It's the orioles that save me. The way they have come this year, more than any other year, to these lush woods, swooping across the stormy June skies, saffron and vermilion, like promises.
It's the hawks circling above, reminding me that I am human and very small; that I am a creature of gravity and bones, soft bellied, begging with gratitude at the dawn of each new day. Let there be a tomorrow, and a tomorrow after that.
It is the swallowtails that float up like yellow gifts on the fragrant air. I think of my father when I see them. I wish sometimes that he were here to see my life now, to witness my boys and my words; to see that my hands still remember the art of work. He was the first to teach me this: that tools and soil and tasks can be solace, can be grace.
In the garden, weeding between the first delicate chartreuse shoots of corn, it is the red efts that save me. They come from the dark, dark earth, burrowing towards the sun, carrying small secrets about the way time really goes. Slowly. Slower still.
Here I am in this life. I wake up to the sound of boys, to the rooster crowing, to the sky full of torn clouds and sun, to the poplars bending in the wind. This is new, this gratitude, this ability to say I am here and look! Look at this wondrous life! It used to terrify me, the idea of settling someplace with someone and making a go of it, but now I cannot think of anything more real, more full than this work.
For a long, long time, for all of my twenties (which felt long to me then) I was too impatient to feel this, to know the secret wealth contained in slow moments. Like the spiraling interior of a nautilus, the tasks of now continue to teach me how to be.
There are days when I still hate them. Days when it seems impossible to be okay with doing one more dish, with vacuuming again, with folding one more little shirt, but I am beginning to understand that it is the utter banality of the tasks that also makes them profound.
Many people don't use their hands any more, not the way they did when most of the day was occupied with the tasks of living. I've been thinking of this as DH and I have moved huge flat rocks from the old shambled stone walls on our land to make new front steps. We used the scoop bucket of a tractor, but when they were made into crude walls dividing fields long ago, it was with more brute strength: horses and sweat. A whole day's work to drag and place a few large stones.
We have machines now, and to them we are grateful: I cannot imagine the enormous labor of washing clothes by hand; email gets there so much faster than a letter sent with paper and a stamp in the post. Because of machines we have more time in the day, free from tasks with our hands we're able to do other things.
Still. I can feel how my body is meant to move, and how my hands are meant as tools, nimble on the keyboard remembering the sequence of keystrokes to make every word appear on the screen in quick succession. Awareness in these tasks becomes a way of saying grace.
It is the tasks that save me, even as my impatient mind lurches forwards, consumed with worry and with goals. I can do nothing really, except whatever it is I am doing right now. Here: afternoon, stormy skies, my knees pulled up to my chest the way I often sit when I write, the soles of my bare feet on the seat of the chair. Here, with a jar of irises and buttercups and a dirty milk glass left from lunch. Here with the sweet fruity scent of freshly made apricot-strawberry jam (I've been loving making quick jam lately, to eat with homemade bread. The perfect snack.)
Here at the table with the windows open, with my heart open, with the chickens pecking at the grass out the back door. So. This is my life today.
Stop. What are the moments happening right here for you? What is today in your life?