The Immaculate Presence of Astonishing Beauty

I’ve been trying to spend more time in nature and less in my head, more behind the reeds watching herons feed or ospreys nest and less behind a desk staring at a computer screen. Even now, as that is where I am, it isn’t my eyes that are strained but my anxiety level. Things changed rapidly for me over the course of the past several years, and I kept tacking, changing course based upon the prevailing winds, instead of finding some safe harbor to wait it all out for a while, reevaluate, well, everything, everywhere, everyone. 

So, pushing the triteness envelope a bit, better late than never. 

So let’s start with that, with Never.

Over the course of my adult life, I’ve been more than a little fortunate. I’ve seen a healthy swatch of the planet, built a satisfactory career, met and became friends with people of every possible path, hiked and trained with my son, built a house, and written a few memoirs. But laying out my CV or writer’s guild list is not my point, it is the “never” part of the past four decades which haunt me. I never rode my bike to Coos Bay, Oregon, and while that means nothing, absolutely nothing, to anyone, it is significant to me. Do you have a “never did” list? I do. I don’t need to write it down, either; it goes everywhere with me–to the river on walks, on trails when we explore the wilds of Virginia. It was on my sleeve when I hiked to the Wind Caves in Utah, and it holds my guts in its grasp every single time we walk the docks past sloops and ketches just back from the Caribbean. 

Never. I have two manuscripts under contract, but it is the two on the shelf behind me, hundreds of pages each, marked up, folded, crossed out and covered with notes, that I fear will never be published that wake me up at three am. Sometimes the tigers come and I see them there at the end of the bed, flipping through one of the binders, or tracing a map with a claw. I do not want to die before I can cross so much off of my “never did” list, but that is going to happen. It just is, so, honestly, tell me this doesn’t happen to you too: I freeze up, get brain lock, and since I have no idea where to start or which one is most worthy of attention, which one most likely still has some spark to set some fire in me, I just step back further, satisfied and safe in the “could have been” folder, sister to the “never did” folder. I never used to be like that; I had no problem embarrassing myself throughout my youth, my twenties. Where is that person? Probably in some 1980’s safe harbor somewhere recovering, waiting for the winds to change. 

I wonder how many parts of me I’ve left tucked in some cove somewhere, moving on only with those parts of myself I knew would be okay. 

Way too many nevers.

I never got to play a dead body at the beginning of “Law and Order.” 

I never met John Denver, though I came really close once at the entrance to the arena where he was waiting to pass through the bleachers to play in the round. I stood with a friend of mine who was the spitting image of him. I said, “Hey John!” and he looked, saw my friend, smiled, laughed, and said, “Far Out!” and went onstage to play. I am well aware this is permanently in the “never” column. That’s my point. 

I never played Bjorn Borg in Tennis. Never ziplined across the Straights of Gibraltar. Never cliff-dove in Guatemala. Never wanted to, actually, but that’s not the point.  


never walked around Brooklyn with my father. Never sat on a bench in Marion Street Park with my mother and listened to stories about her childhood, there, on set. 

Never will.  

Time has no patience at all. Not one fat second will lose an ounce on my account. 

So perhaps I need a new variation of “never.” 

I’m never going to miss the beauty in life. In my life anyway. 

I don’t know what happens when we die, and neither do followers of Buddha, Mohammad, Jesus, Abraham, Springsteen, and Beyoncé, despite their pontifications to the contrary. But I am confident some grace must be given for noticing the colors, the immaculate presence of astonishing beauty. 

The way the water is just the right shades of blue and green, sometimes turquoise, and the sky too, a powder, just enough to contrast the snow-white gull lifting and diving again. The forsythia, the azalea, the crepe myrtles and dogwoods, the buttercups and dandelions, the house wrens, the indigo buntings, the sandpipers and great blue herons. The osprey and eagles vying for the nest, the reeds measuring the tide, the pull of the soft sand when the water ebbs fast, and then the salt on ankles and thighs, stomachs and shoulders when the the water flows again, and the tide comes in again, and the sun pulls itself up over the edge of the horizon again. 

Certainly credit can be given for noticing this. I mean, the mistakes and shortcomings which saturated my life might be eased by another glance at the eucalyptus trees, the black walnut, the melancholic weeping willows and the lilies, of course the lilies. 

I may leave behind manuscripts and unrecorded songs, I may forget to tell someone I love that I love them, and I may not have held up my end of way too many bargains. But ask me about the kettle of hawks above Wachusett, or the osprey diving for oysters out at Tangier; the roll of fog coming across the hills of the Southern Tier or drifting across the bay from Fire Island. I have not only noticed these things, they have embedded themselves like chapters in my life. 

I’m going back outside. If I have to choose between finishing that manuscript in which I measure losses and gains, tragedy and exasperation, or going for a walk along the river, watching the sun slide away, hoping beyond hope I get to see it one more time again come morning, I never have to wonder where my faith falls. 

One thought on “The Immaculate Presence of Astonishing Beauty

  1. Wow Bob! You write so beautifully about beautiful things, but stop shy about the beauty of you! Take notice. There is only ONE you. Special and wonderful.  Your Harrisonburg fan,Diane Goss  P.S. Please tell Michael hello. 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android


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