Color, Connection, and (once again) Hopkins

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From today’s walk to Chester

After an overall relaxing summer, time has sped up. We did a couple of trial mornings helping Gavin get accustomed to early rising for the bus, and then the school week started. Gone are the weekdays when Gavin slept in and I slipped out for an hours-long walk before work. Mornings are again more about punctuality and to-do lists, and I am relearning how to maximize the time between the school bus arrival and my own commute to work.

The dog’s schedule and the school schedule have conspired to have me walking before dawn on many days, not always ideal but it’s quiet and gives both me and Buddy time to be meditative. And I’ve experimented with pre-dawn snapshots:

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Sometime around 5 AM, on Deep River Main Street

But I was happy when Saturday came at last! The sun was close to rising when I set out for an hour-long ramble to Town Dock. Without Buddy’s inquisitive and committed nose it would have been a much shorter walk, but that’s the beauty of having a hound. They are into the world full throttle, primarily through the scent of it. Each of our successive beagles has acted like he or she has never been outdoors before, EVERY time we take a walk—unbridled curiosity and enthusiasm! Their whole bodies convey a sense of, “What’s next, world? I can’t wait to find out!” The sentiment is contagious and it helped me evolve into a nature writer.

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Town Dock never disappoints

Today I was reminded that visual sensations are often my gateway to nature. Sure, I take in the bird song and the scent of the river and the pines, and I relish the feel of the breeze against my skin. I recently wrote a whole piece about the experience of wind at Acadia National Park’s Tarn, and in The Book of Noticing I wrote a piece called “Scent Trail,” about trying to emulate my dog Molly’s aroma-driven quests. But my “go to” sense is sight, as is the case for most humans. First, before all of my senses kick in, I find myself looking. I relish how something as simple as a berry or a mushroom can catch the light.

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I’d appreciate it if a better-informed reader can tell me, definitively, what these are. None of the descriptions I found quite matched my image. The photo doesn’t do their shimmering quality justice.  

I looked and I looked Saturday and today and these were joyful, holy moments. (On Sunday I was intrepid, walking in moderate rain. But I wished I had windshield wipers for my glasses!). I thought about my artist sister’s sense of color and my mom’s flair for colorful style, and I’ve always felt a lack there, with my inherent bias toward monochromatic palettes in my home and my choice of clothes. But I had a “eureka!” moment while walking. My sense of color lives in the natural world. I am drawn to even the smallest splashes of brightness and visual variety; the colors are treasured even more if they are a hidden deep in the grass or in the understory.

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This unexpected ladybug nearly escaped my notice.

Soon I will turn 50, and I hope that on my birthday I can continue my new tradition of walking to Essex. I imagine that I will be “drinking with my eyes” that day, to borrow from 17th century poet Ben Jonson (I just learned something, thanks to Google — I had mis-remembered “drink to me only with thine eyes” as a Shakespeare phrase!). I know the context is different—Jonson’s poem is about lovers and their longing looks. But longing looks are not reserved exclusively for lovers. At my best moments on the trail (even the asphalt trail), I not only long, but I feel that longing—for stimulation, for interest, for connection, for peace, even for God—fulfilled. I feel that I am literally being filled as I “drink” in the endless colors and the sun and the breeze and the sounds beyond the brush.

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The best kind of collage

Oh gosh, I have quoted him before in this blog, but I am powerless to resit this particular redundancy. Gerard Manley Hopkins said it so well in Pied Beauty. For me, his words ooze the best way of “drinking with the eyes” (and the other senses, too) and the outcome of astonishment and enlivenment that this practice often brings. I’ll end with his words since I can’t top them, but before that I wish all of my readers happy “eye drinking” during their prized time outside.

Glory be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.

The Call of Pick Your Own

We have an orchard within a long walk from our house. We’ve never walked to it, though, because how could we leave there without carting an abundance: bushels of apples, jugs of cider, prizes from the farm stand? Our haul wouldn’t mix well with the busy road and its narrow shoulder, although I still consider the adventure from time to time.

It was at this orchard, only a few years ago, that I first saw a pear tree. I was taken by its golden aura in the early autumn sunlight. Every year they put out a PYO (pick your own) sign when the berries come in, and somehow I never make it there—in fact, I don’t recall ever picking berries from a patch. This year, I am determined to make it to blueberry harvest and emerge, stained purple, happy, and ready for a pie.

I’ve been reading about harvests lately, a venture that goes so well with the spilling proliferation of summer, vines and stems laden with promise.

Anne Porter (who was artist Fairfield Porter’s wife) captures that spilling over in her poem The Pear Tree—here are the last two stanzas:

And every blossom
Is flinging itself open
Wide open

Disclosing every tender filament
Sticky with nectar
Beaded with black pollen.

In Early Spring, ecologist Amy Seidl mixes her scientific knowledge about climate change with her love (and worry) for her Vermont surroundings. Her words about berries make me want to garden ambitiously, perhaps even with an orchard in mind:

 …I walk the acre as if it were a hundred, planning the geometry for my fruit tree grid. I envision apple, pear, and plum, and of course the hardy Reliance peach. And in as many places as possible, berries: currant, gooseberry, blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry. The list of varieties reads like a children’s fairy tale, a version of “Hansel and Gretel” where visitors stumble across an Eden dripping in fruit rather than a cottage dripping in frosting. It is very much a gardener’s fantasy, one founded in the belief that life is abundant and the role of humans is to work with nature to manifest more abundance.

This triggered a memory of my own attempt to capture an orchard on a page, actually a specific, memorable day when Gavin was still quite young and  first learned to love apples:

Orchard Day

Miles of trees, Macoun, McIntosh, Empire
and then the illuminated pears

The perfect gild and form
made him lean from the wagon
grabbing for fruit

At home we leaned down together to core it all,
heard the breaking skin, split and crunch, squirt of juice

How solemnly he sought and sorted the seeds,
big plans to plant our own grove just outside

It was a little cold that day–didn’t know the right depth or soil or way to tend

Should have planted them anyway.