On a recent visit to my favourite forest glade, I sat on a moss-covered rock and looked around. It being late fall, the trees — maple, oak and beech — were almost stripped of leaves. Almost. Every few seconds, a single leaf drifted down a long diagonal path to join its cousins on the ground. It occurred to me that I had never seen the exact moment when a leaf broke away from its tether on the branch. I stared intently at a ragged cluster of oak leaves shaking in the wind, but without success. The leaves kept falling, but all I managed to see was their flight in mid-air.
Almost certainly, I didn’t look long enough. Distraction overrode patience — the focused patience required to enter a world that does not follow human rules of time. Oh, the usual excuses applied for my wandering attention: the sound of the wind ruffling the leaf litter; the sight of two chipmunks chasing each other along a fallen log; the shifting light of the sky. The mind casting sideways to the unfinished work scattered across my desk; the supper meal to be prepared; the Zoom call an hour away.
But today, as I sit here at my desk, journal open, pen in hand, I look out the window at the nearly bare maples, oaks and beeches in our yard. A single copper leaf floats downward through the sunlit air. I continue to look, obeying whatever counter-impulse is urging me not to rush back to the page and pen. And then I spot a tiny glow of iridescent azure blue: the glint of sunlight on a drop of water nestled on a branch. This evanescent day-star gleams less than a moment before the sun’s path shifts and the blue disappears. Tears prick.
I want to sit here all afternoon, all day, all week, engaged in rapt attention. I know that won’t happen: distractions and duties pull too strongly, and I will soon rise and go do something else. Mary Oliver taught us much about paying attention, but even she recognized our human limits.
For the moment, though, I’m content to sit here just a little longer. It’s not long enough, but it will do.
As deep as I ever went into the forest
I came upon an old stone bench, very, very old,
and around it a clearing, and beyond that
trees taller and older than I had ever seen.
It really wasn’t so far from a town, but it seemed
all the clocks in the world had stopped counting.
So it was hard to suppose the usual rules applied.
Sometimes there’s only a hint, a possibility.
What’s magical, sometimes, has deeper roots
I hope everyone knows that.
I sat on the bench, waiting for something.
An angel, perhaps.
Or dancers with the legs of goats.
No, I didn’t see either. But only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.
~ Mary Oliver