Maybe it was (likely, it was, surely, it was) that the thunder & lightning (bringing additional, more-than-welcome rain) woke me up at 1:30 am and I couldn’t get back to sleep for hours, until it was just time to wake up.
Maybe it was my temporary inability to write my way out of a hole at work.
At any rate, after a long day at the office, and generally unamused, I came home (to find that the brownies had NOT shown up to do the laundry that I didn’t get to because I had to work all weekend, nor did they weed the herb bed, which did nothing for my black mood) and went looking for Wendell Berry’s best reminder of all the solace that there is.
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the [Lady & the] Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
I love Berry’s command to “be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” That’s a complex and difficult geas, isn’t it?
But, in the end, it was likely Berry’s invocation of the fox that made this poem the one that I needed to read today.
I moved to my snug and comfortable Witch’s cottage almost 9 years ago. Soon thereafter, a pretty red fox made herself known to me (showing up first on a snowy morning and creating, against the snow, beauty that stole away my breath) and, although I am blessed with some regular neighborhood cats, and hawks, and robins, and bluebirds, and cardinals, and woodpeckers, and catbirds, and chickadees, and squirrels (lots of squirrels), and rabbits (lots of rabbits, and my tarragon is proof of their appetite), and chipmunks, and even the occasional raccoon, I am most in love with my fox. (It’s likely that I am actually in love with the granddaughter of that first fox; the lifespan of a fox in the wild being usually only 3 or 4 years.) When she shows up, it is as if Magic assumes Matter (I’m sure there’s a Higgs boson involved somewhere) and promises me that my entire life is, indeed, true.
Yesterday, after days and days of record-breaking heat and no rain, a cold front finally moved into the magical MidAtlantic and brought with it a serious downpour.
I realized a few years ago that, now that I am an old and independent woman, I can, whenever I like, go outside into my garden and sit, dance, chant, and/or just BE in the rain. Some neighbor or another might look out and think me crazy, and, well, guilty as charged, but what do I care? It’s my old body; it’s my garden; it’s my reputation. And I choose the rain.
And, so, I did.
I sat on the steps of my deck, watching the rain and letting it bathe and anoint me, and I listened to the trees suck in the water and rejoice, and I rejoiced with them, and I chanted my perpetual prayer: “It’s all real; it’s all metaphor. There’s always more.”
As the downpour increased, one of my robins showed up to dance in the flowing water and get the kind of real bath that I’m sure that he’s been longing to have for days. I was watching him and smiling when an amazingly quick red flash came out of the woodland garden. And there she was, in Mary Oliver’s words, “beauty the brave, the exemplary.” Although she normally only hunts in the early morning hours or at dusk, my fox ran out in broad daylight (well, broad rainlight) and, as quickly as I realized that I was seeing her, snapped her long snout on the robin: SNAP.
And then, carefully and lovingly carrying the robin back to her kits, she did exactly what Berry describes: she ran back into the woodland garden zig, and she then she ran zag, and then she turned around, looked into my eyes, and said, “Stay there on the deck.” And, so bid, I did, as I watched her disappear behind my stone altar and under the magnolias.
And I love my robins, those first harbingers of Spring, and I love my fox, sign of the genius loci of my landbase. And I love being a part of a living landbase where, life and death, upon one tether, are running beautiful, together.
My religion doesn’t shy away from death, from the sacrifices that happen every moment, of every day, in Nature. My religion participates, equally, in the death of the robin and in the satisfaction of the fox, feeding her kits. My religion knows that corn cries out when it is picked and that the sow morns for her slaughtered piglets, just as I rejoice in seeing G/Son well-fed. My religion frightens some people because it does not shy away from what we call “the dark.” I want to be as fully present to the robin, who dies, as I will die, as I am to the fox, who eats, as I do eat.
Wendell Berry says that being present to the fox, who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction, is a form of practicing resurrection.
I don’t expect to resurrect. I think that Christians, such as Berry, hope for resurrection.
All that I hope for, all that I want to do, is to be recycled into a magnolia, or a lilac bush, or a tarragon plant, or a robin. Or, because foxes are omnivores who will eat whatever plants my ashes may fertilize, to become some part of a fox’s kit.
And, tonight, I am going to sleep deep and I am going to sleep long. And I am going to wake up tomorrow in a better mood.
May it be so for you.