I start the day hurried, leaving the house to walk my son to school at 8 a.m. It is one foot in front of the other, as we walk single file by the side of the road towards his school. He is jabbering on about something he saw on YouTube, but I’m not really listening.
I nod and say “uh huh” at the right moments. We reach the edge of the schoolyard. I hug him tight, wish him a great day and watch for a long while as he ascends the steps towards his class.
I begin back down the hill, intending to return home quickly. I have only taken a few steps before the entire scene seems strange. I am suddenly aware of all that was previously hidden—the scurry of movement in the bushes beside me, as a family of nervous quails takes flight into the gully below, the call and answer of two lone redwing blackbirds amidst the half frozen pond, a cluster of wild crocus peeking out between fallen grass, the sound of the thaw, more than the sight of it, as if mother nature had left a tap running somewhere, everywhere and hue of the light. The sky appears the same, but everything below is illuminated differently.
A better writer could tell you how it’s different, I can only tell you that it is.
This is the advantage of repetition, a practice or familiarity with something, someone, or somewhere. My son’s school bell draws me to the same path, at the same time, daily for years. I have seen this exact landscape hundreds of times. Today, something has shifted. Today there is running water, the chirping of birds, and the play of the light. It is the beginning of spring, just as it is every single year, and somehow I still find myself caught off guard by its coming.
Of course, I haven’t been looking very closely lately.
Lately I’ve been walking only the minimum before returning quickly to home and closing the door to the outside world. I’ve been shirking the work of silence and long walks to clear my head. I’ve felt more irritable and despondent than usual, especially when I sit down and attempt to write. I feel like I am hiding from myself, endlessly wanting to turn to anything that numbs or distracts. Anything that moves the clock forward to a better time, where we are okay. It has been a while since I have felt that we are.
I don’t know why this is so important to me, this concept of our communal health. The tension that is currently in the air has found its way into my bones. We are not okay, and so neither am I. I have been mourning the ways we talk over one another and deliberately misunderstand and diminish each other. I am haunted by the truth that we live among each other in separate and incompatible realities. That the collective “we” has never been so divided and hostile, as we sneer down our nose at our neighbour. That I am sneering and hostile, and so easily angered.
Writing, for better or worse, has always been a personal and collective assessment. How am I doing? How are we all doing? What do I need? What do we all need? For a long while I haven’t liked the answer to the first two questions, and I have had no firm answers on the last two. I have felt as frozen in place as the winter that surrounds me.
But suddenly that which was frozen all around me is beginning to thaw.
The thaw and promise of the days ahead loosens something within me as well. I reach the bottom of the hill and choose to walk a little further as I take in the sights and sounds of the path before me.
Despite the promise of oncoming spring, the scene before me is anything but picturesque. The snow and ice is patchy, receding from the edge of the path and revealing all that was hidden beneath. Decomposing leaves stick together in every hue of brown, thick mud sticks to the bottom of my boots like tar, and along this particular stretch of path, endless potholes in the snow reveal deteriorating dog feces long left unattended by their owners.
In time, the path before me will be bursting with with new life. Pale pink wild roses, golden balsam root flowers, and endless stalks of tall grass will shoot up near the small stream. More birds will come, more quail hiding under bushes, more redwing blackbirds calling to each other amongst the dense cattails. The trail will be a mosaic of green.
I know we don’t get to that idyllic scene in April or May without the mud and feces and decomposing leaves of March. The one includes the other.
What nature offers me, especially in times of crisis or great personal unrest, is a reminder that everything can belong. In time, nature reveals and includes all. The freezing as well as the melt, the rot as well as the new shoots of grass. The death of one season to give birth to the next.
I wonder how much of my distress has been due to my unwillingness to accept things as they are right now. To accept that even the parts of our communal life which seem as repulsive as rotting dog feces must be included in the life we make together. I don’t have to condone or excuse behaviour that I believe is destructive or unhelpful, but I do have to accept that it exists.
One of my teachers, Richard Rohr often remarks that “we must forgive reality for it being what it is”. Nothing remains hidden forever. Perhaps the revealing of things long hidden is always a part of the process.
Nature reminds me to be patient. Patient with myself, with others, and with these times of transition. Each of us is indisputably in process right now. Nothing stays frozen forever.
Because the season is shifting, and so will we.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.