This past Sunday morning I listened to the news while I drove home from a village across the river. No wonder I am on blood pressure medicine. People argued over the choices of the transition team for the new administration. An NFL player was shot and killed during a road rage incident. An Oakland resident complained about the response time of the paramedics to a deadly fire. Protestors in North Dakota waited for reinforcements from a group of veterans. Political analysts all agreed at the dangers of a pre-inauguration phone call to Taiwan. A man from Nevada did very well on the quiz show with NY Times Crossword Puzzle editor Will Short. Oklahoma State lost.
I turned into the driveway and wound my way through the four hundred feet of woods to the house and remained outside all afternoon. I found myself in desperate need of a little peace of mind. It seems the seasonal changes in nature are the only persistent and predictable aspects of life. When I am in the woods or walking along the water, I could as easily be ten-years-old as fifty-six, and it could as easily be 1969 as 2016. I could be on Long Island, or in central Massachusetts, or here at home, finishing off a cup of tea on the porch as wrens come and go for safflower seed.
Yesterday the sky looked like it might snow though it was in the fifties. It had that low gray layer of late autumn haze out over the bay so that I could look right at the sun. It was pale yellow, almost a mere shadow of a glow. Just a few days ago the sky was so deep blue it was as if there couldn’t possibly be a storm anywhere in the hemisphere; one of those days. As far across the bay as I could see, and to the west up the river, nothing. Not a single disturbance moved the water or the trees or even the marsh-reeds, which tend to bend at the slightest brush of breeze even when a heron takes flight.
So I stayed outside all day yesterday. Mostly I raked, but I also moved planters around, piled empty pots behind the garden shed, and cleared off the trail in the back woods where deer bed down at night, and at dusk a fox always scurries around waiting for Michael to toss some leftovers into the brush. The oaks are nearly bare, except for a few that keep their leaves until spring. This land has mostly hardwoods, so the view above isn’t impeded anymore, but down at eye level an abundance of holly keeps the property green all year. The laurel, as well, remains, and a little higher up the thin pines stay green.
It might snow this year. It seems every year snow falls more regularly. Three years ago it snowed so much I don’t remember it clearing out enough to see the grass until well into February or March, which for this part of Virginia out on the Chesapeake is unusual. I’ll take it, or the heat, doesn’t matter. Ice cold hands from doing work without gloves or a back covered in sweat in August are equally satisfying. I like being in nature, wearing it, letting it penetrate beyond the visual so that all of my senses come to life.
From my perspective in these woods, whether the view be unobstructed across fields and waterways, or blocked, able to see only the nearby thicket like shadows on the wall of a cave, it is a beautiful world; despite the news today we live in a beautiful world. While humanity votes in and casts out, the natural world bends and turns and spins and thrusts itself forward in endless revolutions of perpetual next. This country is still an infant, despite what we call history as well as histrionics. It teethes on change and feeds on self-indulgence. To be fair, it always has.
But this country, where the river has ebbed and flowed for tens of thousands of years, and the watermen still cross the reach each day before dawn like their great-grandfathers did, is stronger than any news cycle. Here in the early morning a channel marker rings and the oyster boats return to their docks by the time the morning news anchors have poured their first cup of coffee and sign on to keep us informed about what is “important.”
I have no argument in nature. I have no sense of conflict. The paths are not compromised by a lack of decorum, the deer are not prone to an absence of character, and the osprey and eagles which frequent these skies do not suffer from questionable integrity. Nature is neither crass nor belittling; it does not lie. The trees remain firm in their convictions, the birds—with one exception—do not mock other birds, and the skies, whether cloudy or clear, have no ulterior motives.