I am always astonished at how quickly the landscape shifts, how completely different the soil, the rocks, the air, the water, the flora, the fauna, can vary from one moment to the next, how the interactions between these elements can take so many forms and create such different outcomes.
Like most people, we have been pretty anchored to home since last year. Covid crept in just before spring break last year, so we canceled plans and hunkered down. Since then, the farthest we have been is … I can’t even think—perhaps our annual trip to the national forest for a Christmas tree? No! After quarantining last summer, we took our children to my sisters and Jess and I went to a national park for a long weekend together. That was good. That feels like so long ago.
During winter break, as we lamented all of the people we loved that we would not see—all of the family only a few miles away, all of the family only a couple of hours by car, all of the family on the other side of the country—we made plans for spring break. We love our home and are fortunate to live in a beautiful place, yet we have been sinking, gradually, into the mire. It’s the slow creep: things shift, we adapt, things shift again, we adapt again, and in a very short period of time we have moved a long way from where we started.
So, this morning, a day after spring break officially began, we slipped back into the once-familiar routine of packing the car with duffles and coolers and backpacks, mapping out our route, filling up on fuel and coffee and snacks, and settling in for a long drive. It’s been a magical day. We started with clear skies, drove over several mountain passes through fog and snow and stormy skies, between narrow rock walls carved by a river, into blue skies and massive mesas, and finally into the warmth, red soil, and layered rock of the desert. We listen to Hamilton, we listened to Harry Potter, we listened to one another. We stared out the window and we read books (when the roads weren’t too windy) and we napped. Six and a half hours and we are in another landscape, another season, another world, physically and mentally. It has a bit of the feel of time out of real life. But I am okay with that. A little break from that rhythm on the outside—a disruption, a jolt—can be just what’s needed to create a shift on the inside.
Bradbury Challenge (3)
Essay: “Apricots,” Rebecca Solnit from The Faraway Nearby
Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice.
I read this essay multiple times for multiple reasons (as we drove the straightaways): Solnit is a remarkable writer for her the perfect choice of each of her words, the way she arranges them just so, and the way she stitches together seemingly disparate thoughts and ideas. This portrait of Solnit’s mother’s decline and Solnit’s experience with it undid me, and the way she anchored it in story—the stories we tell ourselves and the stories that tell us—is brilliant and so immediately recognizable and new (another brilliant juxtaposition).
“Because here’s nothing else to do.”
“That’s it, of course, for if there were, we’d be doing it. I suppose this is the first time in the history of the world that everyone has really known just what they were going to be doing during the last night.”
“I wonder what everyone else will do now, this evening, for the next few hours.”
“Go to a show, listen to the radio, watch the TV, play cards, put the children to bed, get to bed themselves, like always.”
I wanted to reread this one, (1) because it’s Ray Bradbury and I am feeling particularly endeared to him right now, and (2) because it responds to the question addressed by Marcel Proust (via Alain de Botton) in the essay that I read two days ago about what we would do with our lives if we knew that our time was at an end. I don’t know how to answer this question–Bradbury wrote it out in a few short pages, while Proust wrote it out in over four thousand–but it’s interesting to ponder, and gets at the biggest questions of all. My favorite thought about it comes from Annie Dillard. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”: the decisions we make every single day, whether we think they are choices or not, determine the lives we live. I am working to be more aware of those decisions.
… and remembering this,
I looked up to the oblivious heavens
and tied words to images—Cassiopeia, Perseus, Cygnus, Pegasus—
and let them sing clearly through my mind.
I downloaded the wonderful Poetry Foundation app to my phone and came across this poem after my “spin” brought me 49 poems on Doubt & Commitment. It resonates, as it will with anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by a desire to write and an ineptitude rooted in comparison with one’s favorite authors. We lose our way, and then we find it again when we remember that we cannot do more than name what we see.