I’ll always remember the sweltering night in Missouri, the pulsing din of the katydids, the prairie grass stretching away on the other side of the trees. In the dark woods across the pond, a lost calf bleats its anguish— six times, then eight, then six again. I sit at the camp table listening, as so many nights before. In the tent, sleeping, the boy, now thirteen, the woman, after twenty-seven years. Moths and greenbugs attack the lantern, flapping crazily. Before I finish tonight they will land in the halo of the hot gas light, diligently search out the lantern’s air vents and incinerate themselves. In the morning I will brush away the fine white ash. This is not a fitting metaphor for any human aspiration. The light we are seeking is not the kind that destroys those who seek it. True, the bright burning gas tempts us sometimes. I know, I know. There are nights when we feel that bad. I turn the valve of the lantern to off and wait for my vision to adjust to the darkness. The almost inaudible breathing from the tent comforts me. I think of us sitting on the shore as the last sunlight seeped from the sky, watching the boy cast his fishing line again and again out into the pond, catching nothing except happiness. The light we are seeking catches all the world in the shooting arc of the outthrown line, never to be lost, not bounded by night, dangerous only to death.
It wasn’t where we wanted to live but you have to put down roots to thrive. Daily we bore the shock of forbearance— our own and our neighbors’: the noise, the smell! Be fruitful! We tried. Soil of lead arsenate, cadmium. We added our detritus, peel and core: redemption. And now our mineral prison blooms in this, the year of our departure: now at last the berries fruit in blue abundance. Which goes to show our acts are not our own; what we make does not belong to us. At best we fade softly as timothy, and leave our harvest to the next people.
Maker of galaxies, at latest count Billions! And who can say that our Big Bang Was not preceded, from your primal fount By other billions, while the angels sang? Then shall we take the word of a great Jew, That one child is more precious in your sight Than all the rocks in all the worlds you view, And loyal anima is your delight? Maker of galaxies, how then weigh out A small Iraqi eye, terror-suffused, Against the marvels you have brought about, Why are your little children so abused? “Not bread, not miracles, not use of power,” So your Son said. We must await your hour.
Spring did not officially arrive until two this afternoon, or so the weatherspinner had informed us, so that when, at morning prayer, my still wintered words were interrupted by a pair of honking calls, I laughed aloud to think that my Canadian neighbors of several springtimes had beaten nature’s clock by seven hours and more to seek their customary lot along the creek for hatching this year’s brood.
Minutes later—the creed and half a prayer, no less— and their first raucous pass to reconnoitre was followed by the splashdown run, low now across our deck and through the clustered trees onto that quiet pool stretching above the rapids where, over the next few days, they will be joined, most likely, by a familiar pair of mallard ducks who share their taste in shoreline real estate. Meanwhile a red-tailed hawk orbits high aloft in leisurely anticipation.