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.
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
To fully understand any story you must begin with its setting — in this case the spare and aching Great Basin country running east from the Sierra Nevada, a land that rises and falls in an endless iteration of mountains and valleys. A march of desert, 200,000 square miles of it, backlit crenellated hills stretching north and south: a touch of trees in the high places, a drift of luminous clouds across empty territory, of lonely highways through deep and lovely valleys. A threadbare blanket of ragged shrubs draped across the land, the scent of dust and sage in the afternoon air…
—Christopher Norment in Relics of a Beautiful Sea, University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
Photo of Stovepipe Wells sand dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA, by Richard Semik.