The February snows continued, until more than a foot lies on the ground. At the end of the drive, the piles reach above my head. Side streets are rutted iceways, the main streets lined with walls of white. I've shoveled paths to the birdfeeders, paths the squirrels use as superhighways for their pillaging, but as always I forgive them in this time of desperation. The birds find their share, as does my rabbit friend with the damaged leg.
The ice-cold sunshine has made the days deceptively beautiful, it's been harsh, but the days of winter are relentlessly moving toward their ending. Today will be above freezing for the first time in a long time, and the pure whites will melt to brown and gray slush. Which is sad. It's been nice looking out at that plush carpet, thinking of the spring that lies beneath, but enjoying the postcard snowglobe beauty. Beautiful so long as I have my place of warm refuge.
So winter wends its way to spring.
All things change, relentlessly, without our consent or even consultation. The best we can do, what we should do, the only thing we can do, is accept and adapt, and remember that the world, the universe, moves at its own pace, in its own time and direction. We are but mere bubbles of sentience, momentary musings of an ever-changing mystical deep consciousness. To be alive is a blessing, what came before and what follows must always be a mystery.
Tat Tvam Asi .
Seven plus inches of snow yesterday, no wind, a steady fall, sort of like being inside a snow globe once the shaking has stopped and everything is settling back into place. Today is sunny and just a bit on the cold side; the snow sparkles like flecks of mica, puffs of fall from trees as a squirrel passes by or a bird sets down. Even here in the city, quiet reigns, broken only by the occasional passing car or the distant drone of someone's snowblower.
This is the time of winter at which I have mixed feelings about my snowbird friends, those with condos in the south, to which they can retreat when it all seems a cold drudgery. Sometimes I'd like to be one, and even consider moving to a place where snow is an event instead of an expectation. But then there are days like this, I don't think I'd trade it for anything. Clearing snow was a pleasant chore, even the heavier chunks thrown up by that damned snow plow. I even sort of envy my other friends, the ones with cabins up further north, where the snows are serious and longer lasting. Where winter mean snowshoes and skis, and ice adventure.
But mostly I'm content. The soft hum of a working furnace, beams of sunlight through the kitchen windows, a cup of hot coffee, and my laptop. No aches or pains, family and friends all seem safe. I honestly can't ask for more at the moment.
Walking to the bird feeder this morning, I sensed I was being watched. I turned around and saw my rabbit friend with the bad back leg staring at me. He’s set up residence under our porch, had heard me clunking to the screen door, and had followed me toward the feeder, with great interest in the birdseed I was putting in the feeders and spreading on the ground. As I walked back toward the porch, he turned around and kept pace in front of me on the narrow path through the snow, stopping and looking, keeping careful watch, finally darting under the porch, to emerge soon as I had gone inside. We have a relationship, but it’s tempered by his DNA, an overly large (and necessary) fear mechanism that keeps him constantly ready to flee; I doubt he will ever fully trust me. I don’t take it personally.
He wasn’t the only watcher. Chickadees had sounded in the cherry tree above one feeder, and from what I understand they don’t just make random sounds, they communicate about possible danger. I’m pretty sure their message was, “he’s okay, he won’t be staying long, and he’s bringing food.” Because at the same time rabbit re-emerged, they flitted to the feeders. Soon the local pair of cardinals swooped down from the tops of far trees -- they’d been watching, too, waiting to be sure the chicadees had correctly assessed the situation.
Before long the first squirrel began bounding across the crusted snow. They’d been watching me, too, and with good reason. They know I don’t approve of them raiding the feeders and hogging the seed, and they know I’m likely to hurl epithets, maybe even snowballs, in their direction. So they monitor my every move.
As I stand at the window, watching the show, my attention is drawn to one of the several small holes in the snowbank under the nearest feeder. At first glance the holes seem nothing more than random patterns from the slow and intermittent snowmelt, but they are more deliberate. As I watch, a bit of black emerges and sinks back, as though a shadow had tried to escape and thought better of it. Soon the shadow emerges again, longer this time. Before long it’s out and stretched out against the white snow. A vole, a timid mouse-like creature (sometimes in fact called a “field mouse”). It’s out, then dashes back inside. However watchful the others are, these guys are far more cautious. As they should be, small and essentially helpless against predators, they rely solely on caution, which is kind of hard to find when you are black against white. Hence the quick darts to spilled birdseed, to stash it in the snow tunnels, then come back for more, to finally settle down inside the cold dark tunnels to eat. Safe inside until the spring snowmelt. But that’s another story.
