There is something arresting and unearthly about a magnolia tree in flower. Something that dances between divinity and dementia. A whirling dervish of a tree. Bursting with grace and an utter lack of restraint. See how it holds up its leafless branches. A candelabra, extravagantly ablaze with lunatic blossoms and zero sense of rationing or self-preservation. See how these flowers, some the size of your clenched fist, some the size of your whole hand, yawn open, with such unrestrained ardor it nearly turns them inside out. See how they do not bloom so much as detonate, in a series of soft explosions. See how like the fleshy tongues of dragons they are. These enormous creamy petals streaked with sunset shades. How their thick scent drugs the air. Drowns all thought in sweetness. An ancient tree architected for prehistoric times. Magnolias have bloomed on earth for 100 million years. Yes. These flowers opened above the heads of dinosaurs, long before humankind was a twinkle in the eye of the universe. And because they predate even the bees, their propagation across time and space was left to outsized beetles, who stricken with wanderlust stumbled across these velvety inner chambers. Kicked up a dusty cloud of pollen and unleashed a long chain of events that unfurled across the last Ice Age, and into the Stone Age and alongside the rise and fall of nameless tribes and civilizations, and the creation of the printing press, the steam engine, frothy cappuccinos and the birth of the internet, leading improbably to this very tree. Here. The one directly in front of me. The one my husband strolls under at the exact moment that a little lick of wind decides to kick up its heels. A handful of petals drift gently over him like a benediction. An origami instant that folds itself into my palm. Dear and delicate as a paper crane. Later I will look up what magnolia flowers symbolize. Nobility, beauty, dignity….Dignity…I think about the word. How it stands tall and runs deep and how much it has to do with integrity and how little with being — normal. I think about this outlandish tree that traces back to Time’s cradle, and its flowers that open alarmingly wide as if to swallow the sun, the way it gives itself madly to the moment. With radical generosity and no reservation. And what wouldn’t be possible — if we could learn to live like that.
Category Archives: Naturesque
A woman on a November morning is watching a squirrel beneath her window. In a small patch of dirt and grass and sunshine she sees him foraging. If asked she would be hard pressed to describe the color of his fur. It is a shifting landscape of grey, brown, white and black. His tail is a dancing plume. Everything about him is quick, alert, vigorous. He is alive, she thinks to herself, in a way that it is hard to be alive if you have been sitting in front of a screen much of the day instead of sprinting up and down tree trunks scouting out the choicest acorns and burying them in secret caches. Every so often he stands up on his hind legs and looks around to ensure that neither the government nor the blue jays are spying on him. [Just to be safe he relocates his stash a couple of times]. When he stands up, his front paws that functioned until that moment as legs, instantly become hands. In this stance he looks, astonishingly, like a little person. He picks things up, examines and eats them in a way that is quite human. But his jaw works more rapidly than any person alive. She marvels at his resourcefulness and pragmatism. This ability to find food in backyard flora and the foresight he has to put aside a portion of it for leaner times. She has read that squirrels, while admirably meticulous about burying their acorns, have a less than impeccable track record when it comes to retrieval. Lost in the myriad details of the squirrely life they are known to foolishly forget where they left their loot, in the way that humans stumbling out of airports and shopping malls, have trouble remembering where they parked their cars. But squirrel hoarding is not the same as human hoarding. Squirrels for instance have not been known to open Swiss bank accounts or shop at Costco. Also their hoarding habits frequently result in the birth of oak trees. It can be said with reasonable surety that human hoarding has yet to yield any such magnificent outcomes. And it occurs to her suddenly that human greed and negligence have destroyed forests that the squirrels’ acquisitive and forgetful nature helped plant. And it is at this precise moment that the squirrel beneath her window looks up. With a gaze so clear-eyed, vibrant, and empty of accusation, that she feels at once chastened and forgiven on behalf of her kind.
I wish you could have seen her as I did, in the early morning light. A little bird perched on the rearview mirror of our parked car. Alone and utterly unaware of her audience. She tips her body over the edge and for a brief moment thoughtfully surveys herself upside down. Then shoots up into the air like a firecracker, a feathered bundle of urgency, and attempts to fly directly into her reflection. Over and over again she repeats this sequence of steps. Undaunted by the obdurate glass or her head-on failure. Perhaps the sight of the slight, bright-eyed being in the mirror has moved her to admiration and compassion. “Don’t worry you beautiful creature,” she seems to be saying, “I see you — and I am coming to get you!” Standing there, I am captivated by how captivated she is by the bird-in-the-glass. How fiercely determined she is to make contact, to establish a birdly bond with the mythical “other”. She is oblivious to the situation’s impossibility. And I wonder if she is getting dizzy in the head. I wonder what her beak is made of. I wonder if she is driven by loneliness, nobility or a bit of both. “You sweet, silly bird!” I whisper. Close to an hour later she is still at it. And I wonder suddenly, what would happen, if you could catch a glimpse of yourself in this world and not know that it was you. I believe you too would be transfixed by the fragile beauty you saw. I believe you too would try, against reason and hope, to befriend the breathing miracle that you are.
