How is it to wake up in Eden? Our sleeping tents are pitched in a half circle facing the cliff and the east, but the weather is so fine we sleep outside, Night after night we wake at odd hours to see the black sky with big bright stars burning holes in it. We watch the Dipper and Cassiopeia do their slow dance around the Pole Star, and the misshapen boat of the moon sail up and over and down. Finally we wake to find the east lightening, going pink, the flat clouds in that direction taking fire. Lying snug, we wait until the sun surges up over the mountains far to the east. The green and brown camp, the white tents, come clear, long shadows stretch, and on the cliff edge, haloed with pure light, the martens have appeared.
I realized then that to excel in anything requires much more than ordinary effort …
As we sat down on a rock to rest awhile, I noticed a small cheery tree nearby, no more than three feet tall and only half in bloom. To think that this lovely late cherry buried deep in snow all winter, did not forget to blossom when spring finally came to these mountains! Growing there fragrantly like the Zen koan, “Plum blossoms in the scorching sun,” it reminded me of Gyōson’s lines:
Poor wild cherry tree!
You’ve none but me to love you,
And I’ve none, alas, but thee.
—Bashō, Narrow Road to a Far Province, translated by Dorothy Britton in Haiku Journey
I am now able to trace distinctly the outline of the coast on the southern side of the river. Sometimes the high lands are suddenly enveloped in dense clouds of mist, which are in constant motion, rolling along in shadowy billows, now tinted with rosy light, now white and fleecy, or bright as silver, as they catch the sunbeams. So rapid are the changes that take place in the fog-bank, that perhaps the next time I raise my eyes I behold the scene changed as if by magic. The misty curtain is slowly drawn up, as if by invisible hands, and the wild, wooded mountains partially revealed, with their bold rocky shores and sweeping bays. At other times the vapoury volume dividing, moves along the valleys and deep ravines, like lofty pillars of smoke, or hangs in snowy draperies among the dark forest pines.
Our first flock of evening grosbeaks alights in the apple tree below the terrace this morning. The return of these winter birds forms one of the small markings on the sundial of our natural year. Each such little first-of-its-kind event records an advance in the seasons — the first ‘okalee’ of a returning redwing in the last days of February, the first song of the woodcock in March, the first bluet of spring in April, the first rasp of a katydid’s wing in August, the first heath aster blooming in September, the first red maple leaf drifting down Hampton Brook, the first skim of ice along the edges of the pond, the first falling snowflake. They are all small indications of the wider, profounder changes taking place in the sky and on the land.
How many of us still feel the grip of place — the long span of a life traced out in the growth of trees planted by someone you knew, a family history measured in memory and change, the sudden clutch of knowing that it will end, life and memory both, that love and sorrow cannot be separated? To learn the names of trees and grasses, the times of their seeding and flowering, the glimpse they offer into the grand cycles of nature is to see your own life written there. To know the geography of a place is to know why we have always made stories in which our own human stuff is indivisible from the stones and creeks and hills and growing things.
—Kim Mahood in Position Doubtful: Mapping Landscapes and Memories, Scribe Press, 2016.
Photo by Cathy Yeulet