Month: August 2018

Designed for Flight

I’m in Corvallis for the day with an hour and a half of free time before meeting friends at the coffee shop so I drive to Bald Hill and start up the trail along Oak Creek toward Fitton Green. I love the dry grass meadows of summer and the barn swallows perched on the fence in their deep blue wings and forked tails. It’s been so hot it has been hard to enjoy the usual adventures of summer but today is a little cool, clouds above even.

I enter the woods and the drama of oaks cloaked in moss baring their long twisted history of always vying for light. A deep brown moth flies out of the brush pirouettes above my head and lands in the leaves along the bank on the side of the trail.

Moths have my heart. Drawn blindly to destructive sources of light I feel we are kindred spirits.

 

Once I was pulling English ivy off the shed at my brother’s. The ivy held a lot of dead leaves and sometimes one would flutter upward past my face as I yanked the vines loose. It was eerie; these fluttering things were them same ocher and shape as dead leaves yet they seemed alive, soft, defiant of gravity.

I slowed down and paid more attention thinking maybe a sly bird had been living in the ivy but what I discovered were moths. What a magical thing to be so ethereal as to be almost imperceptible. And what a magical thing to be in the midst of them as they are loosed from the side of an old shed.

Then there was the evening a moth dropped out of nowhere and landed on my coffee cup as I tended to a broken heart. The fluttery thing in me that looked at his web-site portrait from a list of recommendations and said, I’m going here, despite my intellect protesting that one should not seek counseling from a man one is attracted to before even arriving.

 

I likened it to a moth, that draw, and marveled at its intensity for seeking loopholes, for ignoring the one-sided nature of our conversations, for believing with such convenience that he was a lonely insightful writer with few possessions who played upright bass, loved nature, wore fedoras and would be a very sensitive and affectionate partner despite being a hermit.

My intellect considered this might not be accurate. He might not own a single fedora. He might be partnered. He might have the sort of integrity that would not allow him to pursue a client. My intellect considered that if he didn’t have this integrity my fantasy actualized would be a thing going very wrong in my life. The moth, however, had it’s own mysterious agenda that did not involve such practicalities and my intellect became a tiny afterthought barely tethering me to reality.

Eventually he mentioned a wife. I kept my cool— intellect had prepared me for this. I went to the coffee shop later to mourn the necessity of reality when an actual moth appeared and perched on my cup, white, furry, seemingly unaware of my presence. How could I not read something poignant into this?

 

How about: beings who willfully scorch themselves on artificial lights are soft and designed for flight.

Even at the time I knew what transference was, that it was normal, that it would be safe to talk about the attraction in a session if I wanted to, that I could choose another counselor. But that was scary and the moth was compelling. The draw motivated me to work and his affirmative statements cashed out in my soul at a value of 1000 times than had they been issued by an unattractive colleague. Also it kept me from getting back together with my ex-boyfriend.

It must be an intense sensation for the caterpillar to liquefy itself in order to acquire wings. So my normally rational, self-contained personality sat over coffee that evening with a moth trying to embrace this departure from sense and maturity.

Today I climb through the oaks to the top of the ridge and lay on a split log bench in the sun. The cool air and dry leaves along the trail remind me of Autumn and evoke the feeling of eternity infused into each moment and molecule. It is a beauty almost imperceptible and defiant of life’s gravity. It is a beauty that makes me feel rich and loved despite all my troubles with these ordinary parts of life. I hold this ethereal wealth all the way back to the trail-head becoming part of the meadow’s population alongside the swallows and bugs, no longer a detached observer.

Some people believe that our quirks, our troubling oddities contain the most precious parts of ourselves, things so delicate we hide them in tight cocoons to make sure no one will ever have the chance to despise them. This moth-self in all it’s intensity to dream up a perfect and epic love has something important lurking with her in the dead leaves of the ivy. What can I do besides slow down and pay attention while I pull down each idea that ever made me ashamed for holding my own epic source of light.

 

A Strange Amount of Courage

Cascade Head South Trail is a fairy tale staircase of exposed roots climbing though a cavern of giant spruce trees and berry thickets into the meadows that overlook the ocean and a dense lumpy cloud cover. I got a late start on this hike and figured I could walk in for 30 minutes before I needed to turn around and drive back to Portland. 60 minutes out I’m looking at the top of Cascade Head from below wondering, is that a 5 minute walk? A ten minute walk? It’s 8 pm and I decide to be reasonable, stop taking pictures of the cloud bank, and head back.

