns, madrone trees, the unconscious naming of rivers and of plants. I grew in your woods and streets. I was your neighbor, your infatuated child. Even in the press of adolescence, my adoration was—for the wild places, the deep creek canyons of Wimer, the burnt summer grass on Ashland’s hills—complete.
Why then did it take time and distance to bring me closer?
Another Story: I have let Queen Anne’s Lace grow up in my garden. It occupies a space in the yard we call the urban meadow, a rich green place rife with native plants and weedy specimens. The cats and children love to sit there in the tall and browning grasses, reading books or staring through the hazel leaves at open sky.
Queen Anne’s or Wild Carrot is a weed. Its sweet umbels toss along the roadsides from Ashland to Portland and beyond. The commonness is perhaps one reason for it being overlooked as a desirable garden plant, though the root is edible in spring, and the flowers and seeds have long been used as a method of effective herbal contraception (for reference, see Hippocrates). The oil from wild carrot seeds repairs the skin after too much sun exposure, and the flowers themselves attract predatory wasps and increase pollination of nearby flowers.
I never noticed Queen Anne’s Lace until a few years ago. Like many wild plants, its ubiquitous nature defined its use as minimal. But in the past years I have come to appreciate and love its dance. I welcome it close. It is non-invasive, integral and adds a wild refinement to our city yard. Its seeds close up into birds nest shapes that hold, often, a praying mantis. A ladybug. Why didn’t I ever before press my fingers into the soft barrels of seed? Why didn’t I ever look closer?
The incredible is here, with us. It is in what we choose to see. If we cannot make again the moment, if we cannot live the place or love the person or have the work shaped to our striving, can we pause and wake to wherever it is we are?
In her poem The Summer Day, Mary Oliver says:
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention”
At this summer’s end, at the turning within, attention—to the holy, the common, the brief details of this living—may be all that we have. And all we ever need.