Miracle. All of it. (perfect in a way we aren’t)


Fred is 15 years old and 80 pounds, and since my parents adopted him two years ago, he has never left this yard. When he is dozing in the shade, the old shower trees outside the picket fence that surrounds the yard rain their pink and yellow petals down on him…Fred has nowhere to go and nothing to do, and my parents expect nothing from him.

Every morning, Fred must be fed: a mixture of timothy hay, romaine and protein-rich kibble, which is spread across a baking tray so he can see it easily…Some five hours later, lunch must be provided. Then, at around 6 in the evening, someone has to check that Fred has put himself to bed in his wooden house, where he spends at least 20 minutes bumping and scraping against the walls and the floor: the sulcata, which is native to sub-Saharan Africa, is like most tortoises a burrower by nature; in those arid climates, tortoises will dig deep tunnels in order to access damper, cooler earth. My parents’ neighborhood is humid — it rains every morning and every evening, a light, brief mist that makes the air smell loamy and slightly feral — but Fred is conditioned to dig regardless, his stumpy back legs chafing against the flagstones beneath his house. By 8 p.m., he is silent, sluggish; like all reptiles, Fred is coldblooded, and he will remain in his house until the morning and the return of the sun and its heat…

When the occasional passer-by looks over the fence and sees Fred marching across the yard, his legs churning with the same steady, hardy energy of a toddler delighting in his newfound ability to walk, they are always startled. The surprise is attributable to his size, as well as his shape and color; at first glance, you might mistake him for a large rock, only to then realize that the rock is moving…

To be in the company of a tortoise is to be reminded — instantly, inarticulably — of the oldness of the world and the newness of us (humans, specifically, but also mammals in general). Nature has created thousands of creatures, but most of us have been redrawn over the millenniums: Our heads have grown larger, our teeth smaller, our legs longer, our jaws weaker. But tortoises, some varieties of which are 300 million years old, older than the dinosaurs, are a rough draft that was never refined, because they never needed to be. They are proof of nature’s genius and of our own imperfection, our fragility and brevity in a world that existed long before us and will exist long after we’re gone. They are older than we are in all ways, as a tribe and as individuals — they can live 150 years (and can grow to be 200 pounds). As such, you cannot help feeling a sort of humility around them: They may be slow and ungainly and lumpily fashioned, but they are, in their durability and unchangeability, perfect in a way we aren’t. It is all this that makes them unique and unsettling animals to live with, for to be around them is to be reminded, incessantly, of our own vulnerability…

Fred doesn’t actually need company, or water, or even food; were he at home in Sudan, he would be eating (dry grasses; shrubbery) only every few days…A tortoise knows how to wait. It is another piece of wisdom that comes from being a member of a species that is so very old.

He was, I always thought, an unattractive animal: his eyes might kindly be called beady, his mouth a puckered seam — the writer Jane Gardam once described a tortoise as having “an old man’s mean little mouth” — but over my summer with my parents, I also realized that I was mesmerized by him — even that I respected him. How could I not? An animal that demands so little and craves even less? An animal so unlike the animal I am, one with such a developed sense of self-possession? What secret did Fred know that I did not?

…I liked to sit on the porch steps and watch Fred trundle across the lawn. A few weeks into my stay, we’d grown familiar enough that he would toddle right up to me and stretch out his neck, its skin sagging into crepey pleats, and let me pat his head, closing his little black eyes as I did. In those moments, I found myself talking to him, usually about banal things: asking if he’d enjoyed the hibiscus flowers I’d snapped off a neighbor’s bush; if he could feel the myna birds that occasionally perched on his back. This time, though, I asked him something else, something more intimate, something about what it was like to be the creature he was, what it was like to live without a sense of obligation or pity or guilt — all the things that make being a human so sad and so mysterious and so wondrously rich.

He didn’t answer, of course. But for a moment, he held his position, his head motionless beneath my hand, a short pause in his very long life. And then he moved on — and I stood and watched him go

~ Tanya Yanagihara, excerpts from A Pet Tortoise Who Will Outlive Us All (NY Times, May 17, 2017)


Notes:

  • Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.

