Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose
from all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.
Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell you where it is and you
can slide your way past trouble.
Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path -- but that's when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on earth, again and again.
- William Stafford
I love this poem so much. I wonder if there’s another one in existence anywhere that describes so perfectly the place I so often find myself in these days. Or, maybe I should say the place-s; as they vary radically, and nearly as often as there is moments in the day.
This morning I took a drive out Mines Road in the east bay area. The road runs roughly fifty miles between southern Livermore and Mt. Hamilton in San Jose. It’s narrow and windy and hilly, and there’s pretty much nothing out there except the occasional farmhouse or cattle ranch; if you don’t count the creeks, birds, wildlife, beautiful trees. The sun broke through the dense fog, illuminating the oaks that spread out haphazardly at the ridge tops; the grasses are maybe seventy-five percent green from winter rains; birds were chirping, frogs croaking.
It’s not that it’s the most beautiful landscape ever. Yet everywhere I turned I saw beauty. The wonderful sculpture of a bare winter tree, the gorgeous white bark on the grove of giant sycamores, the juxtaposition of cows resting beneath giant electrical towers, the huge bird—I swear it was an eagle, gigantic wingspan, deep brown feathers, white head—that swooped directly in front of my car and then followed me a ways down the road. It’s the gift of photography, this seeing beauty in the everyday; the camera coaching me to open my eyes more fully, teaching me to see “beyond seeing,” challenging me to look beyond the normal boundaries and limitations and expectations, and expanding the very idea of what beauty is. I’m guessing it’s also a gift—in a strange sort of way—of depression, of being lifted out of the black hole, back into the world, where everything has this edge of magnificence, like seeing vibrant color again after having been momentarily—or not so momentarily—blinded to it.
Photography is a big light in the tunnel right now. It gets me up and out many days where there seems no other reason. It’s the only thing that I truly, truly want to be doing, and for hours on end. When doing it, I get "lost" in it; I’m not thinking, I’m not worried, I’m not anxious or hungry or cold. I’m not tired or sad or grieving or alone or lost or confused or depressed, or even Debby. I’m not anything except absorbed in the moment and what is there before me and my Nikon D60. Well, except thoroughly engaged. And inspired. Contented. At peace. Joyful even. It gives meaning and impetus and some much needed structure to my life. No small thing given that I still wake up most every morning chronically—if no longer acutely—depressed, am still overwhelmed with anxiety the moment I open my eyes, am still needing supreme effort and an enormous amount of discipline on some days to just make myself move. It challenges me in other ways too; like being visible and maybe standing out in a crowd; pulling over, walking along the side of a lonely country road, trudging through the sand in my good boots because that’s where the reflection of the bridge in the surf is best. To sign up for—and attend—classes. To be honest about what I don’t know and need to learn, to continue to develop my own personal and unique aesthetic, and to own it as I do. To experiment, take chances, hang in there with Photoshop Elements, even though trying to learn it sometimes makes me want to throw my computer against a wall.
Being back in the Bay Area full time (have I mentioned that here, btw, that I am no longer living in my home in Tuolumne County at all?) I feel like a kid at a carnival (with a camera!), with endless possibilities of places to go, miles to cover, images to capture. Many years ago, when grieving a devastating loss and not beginning to know how I was going to get through it, I walked outside one summer day, sat down on our walkway, and started digging in the dirt. No thought, no plan, just a hand trowel, a small spot of earth, and some unconscious movement inside me toward healing. Out of that grief and desperate need, both a garden and a gardener were born. One of the reasons I bought the home I did was its gardening potential, understandable given what gardening has meant to me, though not being privy to what I know now; that something new and different was waiting to be born, and that that something needs a kind of freedom that the daily tending and loving of a garden doesn’t necessarily allow.
It’s hard to let go of something that has meant so much. And I have fought it. Grieved, too, in a big way, the loss of the sacred, relaxing, nurturing, healing, sensory space that my garden was. I know I wrote about it here way back when I had been away from it for just a few months.There are things I will always miss about that space. The scents, the butterflies, spring, my swing, the very air itself, birds splashing in the birdbaths, the refreshing, soothing sound of water tinkling in the fountain.
Letting go. Even harder when it leaves an empty hole. Easier today when I see what I couldn’t even take on faith during the darkness, that some new seed is indeed sprouting. And here’s the good news - though right now, steeped in the visceral memories of my garden it’s tainted - the world is full of flowers just waiting for a camera. And more good news, I can get lost in a bouquet of flowers, when the colors are perfect, when the light is spilling into through the window just right...
A light in the tunnel.
...learning how real it is on earth, again, and again.