I think a lot about “seeing” these days. For one thing, I live in a landscape so rich with crazy-beautiful stuff to see. I walk with a camera and I walk without. Two ways of seeing and they both pay loads of awesome in Alaska.
One Sunday afternoon in May, Ethan and I took kayaks out on the lagoon just down the road from where we live.
We paddled in the 50 degree sunshine and chattered about all the life and activity so different now from what’s happening there when we skate the same water in winter. From the water we could look over and see the Chugach Mountains rising to shape the edge of the Anchorage Bowl. We’d been hiking way up on a ridgeline in those mountains just the weekend before. In spite of a slight wind keeping us cool, the water was quiet as we navigated our way out to a small island filled with bird-song. So many different characters were busy at work (and play?) there and I once again I bumped Birding further up my Things To Learn list. To see all this nature with knowledge…..this is what I want.
But I’ve also been thinking about seeing what can’t be named. My life has been hard these months, these ever accumulating years. There’s been a lot of loss. A lot of grief. My story is turning out quite different from the one I expected, the one I planned for. Different by far from what I ever imagined. I’m lucky to be rooted in relationships that have anchored and held me through rough storms and I’ve been privileged to have resources for good care. But I’ve worked hard along this way. I’ve walked in the shadows. I’ve screamed in the dark.
In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard says, “The world’s spiritual geniuses seem to discover universally that the mind’s muddy river, this ceaseless flow of trivia and trash, cannot be dammed, and that trying to dam it is a waste of effort that might lead to madness. Instead you must allow the muddy river to flow unheeded in the dim channels of consciousness; you raise your sights; you look along it, mildly, acknowledging its presence without interest and gazing beyond it into the realm of the real where subjects and objects act and rest purely, without utterance. ‘Launch into the deep,’ says Jacques Ellul, ‘and you shall see.’”
A few weeks ago I went on a long morning run with a friend and afterward we sat outside a coffee shop and let cool spring sunshine bathe our tired bodies. We drank coffee, ate fresh scones, and talked about the stuff of our lives. Her week had been remarkably rough and as she described the details of one rotten story stacked upon another I wished for the elusive magic wand. I knew I couldn’t fix a single thing and she knew I couldn’t promise everything would magically all work out in the end. But if I’ve learned anything along my journey, I’ve learned the gift of presence. We sat together in the deep.
And then, a little girl stepped out from behind me and moved into our huddled space. She was maybe 4 years old, dressed in fabulous, quirky Alaska fashion – xtratufs and a cute dress. She turned her eyes to meet the gaze of my friend, opened her little fist and said, “These are for you.” A tight handful of dandelions dropped to the table. She turned and walked away. Mangled and mashed with all the beauty that a bouquet of dandelions from the hand of a child can hold, she left us with a glimpse of grace in gold.
“The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.”
Dillard says that exactly right.