Our Place in the Family of Things

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You do not have to be good. / You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

The dishes can rot. The laundry languishes, washed and dry. Each morning, I make the bed and updump the basket onto it. My optimism is freshly piled as high as those clean clothes—all wilting by nighttime, when I scrape the pile back into the basket, then fall into bed. Will my failures outlive any good work I have done?

 You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.

My son is tardy again this morning because I cannot uncurl his warm limbs from my arms, where he sought comfort from some fear that finds him in the night. When I open my eyes at last, the sky is aflame, so I run into the yard in my pajamas, camera in hand. Then the chickens need to be released from coop to run, and the light, splitting across the garden makes them glow so fiercely that each of their feathers demand my attention.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

October is cool on my skin, warm in my eyes, and feels like all of the places I’ve left behind. The shrinking daylight crescendos its intensity—the autumn sky making love one last time to the passionately dying leaves. There is a soft poignancy. How did it happen that I am this age in this place? Why am I still distant from so many that I love?

I peel my son from my bed, rousing him towards French toast—the only consolation I can offer him for forcing his instinctive self into such prescriptions of waking, walking, sitting, eating, and learning by the clock, a condition of growing up. Beside my bed is a wooden crate, stacked with prose and poetry that I turn to whenever I ask myself, “And who will take care of me?”

Meanwhile the world goes on. / Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain / are moving across the landscapes, / over the prairies and the deep trees, / the mountains and the rivers.

The beauty of this season stands me still, gasping. The hills burn red, orange, yellow, brown, green—bright on sunny days and strong, with depth, on clouded days when the wind carries my breath dancing across the hayfield with the leaves. Everything is restless. I see birds normally hidden, deer grown bold despite being hunted, small furry creatures gathering for the coming lean times.

 Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, / are heading home again.

Their calls percuss the morning, making a racket over our farm. They lift from the lake at the end of our road each morning and throng over the treeline towards us. Evenings, they honk back across the sky and swirl down—hundreds of them? A thousand?—to our neighbor’s hay field and the lake he calls his wildlife preserve.

Such numbers in flight, choreographed to move as a whole, make me think swarm or school, but these are Canada geese, averaging eight pounds with five foot wingspans, not bees or small fish. These ordinary, unflinching birds carry weight alone and together. Soon they will move on.

We hurry to the lake one evening and park by the road. The kids tumble out, racing across the field. “Stop! Wait!” I yell. “Those geese will chase you.” They’ve dashed amidst a small group of geese who seem unperturbed, still resting and grazing. I catch up and see that I am fooled. Delighted, my daughter embraces the nearest decoy, hoisting it high and twirling through the grass. The real geese call from their safe floating beds on the lake.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

We spin apples on our new gizmo, which peels and cores and slices them. “Where have you been all my life?” I ask this gadget, as it fills the dehydrator in minutes, then creates a mountain of uniform, peeled slices that we toss with sugar and cinnamon, top with butter and oats and more sugar, and bake into a crisp. The kitchen is warm apples, wriggly puppy, kids making a racket louder than geese. I have cracked a window so that I can hear all of them this evening, inside and out, announcing our place.

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One thought on “Our Place in the Family of Things”

  1. I am glad to be reminded that “You do not have to be good. / You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.” although I often feel that what I do is far from good enough. I wish I could have some apple crisp and see you tricked by the decoys but luckily I can share it here. Thank you.

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