Morning exercise

Madrugada. Get up, get up. Questions crowd my brain even before I am fully awake. I can feel a modern-day version of the Tian Wen bubbling in my gut. How wrong it seems to advance and defend propositions, to use the declarative mode at all. How joyfully wrong! And having read the Buddhist ruminations of Hoarded Ordinaries just before bed (I hoard them up, you see, and read a whole week at a time), I am bowing to my own teacher, the tireless coyote of the mind. (When was the last time you saw a monkey roaming freely in the wild, Lorianne? Or is that the point behind the metaphor, that we keep monkeys in cages? Ah, a new Disney classic waiting to made: Free the Mind-Monkey!)

Coffee. A new book so good I can’t bring myself to go outside and sit on my porch as I do every morning to give my mind a chance to pick up some fresh scent-trails, listen for the snap of a twig three miles off. But for no good reason I am happy, happy. I can’t decide whether to sing or shout, so I just keep quiet. But that’s probably O.K.

Juan Ramón Jiménez, you didn’t tell the whole truth. There are such things as holy fools, yes, but in your ceaseless gravity I sense a grave digger quite a bit more pious than the clowns in Hamlet. I want to alter the third line of your famous poem: with the substitution of a single word, everything changes. Así:

Mis pies ¡qué hondos en la tierra!
Mis alas ¡qué altas en el cielo!
–¡Y qué dolor alegría
de corazón distendido!–

My feet, so deep in the earth!
My wings, so far up in the heavens!
–And in the heart stretched
between them, such suffering happiness!–

– or was that really such a dramatic change, I wonder?

Alba. Waiting for the sun. A cold front has blown in, leaving the sky almost cloudless except along the horizon. I’m standing with my back to the 30-year-old spruce grove at the top of the field, looking at the familiar panorama of ridge after ridge, the long, low wrinkles on the earth’s skin that are the sign of great senescence for these so-called mountains.

Familiar? Wait a second. If I didn’t already know what I was looking at, how would I be able to tell that the thin band of cloud stretching the length of the horizon isn’t in fact a farther, higher range? It’s just a shade lighter than Tussey, Nittany and Bald Eagle Mountains below it – as it should be if it were a slightly more distant sierra, towering, I figure, some 15,000 feet higher than the measly 2,400 feet attained by the present mountains.

The longer I stare, the less convinced I am that this is not the case. I could be a time traveler, gazing back a couple hundred million years to the Appalachians’ first upheaval. The Appalachian orogeny (one of my favorite words!). But it doesn’t feel that way; I’m too fully locked into the present. And the funny thing is, for no good reason I can think of, ever since I left the house I have been whistling under my breath, over and over, a theme from Hovhaness’ Mysterious Mountain. I mean, I haven’t listened to that in close to two months – and the last time I did, I felt more than a little bored with it. It’s hardly a complex work, and I know every goddamn note. It seemed utterly familiar, though still an old friend to be sure. Like someone we know too well to be surprised by any longer, if that’s not too trite a way of putting it.

So anyway here I am, and I can’t get this tune out of my head . . . Well, I don’t try, actually. I am a big believer in the use of monotony as a kind of mental floss. The coyote gets that enticing scent in his nostrils and he can’t leave it, you know, he just keeps on trotting, mile after mile, neither too fast nor too slow – eating up the horizon. There’s an odd noise in the grove behind me – it sounds like nothing so much as a brief snatch of human conversation, a man and a woman. Maybe a squirrel or something – I have been hearing a chewing noise off and on. But I had sort of pegged that for a porcupine. Well, the sound doesn’t repeat itself, so who knows?

Minute by minute the sky changes, the red-orange band getting darker, but the mysterious mountains looming up behind the familiar ones only seem to grow more solid. I wish I were either a better writer or at least a blogger with a camera, so that I could show you exactly what it looks like. The one break in the ridge of cloud is east-northeast, right where the sun ought to rise. And as I watch, a broad, dark line emerges above this gap, a good 20,000 feet higher than the main chain: the crest of some hidden Himalayan masif. Orange sky above it, pale “clouds” (actually, the absence of cloud) around its imaginary slopes. The sky glows. I have a sudden realization: my glasses are really, really dirty!

