"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone"
-Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell
Tonight was the perfect summer evening. During dinner the cloud cover deepened and the air shook with the rumblings of an approaching storm. It threatened severity but it was only a bluff. The rain fell in drops, not sheets and they danced, plit, plit on my kitchen skylights. After the rain passed the air was cleaner and the fallen drops rested on every leaf and bud in my garden. The flagstones of our garden path were damp but not slick. I had hoped for sufficient rainfall as to preclude the need for watering this evening but this rain was merely cosmetic. The leaves appeared greener and the soil looked moist. Yet when I poked my finger in the ground I could tell it was only on the surface.
My children were all asleep, tired out from a long day of playing with friends. So, it was just me out there in the quiet of the evening, pulling the hose along behind me. I went from plant to plant watering deep into the soil, readying them for the coming day. First it was my peonies, flopping over into the path, nearly exhausted from their yearly outburst of white flowers. Sweet pea vine had wound its way through their dark green foliage. This is the first year either of them have done well but now they are filling up the garden bed, vying for space. The youthful green filigree of the sweet pea vine is in pleasant contrast with it's stately neighbor. Next I watered my herbs; chives with purple flowers crunchy from age, variegated sage plants in white, purple, and green, foot tall oregano, delicate french thyme, shiny slender tarragon, and the brassy woolly horehound. Then to my perennials, most of whose names I have forgotten and which I planted disproportionately. I have a huge plant with scalloped saucer sized leaves in front of a spindly columbine. My sorrel is hidden by a wickedly thorny rosebush.
Finally I got to the raised beds where we have planted edibles with colorful names like German butterball potatoes, Tom Thumb peas and Dragon carrots. While they got a good soaking, I weeded out some of the pinkie sized elm trees littering our vegetable beds. All the time I had been doing this, two birds in the parent elm were incessantly calling to one another in laser like song. I couldn't get a good look at their markings because they were hidden amongst the weedy lower branches of the great tree. They were songbirds with brownish feathers on their underbellies. Whatever their species, they were avid singers and their song was unfamiliar and odd.
I retraced the garden path, past my herbs and peonies to the back of the house. I had just rounded the corner when my whites confronted me from their place on the clothes line. 'Don't forget us!' they seemed to say as they waved in the light evening breeze. I walked over to comply. There the evening fell heavy on my senses. The crisp whiteness of the sheet, the moist coolness of the blue tinged air, the long low shadows from our hidden sun, all mingled together with the rich smell of grass and soil. A moment of true simplicity. The smooth texture of a wooden clothespin as I pressed it between thumb and forefinger felt like a gift. I piled the laundry over my left arm as an owl hooted from nearby. Perhaps it was roosting in the branches of the huge ash tree which was arching its great arms above me.
I carried the laundry inside, slid the screen door closed, and left the peace behind me. Somewhere in our mudroom I lost the awe of living. Here was more laundry to sort and fold. More decisions awaited me here; more things I had to manage.
Is it possible to live in awe of the moment in the midst of the mundane? The centeredness I felt at the clothesline, the peaceful purposefulness of watering plants, the simple sense of accomplishment that comes with weeding: can I make it mine always, minute by minute?
I recently read A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle. In it she references the play Our Town
by Thornton Wilder, "After Emily dies she is allowed to come back to earth to relive a day, and she is torn apart by her awareness of all she has taken for granted. She asks the stage manager, 'Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?-every, every minute?' And he answers, "No. The saints and poets, maybe-they do, some." (pg 230)
I know I am reaching out for the impossible; a truly simple life. A life lived every moment. To have the faith to be a saint. To have the receptiveness to be a poet. I know even at best I will only realize life as I live it some of the time. To live perfectly in the present is to be made perfect. That is for heaven. Still I must reach for the unattainable in this life, this day, this moment.