Sunday, March 28, 2010

Neither spirits nor songbirds can comfort us

It's a nasty shock to discover that the bacon you think you've been chewing is really the inside of your cheek. The last bite hurt like hell. Now there's a flap of raw flesh back there near the molars which you will undoubtedly bite down on again when you eat your next meal. Better slow down and pay attention, remembering your mother's old admonishment: "Don't inhale your meal. You eat too fast." Of course I eat too fast. I live in a fast world. It takes me days of unwinding, watching the lake cradle the sky and the trees gather force from the lengthening light, before I can breathe evenly and hear my own thoughts rustle around in my head. I can hear them before I can see them, like the songbirds in the thickets around Lake Wawayanda.

The mergansers and buffleheads have come for their annual visit and two pairs of swans have returned to glide around the little pine island on the south end of the lake. They showed up as soon as the ice melted. A raft of mallards tries to make itself useful down in Breezy Point Cove. But mostly we have to contend with the dopey Canadian Geese, flocks of them, gaggling and honking, eating and shitting all over the neighborhood, hissing and charging if you get too close, and -- just like the starlings -- a sure sign of a loss of species diversity. I haven't seen a wood duck, that gorgeously plumed dabbler, in a couple of years. It's startling to awaken and see how drab the world has become, as though Nature too, in having to accommodate our mediocre human activity, is settling for the lowest common denominator in her realm. There are no spirits in these woods.

You can really feel how fast the world is when you walk along the side of the road and a car passes you at fifty miles an hour. Inside the car, fifty feels slow. If someone was doing fifty on I-80, they'd be forced off the road. But when that same car hurtles around a curve a few feet away from you in a loud whoosh of air at fifty miles an hour, it takes your breath away. It makes you sick. You're walking along at three, four miles an hour, and you can see and hear everything. The chipmunk, the catbird, the crippled cedar, the flattened corpse of a possum. A woodpecker hammering somewhere over there. Yellow plastic Shop-Rite bags clinging to the barely budding forsythias. The sound of your own footfalls on loose gravel. A rushing stream. Doves cooing, then their beating wings. An old black oak, the survivor. A sheer drop off the left side of the road where the recent floods washed a chunk of the shoulder away. Meanwhile, in the car that shoots past you, someone is singing along to the stereo, monotonously racing along at fifty miles an hour, over the patched potholes and fading double yellow line of Canistear Road, oblivious to the slow world all around her, encased as she is in a steel and plastic shell. Going from one place to another place without being anywhere at all. Moving fast, unthinking, an effin drone.
I have to go fast, I'm a drone, I'm programmed that way.

The world is fast but I'm stubborn. I continue to search for spirits in these woods even as cars pass me by. Even the road has a texture worth noting when your feet start to ache. It takes a long time to slow down, but it doesn't take much to become invisible. The woman in the car doesn't see me. Who knows what she sees. She's long gone, the air in the car's wake still vibrating. My heart rate has gone down and become steady again. I can breathe evenly and hear my own thoughts rustle around in my head. I hear them before I see them. In the thickets up around Cherry Ridge old men on stiff legs are shooting round after round into the bright spring air.

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