Priorities

I stayed outside all day. 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; yes, despite the news today, we live in a beautiful world. While humanity gets hung up on every metaphoric syllable, 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. 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 infinite. 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.

Next month I’ll head to Utah, so now I think of the mountains, or Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake; and then Florida, where I can stare for hours looking for manatee, watching the gulf, bothered by and bothering no one. But here, always here along the river, the extremes which occupy my mind level off and remind me of the complicated gift of simplicity.

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