I first arrived at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I set up my laptop in the studio, arranged my papers and pens, fixed myself coffee, and waited for it to happen. I had traveled thousands of miles by plane and shuttle and train to do this. I had left my family behind, my obligations, a schedule of working to deadlines.
On the third day I called you, alarmed that the book I had come to complete, the last chapter I wanted to write, the title I was not happy with, all evaded me. You told me to let the book come to me, your voice fading in and out over the many miles that divided us, so I walked in the forest and I let the path lead me without anticipation or preset direction. There was time, I realized. I listened to the trees, the shimmering leaves; I walked and walked. The book came to me slowly, one step after the other, the path unfolding before my eyes. The world fell
because everything begins on the front step. It will come, a dawn that spreads across the sky, a mist that hangs shyly over the edge of the forest, field of broom sedge uncurling, opening to receive the morning, leaf of emerald and bronze, of sap yellow, texture of damp hessian, a cardinal ribboning through the branches, a rustle in the thicket, listen for the breath, the habits of nature, those are deer tracks down by the stream, and these are mallards, you hear them before you see them, rising up from the pond, terrible pounding of wings, calling to each other across the water.
I crouch down in a field of copper and place my heart there. I hope you will walk through the field and not around it, the burr clinging, and you will find it.
will reach the edge of the forest. It will be difficult, but you will find the entrance. You have been here before. Drop into the moment and hold it. Open the palms of your hands. Be still. The trees are waiting, a ripple of pale leaves, a trembling. A treetop sways, just the treetop, put your ear to the life inside and hear the sound of a cart clattering over cobblestones. The bark smooth and pale, a whole life within. Clusters of sound and texture, clusters of color and movement, habits of nature, always movement attuned to the moment.
where your feet tread. I bend down to the layers of soil, I scrape away with my fingers, searching for what lies underneath. Fallen leaves, twigs triangular, quartz stones dulled through the years, the sacred places carried within. Soil clings to my fingernails. Beech trees, twined through with honeysuckle, watch me patiently in my act of discovery. They are wise, they have watched others walk here, striding by, shoulders brushing the branches, bruising the earth. This is the wild language of nature. There are notes in the air, and brushes of color sweeping across the forest, constantly changing, morphing from deep chestnut to pale sage, blending and clashing and quietly surging.
intervals, the train rolls by. Hear it approaching, a soft rumbling from the stomach of the earth and then a roar that rises up into the forest like an eagle, for there are eagles here that circle the sky. Keep listening, hear the clickety-clack of wheels on tracks, disappearing. You are left with the frogs, throating in chorus down by the pond.
It is the train that brings me here, and the train that takes me away, slicing through fields of wheat. It reminds me of the life outside of this creative space, a life filled with people holding cellphones, clutching shopping bags and purses, checking schedules of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months ahead, always looking ahead. On the nights I sleep in my studio, I travel with the train to my book, up there on the pin board. The pages move across the pin board, refiguring, alive.
again, the notes unfold one by one over the garden. The cat purrs beside me, lifting her head toward me. A pink ribbon left over from a birthday celebration flutters and falls. A blackbird struts over the grass, flies into the terebinth tree, alighting on one branch and then another. Body of black, beak of yolk. A small body pulsing with activity, alert to the music that nature brings.
I sense the field moving away from me. It’s tilting upward, like the view through a camera lens when the sky is low and the ground lifts its chin upward. I close my eyes and drop back into the moment; the field stretches out before me again, undulating. Beyond, the forest.