The following are literary sketches written almost exactly 10 years after my wife Alexandra and I met. Then we were in Woodstock for a week and now we are in Santa Fe. Then it was her 30th birthday; now her 40th.
I. Ethical Life, Restored: A Literary Sketch From Woodstock (May 15, 2012)
Silent of speech is nature’s course.Laozi, Daodejing 23
Can we still follow nature’s course under nature’s gently guiding hand? I think so but only if we let nature return to its humble home and only after we learn again to listen to its silent speech.
In early May, my love Alexandra and I spent a week at a cabin on the outskirts of Woodstock. We dwelled in seamless being, a time scarcely open for recollection because only one seamless fabric, the whole all seeming a single day that was filled with textures and rhythms and shades. The whole was enfolded in quiet calm, a mood of flowing sober joy.
It was then that we laughed lightly at the sparrows and the dandelions; then that we hiked uphill and rested on overlooks; that we ate food made with chafed fingers and sewn into our souls; that we drank wine and were charmed with our giddiness and our ruddy cheeks; that we sat in silence, dangling our feet over large opal rocks and bony froth; that we held each other closely and cried in joy, occasionally in longing; that we listened to loving words, ours so soft and caring, as steady as rubbing palms; that we slept when our bodies were aching for rest and could do no more for us; it was then again, a pail filling and refilling, that we awoke to morning mists and falling rains and birdsong calling from the hillside.
There was, we knew, nothing extraordinary in this, nothing save the constant humming, the thrumming of life amid life, the sense of being our best and our most spontaneous, of living according to our heart songs and day chants and night hymns. We were falling in love, this is true, but we were in love most especially with this way of living, with this way of being in touch with nature. For our natures were again following nature’s silent course and then love was all we knew.
II. Our Daoist A-tone-ment: A Literary Sketch From Santa Fe (April 30, 2022)
We are settling in here. And where is here? Into ourselves most surely but, in the concrete, in the High Desert some way outside of Santa Fe.
Nothing much happens each day, and this is the Daoist spirit which we remember, with which we are in love, and to which we bow in reverence. Aren’t there places and times when this soft realization is so clear that there’s nothing to do in this lifetime but to deepen the realization of at-one-ment, nothing but to soften the edges of separation until it is seen that no such separation ever existed in the first place?
You are drawing this morning, and I’m dusting off my keyboard, my old typewriter, as it were. In some sense, it feels as if it’s been some 10 years since I’ve written anything like these literary sketches, and that’s because what I’ve just said is largely true. Personal essays fell out of favor slowly as we stepped onto the trailhead of the spiritual path. For is not the Supra-personal where it’s at?
The answer, of course, is yes and no. For the Supra-personal is everywhere, and thus is right here also. If one must rightly give up the memoir as there’s truly nothing puffed up to say or opine about some imagined and imaginary ego, then just as surely one may, after a time of deep practice, indicate something of the personal expression of the Supra-personal for the sake of others, each of whom is a unique and, in this respect, special prismatic reflection of the One Light of Being. May I do so humbly here.
A recursive reminder, inner friend: best not, inadvertently, to romanticize our time here. For sure, I feel at home among these particular slowly rising hills and in this modest valley. Have I not said so each day; not said so almost too often? Have we not recognized the country, not the city, in our gait and in our reserved gaiety? This landscape, by no means epic but, as you’ve often remarked, understated, sings its peacefulness straight to my heart and into yours: for it’s at once Daoist-Zen, given its wabi sabi twisting piñon and ponderosa pines, its moss-covered, rosa-tinted stones, its crisp shimmering (if thirsty) cottonwoods, and the very pulse of the Southwest. Our Southwest, my dearest one.
But to romanticize? To pronounce it perfect? No, we know it’s a delicate land as most have felt for centuries. There is very little water here, and the region is, news reports tell us, in the midst of a 100 year drought. The creek winding through this valley is but dust, and no snowpack is melting, no water rushing down through it this spring. Nor, an old couple living here implied as we spoke with them, has it been so in recent years, perhaps for many such. Therefore, if we want to live here, we’ll need to wrangle our way–not once but time and again–to water while living mindfully, almost watchfully in the shadow of its paucity.
Then too there are the wild fires, a few of which are burning nearby. Yesterday evening the haze crept in, strong winds carried smoke through the valley, and we were forced to wear our N95 masks outdoors for reasons other than Covid. Only outdoors long enough for the dogs to pee, we crept back inside our adobe, and it was not the coziness we felt but the smallness of our world. The angeleno look of the forbidding orange sun–smoldering and remote above one of the hillsides as dusk fell–here was a sign of the brittleness of temporal existence.
“Have money and bring water,” one man told us a few days ago after we expressed a desire to live here. Has–I ask this figuratively–not the Southwest always been so?