Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lost in Looking

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I love the way Annie Dillard describes “stalking” and observing a muskrat: “But he never knew I was there.” “I never knew I was there, either. For that forty minutes last night I was as purely sensitive and mute as a photographic plate; I received impressions, but I did not print out captions. My own self-awareness had disappeared; it seems now almost as though, had I been wired with electrodes, my EEG would have been flat.” …. “I have noticed that even a few minutes of this self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. I wonder if we do not waste most of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves. Martin Buber quotes an old Hasid master who said, ‘When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you.’”

Later in the same chapter Dillard says that “…at the creek I slow down, center down, empty. I am not excited; my breathing is slow and regular. In my brain I am not saying, Muskrat! Muskrat! There! I am saying nothing.” …. “Instead of going rigid, I go calm. I center down wherever I am; I find a balance and repose. I retreat – not inside myself, but outside myself, so that I am a tissue of senses. Whatever I see is plenty, abundance. I am the skin of water the wind plays over; I am petal, feather, stone.”

I was so excited when I read that last line. I felt a beautiful jolt of recognition, a sweet shock of related language and spirit. Here’s an older poem of mine that voices a similar experience:


Here I witness my own silent slipping
out of skin into pewter water.
At last, this quiet,
this weightless place up the hill from my house:
moss-softened sound, low frog whistle,
slow ripples on the pond.
A breeze combs my hair to seaweed,
soothes my thoughts petal-smooth.
The gold rib of the moon floats by,
swirling gold along my liquid spine.
At last, all alone, at home
among the tongueless stones.
I am the cold current
riding their glistening backs.

The pond up the road from my house really is a “weightless place,” a peaceful place to shed one's human skin, to become only a still eye witnessing the world, lost in Dillard’s “abundance.” Somehow we feel most alive and engaged when we forget ourselves.

“Alone” was first published in Defined Providence many years ago, then became part of my first book, Teaching Bones to Fly. The photograph of the pond / vernal pool at the top of my road was taken 5/7/08. Last I looked, about a week ago, it was gone. It will return…


Admin said...

I love her writing SOOO much, and I definitely remember the passage you shared. Brings back all the same spine tingles from when I first read Pilgrim.

Christine said...

Yes, Dillard's writing is electric and eye-opening. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is especially riveting and vivid, right from that initial passage about the tomcat who leaps through her window at night, sometimes covering her in blood and "roses." Thanks for visiting!

Deborah Batterman said...

Isn't it a gift to have a place so nearby that brings you to that state? As beautifully as you (and Annie Dillard) capture it, it is truly a state of being beyond words.

Christine said...

Thanks, Deborah! Yes,it is a gift to have the pond, to watch the seasons shift in its mirror. (Except in summer, when it sometimes disappears!)

Unknown said...

Found your blog by chance a couple of weeks ago. It's been great to have a browse and to find more of your work on line.
I love this post - being lost yet totally present in Nature is one of the themes I return to a lot, so I felt at home in your words. Thanks for sharing.
It's great to have a new writer to look out for. Best wishes, S x

Christine said...

Thank you, "Spot" -- I'm so glad you visited. Yes, "lost yet totally present in Nature." I like that. I just had fun checking out your blog...loved the post on crows. Keep your eyes open...