Amanecer. The spell doesn’t break. (Never. Not as long as the Wile E. Coyote of the mind keeps bouncing back!) What happens instead is that a new spell is cast overtop of it. One mask is traded for another. Mt. Sumeru breaks into a dozen sun-touched fragments, floating blue stones edged in fire. Then up up up up up like nothing you ever saw comes the mask you can never really see without going blind. What color is it, I wonder? I’m not talking about that old yellow dwarf, that astronomical body, I’m talking about the sun. It gives off a reddish light at the moment, but that won’t last for more than a few minutes. I turn and enter the spruce grove. Now that the wait is over, one craves the close-at-hand.

The coyotes have been worrying the deer carcass quite a bit since the last time I checked. (This is one of probably at least twenty-five such carcasses within a half-mile radius. It was a tough winter.) The front legs are splayed out at right angles to the chest cavity, which has been cleaned down to the ribs, but the hind feet are together and point straight back. In other words, this deer carcass seems to have been arranged to resemble Christ on the cross – there’s Coyote for you! – with the hide pulled up like a cowl around the neck; the head is missing. A patch of reddish orange light stretches toward it. I am noticing details of moss and twig, I am keeping my ears open – the dawn chorus is past its peak, of course – and there’s a call I recognize but can’t quite place. Four high notes in a row, quasi-mechanical – just once. Bird of prey, I think, but which one?

As I leave the grove I am thinking again about some of the recent observations from the two Buddhist bloggers I read the most faithfully, Dale and Lorianne. The wordless Hovhaness tune is momentarily overwritten by some remembered lines from the thrash band Pantera (taken completely out of context, but what isn’t?). In typical thrash metal style the lyrics were hurled, halfway between a song and a shout –
it’s time to RISE
it’s time to RISE
it’s time to RISE

– and it gives me a chuckle to think about either Dale or Lorianne actually listening to this kind of music.

Día. I head down along the nearly 200-year-old, moss-covered woods road we call Laurel Ridge Trail. I am anxious for the fate of all the tiny, tender leaves of the oaks after this below-freezing night – the sun can’t rise fast enough for them. Ten minutes later, as I’m descending the ridge with Hovhaness once again ghosting in and out on my breath, I suddenly remember who it is that makes that monotonous call I heard on the other side of the spruce grove: the saw-whet owl.

If you go to my mother’s website, you can see a picture of a saw-whet owl perching on her hand. You can also see, down at the bottom of the page, what the view from the top of the field looks like. Meanwhile, I will think about some of the other posts I could have come up with had I not decided to write this one. Meanwhile, terrible things will take place all over the world – some of them preventable, some not. Meanwhile, the poet Arthur Sze, author of The Redshifting Web, will sleep off a hangover and wonder just when synchronicity became so utterly predictable. Meanwhile, I will try – and fail – to recover a rare, original thought that occurred to me just moments after remembering about saw-whets. How utterly unmindful of me! But the sun also rises. The coyote also pauses to mark his territory. Truly the light is sweet, says the Bible. Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

UPDATE: Title changed 4/29 – I already used “Good morning, blues”! I am starting to seriously repeat myself & I haven’t even been at this for half a year! (If it gets too bad, I will switch to an all-poetry format.) Incidentally, the last two quotes above do not occur sequentially in the Bible; “Truly the light is sweet…” comes from Ecclesiastes, whereas “Man is born unto trouble” may be found in Chapter 5 of Job. (But you probably knew that.) Incidentally #2: It’s safe to say I would never have become such a fan of the Bible were it not for the inclusion of these two books, along with the Song of Songs. Can you name any other sacred texts generous enough to admit the voices of radical skepticism and eroticism?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.