Midsummer night: I stand outside on my deck, stare up at the moon through the trees, follow the music. To the left I tune into the percussive cicadas, to the right a chorus of tree frogs, in-between the rhythmic whistle of crickets. We call them 'lazy, hazy days,' but summer always seems so fleeting, as if time truly does speed up. Was it always that way? Or does adulthood bring a shift in perspective, a different way of sensing time? Ray Kurzweil's Law of Time and Chaos suggests that our perception of time is measured in 'milestone' events. In the world of childhood, there are so many of these events and intervals between them shorter; hence, there's an ever-present sense of being 'in the moment,' when time does seem to move more slowly. The older we get, the fewer the milestone events and the greater the intervals between them, which contributes to the perception of time speeding up.
Fleeting as summertime may feel, it is also a very full season, thick with leaves and flowers, the air redolent with memories of summers past: the joys of sun and sand and floating on a wave; the craving for peaches and fresh corn and watermelon; the trips to and from the library, arms filled with books, every one of which will be devoured in this season of leisure. Even decades later, when years are no longer measured in semesters, summer reading still takes its place as something distinct from the rest of the year. There are summers when all I want is to get through past issues of The New Yorker and those gems of literary journals that have piled up. Other summers demand nothing more than temptation-rich breezy novels. Still others bring a longing to revisit something rich, Anna Karenina or The Odyssey. Today I think I'll read some Mary Oliver poems, tomorrow who knows what?
Moments come and go, lost in thoughtlessness or stuck in a wheel of perseveration. To persevere is to see ahead, value the effort as much as the light (even lightness) that eventually comes; to perseverate is to be caught up in a moment that has passed. Persevere has a softness, an open-ended breathiness; perseverate is the linguistic equivalent of anxiety.
Midsummer day: the blue heron who makes visitations to a pond on my road stops me in my tracks. She is grace in stillness, poetry in motion. She does not persevere, she does not perseverate. Her field of awareness must include me, even at a distance, but she is singular in her purpose right now, the epitome of patience, a master of timing. The longer I watch, the more commanding is her presence. With swiftness and skill, she plucks a small fish from the pond and swallows it. And with a wingspan that carries with it all things mythical and prehistoric, she takes flight.
Heron Rises From The Dark, Summer Pond
is the long-necked, long-bodied heron,
always it is a surprise
when her smoke-colored wings
and she turns
from the thick water,
from the black sticks
of the summer pond,
rises into the air
and is gone.
Then, not for the first or the last time,
I take the deep breath
of happiness, and I think
how unlikely it is
that death is a hole in the ground,
that ascension is not possible,
though everything seems so inert, so nailed
back into itself–
the muskrat and his lumpy lodge,
the fallen gate.
And especially it is wonderful
that the summers are long
and the ponds so dark and so many,
and therefore it isn't a miracle
but the common thing,
this trailing of the long legs in the water,
this opening up of the heavy body
into a new life: see how the sudden
gray-blue sheets of her wings
strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing
takes her in.
From What Do We Know (DaCapo Press, 2002)