Star-crossed and starry-eyed
Nature's Notebook - Tim Abbott
March, 25, 2010
On a recent night, I stepped back from the unhooded streetlamp and into the shadows. Then I could see the stars, those cool, pale fires hung like beads of glass through the branches of the backyard sugar maple.
The night was well advanced, for like the owls in the pines I am active well after sundown. I saw the promise of crepuscular spring, with Virgo rising and Orion stepping off beyond the fatal tail of Scorpio. I noticed Saturn suspended off the shoulder of Pollux, like the disembodied self that appears on the wing to pilots fighting gravity.
I discovered a whole section of unfamiliar sky, a patch of lost memory, or perhaps never before seen for what it was.
When I was younger, I measured my pace in continents. I ranged through wilderness, camped on snow. I sought solitude in deserts and the rockbound shore, felt the seaward pull of the tide. I went for exotic flavors, like the upwelling fog by the southwest African coast, folding into warm, yeasty malt rising from the German brewery at the dry river mouth. I turned my face to the skies and sweeping landscapes, all the while missing what was at my very feet.
This was before I discovered that tendons detach from bone and stubborn breaks never quite heal. Before life gave me losses and crosses to bear. Before I chose the path of fatherhood, the way of the provider, and a place to settle down and start a family instead of more places to see.
I still remember other nights and other places. I can still see the Southern Cross, twisting in the steel trusses of the old wind pump where I perched in the veldt by the waterhole, waiting. I think of nights spinning tales of Norse gods and northern lights while sailing a dog watch with my uncle beneath a rain of blazing meteors in the Gulf of Maine. Of the wispy lights of June fireflies beyond the garden gate. Of that once in a hundred years aurora that spread above Millerton one March night when my parents, sister and I were driving home from dinner.
These are the notes I hear in the roaring firs, the rain-spattered panes, the silence of lovers and the pulse of stars. Walt Whitman felt it, crossing on the Brooklyn Ferry, the multitudes we each contain. So did the Amherst recluse when she heard the interposing fly.
There is always the cross current not to be resisted. I learned in Africa to drive in deep sand with my hand loose on the wheel, proceeding as slowly as possible and as fast as necessary. We survive when we sense what to resist, when to give way, how to stay open while the wind blows in the door. We bend like birches, weather like stone. Close over the fire scars and hollow places with thick bark and annual growth. Life makes a way.
I am still in love with all this. I let it sweep through my shuttered soul. I soak it up like groundwater in a dry riverbed, store it against the failure of the rain. This is how I bear witness, how I breathe.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.
© Copyright 2010 by TCExtra.com
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