In the month of small flies and the sharp & bitter leaves of wild mustard, a hair fell from heaven & flipped & spun & turned by stages into the first hornbeam tree. But not right away: for a time it slipped in & out of small clearings, walking with a bit of a limp. The people at that time were living in lean-tos made from hemlock boughs & old, yellowed newpapers. Easy come, easy go, they used to whisper whenever a hard rain brought the roof down on their heads. Half-forgetful of his origins, the old man took to carrying stones from the creek, mixing grayish mud with sand. He had fallen in love with the song of a sparrow no one had ever noticed before, and had decided to devote the rest of his life to its study. Meanwhile, pink lady’s slipper orchids in mossy thickets exposed themselves to deluded bees. Black cherries bloomed with a scent as cloying as prom queens. Wherever one stepped, something hopped out of the way & looked back over its shoulder with a reproachful gaze. One heard the peepers down by the pond, the toads around the spring & up on the hill the solitary tree frogs, trilling as if it meant something.
Around this time somebody noticed that none of the calendars showed the days of the week the way they always had. It was as if a long-ago ramp festival-cum-revival meeting took off like a hundred helicopters and swept every last Monday into the forgotten corners where only children playing hide-and-seek ever go. Unless, in fact, the calendars had simply begun to look a great deal like weathered boulders, all decked out in clubmoss and rock tripe. The old man’s skinny arms grew hard as antlers, and his skin turned gray because he shunned direct sunlight. The sparrow – if that’s what it was – had taken to nesting behind his left ear, because it was warm there & out of the wind. There was an almost inaudible rhythm, a pulse that could’ve been the sound of the surf or a woodpecker thinking about his next composition.
Ultimately, the decision to put down roots is more than mere decision, said the hornbeam tree as its nondescript buds unfurled nondescript leaves. We would all do well to heed such a sense of urgency more wordless than love. A true spirit guide never says what you want to hear, & sooner or later leaves you on the lurch. That night, they say, will be a dark one. But is it too much to ask for, this feeling of intimate involvement in the unfolding of others’ destinies? You wake up from a dream in which the only two women you have ever loved have found each other, lose themselves like mirrors turned face to face with nothing, not a speck of dust to come between them: that bottomless ocean.
You wake up & it’s all true, tears of joy – if that’s the word – run down your cheeks. And you remember how every hundred years a mischievous bodhisattva brushes the side of the mountain with a fly whisk, anticipating its ultimate disintegration into the everythingness of Nevermind. We might well expect a different kind of measure to drive the mountain’s own slow symphonies.
The old man’s unfinished house should serve in the meantime – not that anyone needs very much where founding myths are concerned. A sharp digging stick & the ears of a night watchman, little else. But this day that used to be a day of rest has brought the finest weather we’ve seen in a month of Sundays. There’s no time, no time for this foolishness! The pancakes will be on in two minutes!
Submitted for the Ecotone Wiki topic, “Time and Place”