Tomorrow, it will be December. Our late November weather has been so atypical with abundant sunshine, warm temperatures, and lots of wind to scour out the valley and dazzle the night sky in star shine. Like it does the kitties, who huddle together on a bench at the front door which shelters them, the wind unnerves me after a while, rattles me, gives me the “willies”, and as the poet, Billy Collins, writes in “The Willies“, ‘there is no cure for them, unlike the heebie-jeebies or the shakes…’. I remember that old Kingston Trio folk song from my youth, They Call the Wind Maria. “Maria” rhymes with “pariah” in that tune: “Maria makes the mountains sound like folks out there dyin”. The tumultuous news each day of an unhinged and racist president, a Congress working against the people, the high-profile men and their sexual assault against women, and yet another North Korea ballistic missile launched, makes me feel like that line in the song, “now I’m lost so gol’ darn lost, not even God can find me.”
Yesterday’s bad news was personal. Two email messages I receive each morning are “The Writer’s Almanac” and “Spot the Station”. I don’t know how many years I’ve started my morning by reading Garrison Keillor’s poem selection for the day, with my very first sip of coffee–even before looking at the weather. The “Spot the Station” email tells me exactly when the International Space Station will fly over my very own house, and, on clear nights or dark mornings, we go out on the dock and watch that brilliant star pass over our humble heads. On my drive into town yesterday morning, unaware that this would be the final “Writer’s Almanac” broadcast, I listened to Garrison read John Martin’s poem, “Bear in Mind”, about a man being chased by a bear and how to get it to stop, and I pondered this passage all the way to yoga class:
“I have to chase you, you know
that. Or you should. And, sure,
we both know I’ll never catch you.
So, why not give us both a break and
just stop thinking about me?”
Then, driving home late in the day, listening to a discussion on the radio about North Korea’s latest launch, the broadcaster said that it flew right over the International Space Station! I felt so demoralized, thinking it had threatened my very own spot-the-station.
As I turned on to the highway at the head of the lake, I looked for the tundra swans but they were gone from the pond. I had taken this photo the day before, and I remembered hearing Mary Oliver’s poem about a swan on “The Writer’s Almanac” awhile back. So, when I got home yesterday, I went to my collection of her books and found it, and wrote it out in my notebook, so I could feel her meaning and let it come into me. When there was no more poetry from “The Writer’s Almanac” this morning, “The Swan” was the first thing I read– even before the weather forecast–and it felt so necessary.
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
– Mary Oliver