Saturday, May 23, 2009

The summer like a stranger comes

A still, humid morning filled with the shameless chittering of birds -- robins, cardinals, song sparrows, jays, warblers. The fat sun yawning and rising. Is that our effin god? Gold streaks appear on the lake, gold flecks in the bright green foliage. Who can measure the amplitude of life in the garden on a morning like this? You pick up a handful of soil and a thousand organisms quiver. Such turmoil. The biological will to live erupting in gratuitous beauty. No mind.

Hey, I'm fifty-five and out of a job. I sit in my garden and write. I have gnats buzzin around my head and sometimes it seems I have gnats buzzin
in my head. Shoot, I hope something's alive up there. I've watched the mature trees, the shaggy maple and white oak, to see how they handle the wind. There's a lot to be said for bending. Those guys are funny, stingy when it's dry, fulsome when it's wet, and always ready to shed an unnecessary limb if they've got a good reason. I think to myself, it takes gumption to put down roots up here amid all this rock.

There's a wily old bull-frog down by the creek whose croaking pesters Old Bay the cat. The cat should've had that boy by now, but the cat gets distracted by the chipmunk darting in and out of the rocks. Then the neighbor's dog -- a most annoying terrier they call Eddie -- sees the cat and starts barking. Now the cat is cornered -- the creek in back, a crazed terrier in front, rocks to either side. The hair on its back goes up and the caterwauling begins. You think life is peaceful?

Yesterday I saw two male mallards chase down a female under the trees by the dock. She was panicked but willing. The two puffed-up boys squared off, one backed down, and the hot victor took her violently. It wasn't pretty, but it was life. Can't get any more alive than that.

I go out to pick up the paper in the driveway. Monsieur Le Corbeau looks up from his meal in the road and gives me a nod. A stiff squirrel. I spy the shell of a robin's egg, cracked open. Thieving jays. Across the street, Sweet Lou is waterin his garden. He waves. "Mornin, John. Didja see the Yankees last night? Damn Phillies. I tell you, that new stadium is something. Everybody's got taters on the pine up there. They gotta give the fans
something. Hell, for the price of a seat I can buy me a fifty-inch TV instead. After I clean up, I'm headin down to the shore. Couldn't deal with the Parkway last night. Like I told you before, John, anytime you wanna come down, just let me know."

I thank him and meander down to the lake. Quist gave me his whole "nature, red in tooth and claw" speech when I was just a gawky twelve-year old gettin ready for my second year at summer camp. It's different now. You don't have to believe anything to see what Tennyson saw, or to agree with poor John Clare when he wrote "nature has a feeling." I don't know -- maybe it's just us, compensatin for some emptiness inside ourselves. You wanna get sentimental on me, poot, just spend some time in the garden. Look and listen. Reach down and touch the soil. Sniff. That's the stuff we're made of.

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