This Thing Called Courage

Friday, March 10, 2006


Okay, maybe it's not quite spring yet-- but it certainly felt that way today and continues to feel that way-- especially tonight. (58 degrees at midnight!)

It's been my experience that Mother Nature prefers not to be caught in the act-- instead she conjures her transformative alchemy when no one is looking: turn your back and there's a full moon hanging over the horizon, and the sky was empty a moment before-- look out in your garden and all your Morning Glories are fully open-- and three minutes before they were tight as angry fists. The old watched pot thing, I suppose. And so it is that spring always seems to come, to me, at night-- and so it did last night when the warm front swooped in from-- somewhere.

I read many years ago that spring advances northward 100 miles a week, from the tropics up to the poles, and also 100 feet in altitude a week-- of course spring comes to the mountains later than the lowlands. (The figures may not have been that rounded off). At any rate, since then I've thought of spring as this kind of blowsy, dizzy, drunken parade, a carnival-like troupe of fairies, flower girls and flower boys, May Queens (!), animals and birds, making their song-strewn way up to New England and other points north week by week. I know I've mentioned this before, and no doubt i will again-- I love that image.

When we were kids, the Carnival came to town every year around the time of my birthday (mid-May). It, too, came by (magic) night. Walking down the hill to school early in the morning, suddenly we would see their deep purple and red trucks lined up one beside the other-- and we knew that some strange, wonderful thing had happened again, and the Carnival had rolled into town again.

This morning we extended our walk-- how could we not?-- and walked around Spot Pond, a good stretch of the leg, five or six miles I suppose. All the way we were serenaded by bird song, especially Tufted Titmice. Heaven. After winter's silence from the birds, the heartbreakingly sweet notes fell on my ears like a benediction, or whispered words of love on a summer's night. I think I will remeber that for a long time-- the liquidy trill of those eggshell peeps this morning. I say that because-- some years ago I had a garden in Arlington. I had worked on it for many years and had developed it into an 'allee,' (a fancy word for alley) with a waterfall-fed pond at the far end. A ten foot wide strip of lawn separated the two 'walls' of the garden. In the really fussy allees, one is supposed to mirror both sides-- in other words, each side is a perfect duplication of the other. Of course we couldn't be bothered with that-- besides, the right side (going down) received much more sun than the left, and even if we planted the same thing on both sides, they would have bloomed at different times because of this.

One day I was weeding the sunny side of the allee, working from its end by the pond, up toward the entrance. Weeding is like house-cleaning-- you can't believe this space has become so cluttered. You put off dealing with it, but eventually you must and then you find the experience wonderfully-- well, cleansing. It was a sublime midsummer day-- cerulean sky, white puffy clouds, dry, brilliant, gleaming-- a soft stirring was in the radiant air. God's in his heaven all's right with the world type of morning. Halfway along this side of the garden was the birdbath. As I got closer to it I became aware of an intermittent droning. When one is hard of hearing, as I am, you can't readily identify the direction from which sounds are coming-- and so it was this morning. Finally, still on my knees, I was right beside the birdbath. The droning grew into a loud buzzing. I froze. A moment later from the corner of my eye I saw what the bee-- for of course it was a bee-- had been making for, when he landed on the edge of the birdbath's cement basin. I had a feeling I was about to see some secret, wondrous thing.

Ever so slowly I raised my head. The bee was perhaps two inches from my eyes. As I watched, he advanced across the dry edge of the birdbath, toward the Lake Titicaca of water that waited in the center. He moved on legs more delicate than threads-- and yet they held him. I had never seen a bee walk before, didn't even know they could. When he reached the water's edge, be bent over, and an exquisite salmon-colored tongue the size of a pin head emerged from his mouth, and he drank of the water, his body shuddering once with each swallow.
I can't say how miraculous this all appeared to me, or how much it took my breath away.
I never knew bees drank, never had even thought about this really. If anyone had asked me, I suppose I would have said that I assumed bees got all their liquids from the nectar of flowers. For that one second, the imaginary, anthrocentric walls that we put up between ourselves and the other nations we inhabit this astonishing world with, vanished-- the exquisite summer morning became a moment frozen in time, and the bee and I became, if not the same thing, then two things made from the same eternal stuff.

I had seen a strange and wondrous thing.

I suppose lots of things happened that summer-- I imagine I had sex, and met people, and did a few interesting landscaping projects, and went to the beach. I'm sure I must have taken a vacation or two to the Cape, maybe to Maine--

But I don't remember anything about any of that. What I do remember, what I always remember, is that midsummer morning, and the special grace I was given for that time.

When I come to this blog, I often think it's ridiculous to not write something about the appalling state of our country, the threats to our environment and civil liberties, the ongoing, senseless slaughter in Iraq. That's important stuff, and it needs to be written, and disseminated.

But most times what I want to write about are these odd, transformative moments and observations, like the one I shared with the bee that morning. Seemingly trivial, somehow they are the stuff my life is made of, the green fuse that keeps the fire lit within.

And now to that memory, I have the sweet thrill of a mid-March morning to add-- a morning when Tufted Titmice sang out to the roaring, oblivious world around them, that, once again-- the Carnival had come to town.


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