Time-tested

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In the dark midsummer woods, the few things blooming now are white: rhododendron & wild hydrangea; teaberry & the so-called fairy candles of black cohosh; clusters of Indian pipes pushing through the leaf duff. The umbels of one hydrangea bush near the bottom of the hollow are dotted with blossoms ten times larger than the rest. Such sterile anomalies were long ago seized upon by nurserymen, who crossed & crossed until they bred a bush whose every inflorescence was a blind enormity.

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I sift through a sandbar – legacy of last fall’s flood – with berry-stained fingers. Why should it amaze me that so small a stream can still tumble stones to perfect smoothness? I think of anchorites in their cells, each with his or her time-tested word: It was said of Abbot Agatho that for three years he carried a stone in his mouth until he learned to be silent. But was it silence he learned, or conformity with a larger music? The Verba Seniorum, polished to a perfect terseness, does not say.

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Our eyes at birth are just about as big as they’ll ever be; the appealing contrast with small, bald heads guarantees a ready nest in the arms of anyone available. My five-month-old niece Elanor is wide-eyed & mostly silent, though at mealtimes she likes to strike her high chair with the flat of her hand. She reaches for everything: a new development in the last few days since moving here, my brother says. Put down on the carpet, unable yet to crawl, she rolls toward the objects of her inchoate desire – mostly things to put in her mouth, the firmer the better. I try to imagine what that must feel like, the pressure of milk teeth trying to sprout through the gums. Her cries of – what? Anxiety? Frustration? – often modulate into warbles, as if phrases of speech or music were just beginning to coalesce.

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On the green plain of the maple leaf, wasps have pitched their tent-shaped galls. A scarlet tanager plucks his single string over & over. I’m composing a letter in my head, a greeting card message written in one, continuous line without lifting the pen. I have been picking black raspberries & letting the straight thorns hook my shirt; gaining release is a simple manner of leaning in. But once, just as I felt myself caught, a blue darner landed a foot away & I froze. Its eyes were the exact size & color of the individual components of a raspberry’s compound fruit, those tiny black pebbles. Angled above its metallic blue abdomen, the wings fit together like the covers of a leaf-shaped book.

Happy birthday to my parents, born 364 days apart, yesterday & today.

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