The other day, driving home from work, my mind troubled, I looked up and saw a flock of redpolls twisting scattershot across a field, shape-shifting over the road. I thought, there is another world, apart from all that’s human: what a relief. Car after car passed on the white-topped asphalt, carrying imperatives and purposes, and that redpoll flock disappeared over a rise. It shifted my perspective by lifting me up out of myself. My world can feel so small, wrapped tight around my concerns.
My friend reminded me today of the serenity prayer. “Turn it over,” she said, meaning those things I can’t control, the paths my loved follow with their lives, my fate, my future health. I thought of pages turning over in a book. I thought of a bird flock, the way it moves, turning inside out like a wind-blown sheet.
I imagine people go to church to be reminded of something bigger than themselves. Others carry divinity within, maybe just close their eyes and breathe to remember: this world is not about my troubles. It’s always been the wild earth for me. I guess it’s my religion. A bird flock catches my eye and it’s a glimpse of some kind of earthly heaven. What poet Adrienne Rich called “a threadbare beauty.” Ordinary birds above an ordinary snow-covered field. Vincent van Gogh fired a gun to incite crows to rise above a wheat field. Maybe he did it not just for his painting. Maybe he did it to startle up out of himself. Perhaps it was a moment of liberation. Tonight, at dusk, I took the dogs for a walk through the woods behind my house. The sky was dusty blue. A sliver moon shone bright and high above the birches. And it was only 4:30 pm. We’re in the dark time, and I love it. Our cold spell broke and it was a few degrees above freezing. I love to walk at dusk when the dogs disappear in shadows, when branches are sharply outlined against an evening sky. The woods smell good again, the snow heavy and wet, the air damp against my face, not biting sharp as it’s been these last several weeks. I looked into the net of branches for the shape of an owl. There’s been a pair calling early in the mornings. The dogs were on the trail of something at the edge of a swale, and I sat on a fallen birch tree waiting for them, feeling grateful.
When I went to my bookshelf just now, I pulled out The Ink Dark Moon, poems of the ancient court of Japan, and opened to one by Izumi Shikibu.
Should I leave this burning house
of ceaseless thought
and taste the pure rain’s
falling upon my skin?
Yes I should. There’s a single truth to a flock of redpolls. Turn it over, and I find a set of coyote tracks in the snow. Turn it over, and an owl calls. So why is it so damned hard to leave the burning house? When truth waits for me in the woods?