The Art of Disappearing
When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
One of the great things about our cats is how they alert us to visitors in the yard. This morning, Billie suddenly leaned over into the bedroom window, all focused attention, and then she hurried off to the kitchen. I looked out the window, and then I too ran to the kitchen–to look out the French door windows to the back. We had both seen a raccoon, walking right onto our deck, checking things out.
Sadly, this was not a great nature photo–I didn’t capture the raccoon’s adorable face. And when they saw us at the window, they decided to move along, leaving only small wet footprints behind. I barely caught their distinctive striped tail as they hurried past on their way toward the steps to the driveway.
The Passamaquoddy word for raccoon is Espons, and it means the one who leaves a mess. I pulled on my boots to go outside to see if Espons had left any messes anywhere in our garden–but the only thing I found was a tiny hole dug into the side of our compost barrel. It looks like that compost is ready.
I think this is the first time I’ve seen a raccoon in the yard, though I saw one in a tree down by the brook a while back. As much as Margy and I love to play in the soil, plant trees and bushes, and tend to the growing plant life all around us, the most thrilling part of connecting to this land is when the critters visit us.
Many small birds and squirrels live here all the time, but we’ve also seen turkeys, a very occasional deer (and not in the last year), the skunk, the groundhog, a few chipmunks, the fox, the hawks, the turkeys (they visit a lot–though not this spring–they must be raising young somewhere else right now), not to mention tiny toads and salamanders. I call them visitors, but really, we share this urban environment. They live here as much as we do–but not usually on the deck! We try to find a balance between welcoming them, and reserving certain garden foods as our own “territory.” (Since we don’t yet have much food in the perennial food forest we’ve been slowly creating, it hasn’t yet been a big issue.)
I am reminded somehow, by the joy of this unexpected visit, that my spiritual “marching orders” during this past cycle of seasons have been rather clear. I was not to try to “make magic”–which I understand as to focus my intention and will to create something or to make change in this world. Rather, I was to flow with the already flowing magic of the deeper River, to let the Earth move my feet, let the Wind guide my mind. I was to rest, and let the Fire of joy carry me through the days. That joy has carried me into some marvelous learning–the Wabanaki language class comes to mind. That joy has carried me out into the garden to plant and tend and haul wood chips around. That joy has carried me to the pages of this blog site, to write and reflect. But it isn’t really about creating a garden or a blog.
It is about observing, being quiet, listening to the trees, tuning in to the flow of interconnected life. It is about moving beyond doing into a different way of being. A way that is alert to the many beings who visit us, whether we notice them or not. It is about noticing.
One morning, I couldn’t find two handout pages from my Wabanaki Languages class. The day before, those two pages had been on the kitchen table, ready for me to work on them over breakfast. But at breakfast, not there. I looked everywhere. I am usually very organized, so when something gets lost, I go a little bonkers. I looked in the basement, I looked in the junk drawer, I looked on my writing desk, I looked in the basement again. Nothing. We’d had our house cleaned the day before, so I emailed our housecleaner to see if perhaps she had put them somewhere. I secretly wondered if Margy had moved them. (Sorry Margy!)
Finally, after more than an hour of this, I gave up. There was no where else to look. I stopped. I sat in my room in the chair next to the window and wrote in my journal. Writing in my journal is a form of praying for me. Praying is a form of surrender. I wrote, “How do I handle this? I give up. I can’t do my day as I planned it–the next Wabanaki lesson over breakfast and then, etc. I give in. Is there a better response than going bonkers? Is this some sort of cosmic interruption? What should I be paying attention to?” Then I sat silently and breathed. I accepted the interruption. I got more quiet and breathed some more.
Then I quietly remembered that I had moved some health notes from the table the day before. And that is where I found my lesson pages, intermingled among them.
But I continued to sit, and I reflected on how much energy I used up being anxious and frantic about losing the papers. It was only when I gave in, and prayed, that the answer emerged, from quiet. So I decided to fully embrace this cosmic interruption of my plans for the day. I let go of the projects I had thought about doing, and went into Margy’s room and we cuddled. We decided to go see the ice disk in the Presumpscot River in Westbrook–that temporary, famous, huge, slowly spinning circle of ice that was mysteriously floating on the surface of the river.
We walked along the river and took photos. We mingled with dozens of other people who were out to see this curiosity of nature. We felt full of joy. I learned that this is what can come from embracing cosmic interruptions. Joy. Maybe there is a cosmic interruption waiting to happen for you today?
Yesterday I finally walked to the ponds at Evergreen Cemetery, after not being there for over a year. It is a longer walk for me—half an hour there and half an hour back. But I never come right back. I go to the place where the dead tree fell into the water, becoming the center of pond life for the critters there.
So I sat at the base of the log, and I found myself growing quiet. Just paying attention to the life around me. I saw a brown frog in the water close by, and later, a green and yellow bigger one off to my right. A small turtle was sunning on the log. Once, the green and yellow frog slowly moved forward about a foot and then stopped again, eyes and mouth above the water. The turtle slipped into the water. A mother duck with two youngsters swam past, and then circled around and climbed up onto the log where she and her babies attended to their feathers.
Last week was encumbered with many projects, and lists of more projects. Ever since I cleaned out my office, I’ve been trying to catch up on household maintenance and fixing things. The biggest project that I actually accomplished was fixing the ice dispenser on our refrigerator. This involved two phone calls, moving ten boxes and a table to reach the freezer in the basement and turn it on; hauling food downstairs, two coolers, defrosting and cleaning the whole fridge, and starting it up again. Three days. But it worked.
Anyway, once I sat next to the pond, the burden of unfinished projects just disappeared. Not the projects of course, but the burden. My soul got quiet and peaceful. Another turtle climbed onto the log. I saw another brown frog. I saw a winged insect struggling on the surface of the water, until a dark turtle-shaped shadow swam near and suddenly the insect disappeared. On my walk home, the quietude stayed with me.
This has been a year of a lot of work in our yard, creating a garden of fruit trees and perennials and bushes. Working with growing things is one way to learn to connect to the earth. But being silent next to a pond brings a deeper sense of unity. I am grateful.