A Letter to Mother that She Will Never Read

That time, at forty-six, when you had a sudden desire to color. Let’s go to Walmart, you said one morning. I need coloring books. For months, you filled the space between your arms with all the shades you couldn’t pronounce. Magenta, vermillion, marigold, pewter, juniper, cinnamon. Each day, for hours, you slumped over landscapes of farms, pastures, Paris, two horses on a windswept plain, the face of a girl with black hair and skin you left blank, left white. You hung them all over the house, which started to look like an elementary-school classroom. When I asked you, Why coloring, why now?, you put down the sapphire pencil and stared, dreamlike, at a half-finished garden. I just go away in it for a while, you said, but I feel everything, like I’m still here, in this room.

Ocean Vuong, excerpt from A Letter to Mother that She Will Never Read


Notes:

  • Don’t miss Ocean Vuong’s full essay in the May 13, 2017th edition of The New Yorker here.
  • Photo: Thank you Dan @ Your Eyes Blaze Out

I have found myself thinking of summer fields

I have found myself thinking of summer fields. Fields full of flowers— poppies or lupines. Or, here, fields where the roses hook into the dunes, and their increase is manyfold. All summer they are red and pink and white tents of softness and nectar, which wafts and hangs everywhere— a sweetness so palpable and excessive that, before it, I’m struck, I’m taken, I’m conquered; I’m washed into it, as though it was a river, full of dreaming and idleness— I drop to the sand, I can’t move; I am restless no more; I am replete, supine, finished, filled to the last edges with an immobilizing happiness.

~ Mary Oliver, from “Owls” in Upstream: Selected Essays 


Photo: Bart Ceuppens (Belgium) with Poppies (via drxgonfly)

Saturday Morning

Happy in the morning
I open my cottage door;
A clear breeze blowing
Comes straight in.
The first sun
Lights the leafy trees;
The shadows it casts
Are crystal clear.
Serene,
In accord with my heart,
Everything merges
In one harmony …

~ Wen Siang (1210-1280), From Sleepless Nights: Verses for the Wakeful 


Notes: Poem – Bluebird of Happiness Stuff. Photo: via Hidden Sanctuary

It’s been a long day

DSC_5311_sf. Nepal, 11/2013. Young boy is resting on a cow.

People who dream when they sleep at night know of a special kind of happiness which the world of the day holds not, a placid ecstasy, and ease of heart, that are like honey on the tongue.

~ Isak Dinesen, from Out of Africa


Notes:

It’s been a long day

God has mercifully ordered that the human brain works slowly;
first the blow,
hours afterwards the bruise.

Walter de la Mare, from the The Return.


Notes:

Saturday Morning

tasting,

But this morning, a kind day has descended, from nowhere,

and making coffee in the usual day, measuring grounds
with the wooden spoon, I remembered,

this is how things happen, cup by cup, familiar gesture
after gesture, what else can we know of safety

or of fruitfulness?

– Marie Howe, excerpt from “From Nowhere” in The Good Thief: Poems


Notes: Poem Source: via violentwavesofemotion. Photo: Cup Tasting by Jürg Balsiger

It’s been a long day

Endurance comes only from enduring.
With a flick of the wrist I fashioned an invisible rope,
And climbed it and it held me.

Czeslaw Milosz, from a “A Magic Mountain” in New and Collected Poems (1931-2001)


Notes:

Sunday Morning

dog-feet-pet-bed.jpg

There are mornings when the dog is smushed between us.

The sun breaks through the blinds with rays that warm our blanket tangled bodies.

Silent breathy snores, and the low mumble of a fan.

Picture perfect in my eyes.

Simplistic in others.

Too me?

This is the life.

~ Wandering Girl, “No one can take this from me


Photo: via Newton

Saturday Morning

…Under bamboos that sing to the wind
and wall the cathedral sky,
my body surges…
A rush of balsam wind boils the clouds,
roils my shirt, my skin,
enfleshing the living breath, deep and long.
Like weeding the garden: hands become weeds,
become shovel, become time.
Body becomes rhythm, becomes power;
becomes wind, becomes Mind.

A cotton cloud of ibises float after.

—Betsy Lagana Bluangtook


Notes: Poem – Thank you Beth at Alive on All Channels. Photo – Bamboo by kristof casteren

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