Okarito driftwood: guernseydan, NZSo I walk the shore, picking up fragments of my scattered self – a feather, a shell, a knobbly piece of driftwood. Earth, sea, sky. The tri-weave basket that holds us all. Three strands braided to bind us. A trinity indwelling anyone dwelling here.
At least, I think this explains it. Why I snatch at each object as if it were some crucial clue in a mystery I must solve. A wave-scrubbed shell; a cast-off feather; a useless chard of wood; a solitary, beach-combing woman – nothings in a vast universe, all, and yet each flames forth with a singular and urgent beauty.
At least, I think this explains it. Why it pleases me to see my own sandy footprints mixed in with the tattered hieroglyphs of bird tracks. Why I cried, yesterday, over the turtle which had wandered into my minuscule back yard. There, he’d be safe, but have no ready access to food and water, so I let him go in the thin strip of woods behind my house. There, he’d be free to seek what he needs to live, but his life would be in constant peril from the steady stream of cars into a nearby parking lot. There were no good choices left for that turtle.
At least, I think this explains it. Why it bothered me so much when the flags and bunting for July 4th went up in Wal-Mart right after Memorial Day, and as soon as the Independence Day weekend passes, back-to-school items will appear along with clearance sales and fall clothes. Summer, it seems, is one month long now. We’re more firmly tethered to marketing cycles than to Nature’s cycle of seasons.
soon to be blackberries: Dean Forbes, Seattle
At least, I think this explains it. Why I’ve been keeping such a vigilant watch on those blackberry bushes. The shy green blush. The profligate cascades of flowers. The brown tatters of petals clinging to a tight green knob. Then a rust-colored blush, a pristine virgin red, a ripe black purpled with juice and promise.
I’ll stay sentinel throughout the coming months. Wal-Mart will be decorated for Christmas when emerald leaves turn topaz and birds finish off those berries. Just as the naked stems settle into their snow-blanketed beds, Wal-Mart will be urging us to buy next spring’s fashions.
And that explains it. Why most of us teeter through life unbalanced, on edge, anxious, like overworked donkeys chasing carrots-on-sticks. Forget the tri-weave basket of earth, sea and sky that contains us in a slow, unfolding now. Packaging, marketing and sales, that’s the braid that binds us fast to an uneasy if, then, when. We're all wandering around like that turtle I found yesterday, unable to see that to provide for ourselves by destroying our connection to the natural world is no good choice at all.
So here, take my osprey feather. Its shaft is called a rachis. Fused to that are branches called barbs, but you don’t need to know that to call my feather beautiful, its graceful arc all mottled brown and white.
Take my oyster shell. It could be washed up from Miocene era sediment, some 20 million years old. You’ll love its gleaming patina: cameo pink, dove gray, lucent copper. And the way it curves so perfectly into the palm of your hand, you’ll enjoy that, as well.
Take my long, thin, crooked stick of driftwood, sanded smooth as silk by the bay. Salt and time have stained its grain into ink-dark, wave-like whorls. It would be easy to fall into those eddying depths, don’t you think?
Take all my little trinkets, you’ll need them. As we walk time’s wave-lapped shore, picking up remnants of our scattered Self.
photo: adamantine, Marblehead MAElizabeth Ayres is the author of Know the Way (poetry, Infinity, 2005) and Writing the Wave (how-to, Perigee, 2000), and is completing American Dreamscape: Encounters with the Wonder of Earth, Sea and Sky, a collection which includes this reflection. She runs Creative Writing Center retreats in Chesapeake Bay country. She performs her essays on Internet radio Saturday evenings at 6 p.m. eastern time.