My lovebird flits to my shoulder, and he watches, too, especially the birds that drift or dart down. He sometimes yells at them and, knowing his personality, he’d try to take them on should I let him out there. But of course I won’t. He has no idea what cold means, and no interest in seed those birds eat with such enthusiasm. He might not know it, but he’s far better off inside with me, as one of the inside watchers.
We settle at the kitchen table, the bird on my shoulder as I type this, knowing the show outside goes on whether we watch or not, but grateful to have seen at least one act.
One concept drilled into me when I was younger, was that the time will come to “grow up.” Meaning, I thought and think, to set aside ways of living that society deemed limited to those who hadn't yet learned better. As we grew older, we were supposed to “grow up”/ i.e. reach up, to the standards society set for adults. Even St. Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Took me awhile to come to terms with the idea that maybe good old Paul was a kind of pleasureless prig.
As I look back on my life, I know the time when I had the most energy and enthusiasm was when I didn’t pay much attention to adult norms. But that’s not quite an accurate statement. I was haunted by those norms, and well aware that I didn’t much comport with them. I avoided growing up well into my young adult life Eventually that ghost of “grown-up” behavior overtook my natural intuitions and I decided, chose, to grow up. So I set aside my childish things, traded long hair and blue jeans for a three-piece suit, traded semi-casual labor for my own office with windows. Stopped playing games for the pure pleasure of them, stopped laughing childishly. Grew up into an alien world.
Became somewhat of a prig myself.
And so much of my natural life energy ebbed away. I tried to do the adult things, because they were and are adult things, but I was forcing myself into a mold that didn’t fit. I ended up in the midst of people who had “grown up” but never really liked it. The result was I rarely did well in that world. I tried, I understood what to do, but, to borrow an old expression, my heart wasn’t in it. Literally. My heart was in abeyance.
My natural friends, I thought, had drifted away. But I know now that they didn’t leave me, I left them.
I’ve come to believe that “growing up” is code for “fitting in,” and I’ve further come to believe that “childish things” ought not be put away. At least not permanently and, to give Paul some credit he may or may not deserve, I note that he didn’t say abandon those things, he said to put them away. Maybe he meant store them up for later. I’ll presume he did. And to go a bit further, I’m not sure he was convinced it was a good thing to be where he was, only a description of where he was in life. I’ll grant him that.
I realize now the direction I must grow is down. Down to my roots. It’s one’s roots that make one strong, tendrils of spirit seeking out the sources of life itself. Finding purpose and purchase in the ground of being, to hold strong against the winds of conformity that sweep across society.
I have little interest now in playing the roles I’ve been assigned, and I think I’m about ready to pay the price. To grow down.
To quote e.e. Cummings:
“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”
I shall gird my loins and prepare to live the right life. By going back to my roots. By growing down.
The copy of the Tao te Ching I have carried around with me for more than 50 years has disappeared. Or, more likely, I left it on some hotel room floor. The question I ask myself is, have I unlearned enough to let it go, or do I need to replace it? Certainly it serves (served) as a reminder, but at some point sometime I'll need to venture out on my own.
I remember when I came across the book, and the concept of Taoism, long ago, when I was a college student working part-time in the university library. I worked in the new books area, and one of my jobs was to remove the dust covers from books as they came in, the thinking being, I guess, that those covers are going to get torn and dirty anyway, so why not remove them. Anyway, this version of the Tao te Ching, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, with an introduction by (and my first introduction to) Alan Watts, was a coffee table type, with beautiful black-and-white photos, was my entrance into that whole world of what was then known as "the counter-culture." I was entranced and somewhat intellectually transformed by it. This whole new way (old way) of looking at the world, at least partly in terms of contradictory concepts. I can truthfully say that, for better or for worse, I became a different person. I also ended up dropping out of school, but then that's a whole different story.
If I haven't found my truth as it relates to the Tao, one wonders if I ever will do so in this lifetime. But perhaps that's part of it, the realization that the words will vanish into the ether, as will the reader, but that truth will likely remain (or perhaps not-be) in its own way. It certainly doesn't need me, the question is how much I need it. I think I need it a lot.
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