Footsteps in the hall and the familiar sound of a key turning in its lock. My husband is home. He drops his lunch bag by the door like a schoolboy. Hurry, he says, there’s something time-sensitive you need to see. I am pulled to my feet by curiosity and the urgency in his voice. We hustle into the cool, dark arms of a January night. There, he says, pointing. And I see it. Low in an ink black sky, a glowing vowel. The incandescent moon. Floating in the valley like a delinquent bauble, barely skimming the tip of an ancient pine. I want to stretch my hands out to it like a child. How many millennia old is that impulse? How old is the relationship between mortals and the moon? …Time-sensitive… Like falling leaf the phrase flutters and gleams in the moonlight. I consider its truth and poetry for the first time, unsettled by awe. Hurry (whoever-wherever-whenever you are). There’s something time-sensitive you need to see.
This morning I looked out of the window just in time to see a dive bombing blue jay. The sight impressed me greatly. The way he dropped from a high tree branch, streaking like a small comet or a superhero. Swooping upward only at the very last possible second. Because he did not appear to have one, I gave him a name. I called him: Reckless Abandon. It suits him well. This daring, winged creature. I believe he is destined to be famous in my world. For he showed me how flying can look alarmingly like falling. He showed me too, how too full of reck I am. How reluctant to abandon anything. Why? he demanded to know. This blue strident bird. I had no answer. But one day, old, time-wizened, happy, I will look out the window. Ready to leave my perch. I will remember the flight of Reckless Abandon. And how it changed everything
Behold the pea plant. How it grows! Tossing tendrils in the air
like slender hands, as if the ground were an ocean, and it,
in danger of drowning. An unreasonable pea-green longing
for lifeline; a lattice, a lamp post, a little wire. What it touches
it spools tightly as thread. True to that valiant motto of pea plants
everywhere: Never Let Go. Such fierceness in one who begins life
so floppy and frail is admirable, also instructive, for those among us
built like the pea plant. Drowning in daily trifles and forgetfulness,
casting our tendrils into the blue unknown, and looking for truth
like a trellis.
Only the arrogant say they do not have time.
Look out the window now and consider this:
You’ve stared at an expressionless screen
And played an unmusical keyboard all day
While the leaves, the leaves on the old oak
Have been feasting on sunlight, yes, chomping
With great relish, and pausing occasionally to
Sip a bit of water from the great tumbler of earth.
Only the ungrateful refuse food at a banquet,
And those fasting in remembrance (Which are you?)
The wise leaves know to eat, drink, and be merry.
Wordless they bless the life around them, while
You my friend, are just so busy being busy.
The poetry of the Geminids is cobbled together from celestial cast-offs. Cosmic rubble inscribes the night sky for insomniacs, wish-makers and lovers of mystery with upturned moonflower faces. Brilliant lines flash and fade, elusive as dreams, leaving you tingling and wordless in their wake. Housed in a universe whose dustflecks blaze forth with untellable beauty, what fierce incandescence then, might your life, on this blue whirling dervish of a planet, be capable of?
The poetry of pumpkins blazes forth on front stoops just as summer ‘s heels vanish around the corner trailing vines and gray clouds like scarves. Plump and pedigreed descendants of the charmed stagecoach that once-upon-a-time delivered a fairytale princess and her fragile footwear into destiny’s arms. Now relegated to the role of Autumn’s doorman. Beguiling tiger cubs standing guard on porch steps. Unapologetically orange and somehow comforting as a campfire. Interrupting fog’s blanket statement with radiant memories of the sun. Tossing joy like hot potatoes into the pockets of passersby whose fingers will curl around it. And whose hearts will begin to glow. Jack-o-lantern fashion. From the inside out.
The poetry of a croissant moon dipped in an espresso sky dusted with powdered sugar stars will enter the bloodstream directly, and begin to sing. Operatically. A pick-me-up to be slow-sipped at your own peril. Imbibe, and you risk lying awake all night. Buzzing with the beauty of the universe. Do not say you were not warned.