The secret teachings of January smolder in the twelve directions of the clock & turn to fly ash in the alchemist’s spoon, the one with a mother-of-pearl grip like an old-fashioned .38. They are not hidden — their noise is the noise of the world — but they’re easy to miss, just as a painting that moves us once might prove, on subsequent viewings, unable to escape our recollection of being moved. You might hear them & not realize it until the next morning, when the eastern sky begins to prickle under its hairnet of bare branches, the ambiguity of figure versus ground prompting a sudden consciousness of loss. For god’s sake, put the kettle on, says the wren.
And now I am sipping slow clarity with my tea. A half-grown kitten crouches down in the grass and turns to stone. The blacker the cat, the better the chance of its survival in the wild, so what’s all this nonsense about bad luck? If you know me at all, you know how fond I am of the way the world eludes our efforts at interpretation. If reality is my bible, then I confess to the most extreme form of literalism: no bird is an omen. The arrangement of tea leaves in a pot is nothing but art, pure & unrepeatable! The one-sided conversation of a sleepwalker forces us to listen as an infant must; it does no good to drill new ear holes in the mask we long ago acquired as an inducement to love. â€˜The music of what happens,’ said great Fionn, â€˜that is the finest music in the world.’*
If you can’t decide on a quarry, you’ll never be much of a hunter. Or so I gather. You might be wondering why I started out talking about January, but it’s simply because that’s when the contrasts are sharpest, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun — on rare occasions when it shines — is at the best possible angle for photography. Shadows turn blue against the snow, which can otherwise cause blindness, & a sufficient depth of snow or ice traps blueness for slow release on cloudy days. Sky versus ground: one is as good as the other in my book. Though their tracks are everywhere, seeing a coyote right now would simply be too much to hope for, I remember saying to myself in the last seconds before the shape at the edge of the woods averted its muzzle and hauled ass up the hillside: unmistakeably bear. Inexplicably awake.
*Quote from the Fenian Cycle, translated by James Stephens in Irish Fairy Stories and reprinted in John Montague, ed., The Book of Irish Verse (Macmillan, 1974)