The forest light is dim now. Swainson’s thrushes are filling the wood with their mystic arpeggios and sometimes it sounds like there is one right next to the trail. I stop and try to spot one in the tall leafy brush to no avail. They are good at hiding, being still, throwing their voices. Around a bend I startle one into noisy wing beats and watch it fly deeper into the brush. I still can’t get a good look at it and eventually move along until one flies up the trail and lands on a tree in plain sight. I spot it in my binoculars long enough to recognize the brown spots across its breast but it flies off before I can focus. The light continues to fade so I forget about spotting birds and listen instead to the spiraling songs coming from every direction, the water-drop calls traded back and forth.

Once a coworker asked me if I knew what bird made a certain song, before he even began his description I knew he was talking about a Swainson’s Thrush because of the wonder in his eyes. He had clearly been touched by something soft and shimmery, something transcending the roughness of the world. He looked the Swainson’s song up on-line and was excited to finally give the singer its proper name, to know what it looked like.

Down the trail a ways I hear a couple Varied Thrushes sing, the eerie harmonic of their simple one note song drifting elegantly through the woods. If my coworker had been asking about a Varied Thrush his eyes would have held awe and a slight apprehension of the seedy underworld this bird had given him a glimpse of by parting his thoughts into silence like a heavy velvet curtain. Could the woods be more charmed? Listening to two of my favorite bird songs at the same time is so lovely, I kid you not, all I can think is: why do people eat ice cream when they could wander off into an evening of bird song and mossy shadows?

I don’t want to leave. I just taught a one day workshop at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology and I think to myself, it should have been a week-long workshop, this is paradise. Before I checked in I hiked the Cascade Head Trail that starts near the Highway. It was not as magical as this dusk walk but it was equally enthralling to watch the Wilson’s Warblers flit about in brush making their fierce kissing calls, indicating I was unwelcome. The Chestnut-backed Chickadees entranced by berries along the trail were so close it seemed I could hear the softness of their feathers in their noisy fluttering and see how they can sing even while holding a berry in-beak.

A Raven then flew over in its varied commentary which made me feel watched and laughed at. This seemed appropriate because at that point I was pretty sure I didn’t really want to be an art teacher—what better way to deflect the stress of wanting so much to be good at what one does? I had spent the whole car trip worrying about running out of paint. Luckily there was nothing to do but proceed as planned. I started the workshop nervous, wondering if it was such a good idea to trust that my knowledge of the book form I was teaching would inform my words instead of planning what to say.

My knowledge did inform me what to say and my love of seeing people making books emptied me of my normal agendas and judgments in the same way the Varied Thrush’s song does. It was not a barren kind of emptiness. It was a tangible contentment supporting people in voicing their creativity while learning a new and sometime puzzling art form. It was not unlike watching a chickadee sing while holding a berry between its beak and I felt like I was being of service as I do when I volunteer.

A few days after the workshop while I am at home in a seemingly unrelated conversation I will learn something about purpose, about singing regardless of what we hold. I tell a friend about my latest muse, how I’m sure he has many admirers. Men are so attractive when they share their expertise, I say.

Humans are attractive when they are in their purpose, my friend says. He’s right. This man’s intellectual prowess is not the draw, it’s his passion. I imagine he spent his life immersed in the things he loves and now seems deeply imbued with them.

I consider this alongside my experience of service and decide we have the most to give when we allow our own purpose to guide us. It is not a thing to double check, to asses rationally in terms of the world’s needs. I don’t know what my muse is like as a person but the attraction uncovers my own animus: how I want to be in the world.

We all have a right to choose that our lives matter deeply to us even if they matter to no one else. It seems like a small thing. But for some of us it requires a strange amount of courage to choose because choosing obligates us to do things we imagine will lose the affections of others.

Making this choice obligated me to part with privacy and start an odd autobiographical and illustrated blog about being outdoors a little engrossed in my own thoughts. To my surprise, keeping the blog feels like growing out from under the large rock that has always rested on my spirit. And now that I understand purpose a little more I’m imagining these posts as an eerie harmonic floating through the far woods, occasionally touching a dusk traveler who, for a moment, slips out of their agendas to be presented with a choice to love the seedy, unplanned life they so elegantly inhabit.

July

July