Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In the moment

The first of the year was sunny, as January days surprisingly often are in the rainforest winter. I was cutting English ivy away from the trunks of trees, where it clambers back eternally, and watching with satisfaction the periodic spurt of saturated soil's floodwater from a new drainage pipe; water that for years had overtaxed the cellar's sump pump and flooded the furnace. I decided to survey the damage from the previous night's storm, which had been so strong that Thea was trancelike with trepidation during our New Year's Eve of reading and playing Chinese checkers.
I have been reading again Robert Michael Pyle's most recent book, Sky Time In Gray's River, from which I have plucked above a random paragraph. The book recounts a closely-observed year (or a compilation of many years) in Bob's home neighborhood near the mouth of the Columbia River in the American Northwest. It is a common conceit among nature writers, to record the passage of a year (or a compilation of many years) in a given place; I have done it myself. On the face of it, there is nothing about Bob's life in Gray's River that is exceptional, nothing that is different from the lives that you and I live in our own places -- nothing, that is, except attention. Bob attends. He attends voraciously. He empties out the clutter of the past and anxieties about the future and attends to the present, to the rich deep moment that overflows with particulars, particulars as fine and as common as English ivy entwining a tree and an overtaxed pump.

Why do we care? Because of the way Bob weaves the ordinary into a cloth of gold. I could expound for twenty minutes on the paragraph above, the consonances and the dissonances that without our even knowing it plump up the meaning. There is as much pleasure to be had from reading Bob's finely crafted prose as from listening to a Bach partita.

He is not trying to convince us that his place is special. Quite the opposite. He is trying to convince us that every place is special -- if attended to with care, without preconceptions, informed by knowledge, and open to surprise. I put the book aside, and I realize that my eyes are wider open, my attention more acute. The past and future have been pushed ever so gently more widely apart, making more room for the present, which suddenly fills with the unexpected extravagance of the commonplace.