Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012, I think that you were at least three years worth of year.

We started you off with just so much loss, losing babies and family and marriages, losing dignity and grace and a helping of our faith in the universe. I have always had trouble dealing with the size of the universe, with the idea that everything in it is connected and related, and this is partly why. That is a heavy burden of sadness to bear, and the responsibility for many things that are out of our hands. In any case, at the beginning of you most of what we though we had built so beautifully tumbled down around our ears, and we spent a long time bewildered and lost.

So we set everything on fire and careened around the world waiting to see what would emerge from the flames, which flowers are the quickest to bloom. This was a big travel year for me, made mostly of places I've never been before. I went to Iceland and looked down into the cracks in the earth and to Victoria for tea and romance. I turned 30 in Paris, surrounded by friends, fulfilling a promise made to my much younger self. I went back to North Carolina to watch my baby brother graduate, out on a sailboat and over to the fair. I did a mentionable amount of park sitting and whiskey tasting and giraffe feeding, and ate more delicious food than is prudent for one very small girl.

We lost a lot this year, but maybe in the end we gained just a little bit more. In any case there are always the constants, the love and laughing and champagne, books and dance parties and adventures. In February I went to see Dave Isay talk about the latest Storycorp book. Some of the stories he read, but for a few minutes he played the recordings from the Storycorp booth. We all bowed our heads to listen, the whole auditorium of strangers drawn close for a moment by these tales of love found and then lost and lost and then found. We stumbled out later, a little shaken, changed in some way. Sad, and somehow better people than we were when we walked in. If you have taught me anything, 2012, it is that we may never run out of new ways to feel the iron in our bones but that we will also never stop surprising ourselves with how close we are to the divine heart of ourselves. That life often is both cruel and generous and that, as Steinbeck says, nothing good gets away.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sometimes, when the air is frozen but the ground is not, the sap inside of a plant will swell and burst open, making cracks and holes all along the stem. The plant can't stop drinking from the ground, though, and so it continues to pull water all along its capillaries, water that freezes once it meets the air and then gets pushed out further by new water coming forward and freezing. If you're a regular plant this gives you flowers made of frost, and if you're a tree it gives you a long soft beard. In either case these frost formations are so delicate that, if they make it past dawn, they crumble at the touch.

It turns out that these flowers blossom similarly on young ice, in places where the air is colder than the water. On the sea the ice manages to draw into itself large concentrations of salt, which seems like it would make anything living inside the flowers impossible. Except that as usual life finds a way, and if you collect a flower and bring it inside you'd find that each blossom holds a million tiny creatures, doing no one knows what. Building little bacteria societies, maybe, in flowers made of ice like a fairytale. Writing little bacteria laws, having little bacteria parties, and disappearing back into the water. Or to wherever it is frost flowers go when their air gets warm.

Monday, December 17, 2012

There is nothing to be said right now, not any way to make things right or better or good. All there is right now is the promise of time's softening hand and our own intent to double our efforts to be kind, to continue the struggle to not let what is bad overtake what is good.

All that I can give you is again this letter written by Henry James:
Don't melt too much into the universe, but be as solid and dense and fixed as you can. We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see.

My dear Grace, you are passing through a darkness in which I myself in my ignorance see nothing but that you have been made wretchedly ill by it; but it is only a darkness, it is not an end, or the end. Don't think, don't feel, any more than you can help, don't conclude or decide—don't do anything but wait. Everything will pass, and serenity and accepted mysteries and disillusionments, and the tenderness of a few good people, and new opportunities and ever so much of life, in a word, will remain. You will do all sorts of things yet, and I will help you. 
All I can do right now is the best I can, however little that might be.

Monday, December 10, 2012

In hurricanes sometimes birds will get caught in the edges of the storm and work their way into the eye where it's safe. This is a risky strategy, since they're usually stuck there until the storm dissipates, sometimes flying much longer than they're able and forgoing food and water until the sky quiets down. At the end of things these hurricane birds end up in entirely new places, sometimes far away from their homes. Bird watchers love it when this happens, since it gives them a chance to see birds that they would otherwise miss.

Some of the stronger fliers force their way through any hurricane in their path, the zugunruhe more convincing than the winds and the rain. These birds know where they're going and the likely consequences of not getting there.

Once a year all the hurricane birds get together, I bet, to reminisce about the day they were all swept up together and taken someplace new. The migratory instinct is built into their bones, we know, enough to cause some of them to defy a hurricane, but even birds could use an excuse to start over somewhere new.

Still it seems that it's just a matter of time until something evolves to live only in the eyes of storms, searching the edges of the clouds and traveling in the calm places. Eating only rain and lightning, wings always open, migrating with the hurricanes.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

We went to see Chasing Ice last week, which happens in part at the top of some of the glaciers I was at the bottom of in May. Iceland is sort of an alarming experience to think about since I find plate tectonics even scarier than birds, and Iceland is the place where you can basically see all the way to the end of everything. I try not to think about how thin the layer is that separates us from a fiery death. Just rocks and the whims of an indifferent planet.

At one point a glacier in approximately Greenland the size of much of Manhattan breaks off and rolls over. It happens over an incredibly short amount of time, especially given how long it took to make. Anything nearby would have been frozen or drowned or crushed.

Sometimes it's a wonder we ever make it out of bed at all.