AND WHEN I thought about it (you probably saw it right off), a knitting circle of mythic bawdy wise women is no less romantic an idea than the young knight in the meadow, is it?
Though a friend of mine asked to join the circle, so I am glad I wrote about it, even if it exposes me as still starry-eyed after all these years.
Today I read a line about a fictional character who was drifting through life, "lacking ambition but full of expectation."
It caught my attention. Is that me? I wondered. Or feared. Because I sometimes I have a sinking realization that I have spent too much time drifting, waiting for things to happen, instead of deciding what I want and exerting myself.
Avoiding setting challenges for myself, in the mistaken belief that I am being kind to myself. Like, no challenges, no stress.
I dislike stress. People say there is good stress and bad stress, but honestly? I've never learned to like any type.
Some people thrive on it, like another of my friends. She is diligent, highly goal-oriented. Sets herself daily, monthly and yearly challenges, and is very accountable to herself. She cultivates the habits she needs in order to meet the challenges, and she DOES meet them. It's admirable and probably quite satisfying for her.
Alas, her way is not my way.
Screw it. What I said about stress? I don't like it... but so what? I do want to risk something. I want to throw myself in the middle of something uncomfortable. I want to grow bigger. I want to take down the "closed" sign.
"When I'm old, I want to be part of a knitting circle," I announced to my husband. (I don't really knit, but not the point.)
I imagined them, the wise and earthy women in this knitting circle.
Quirky, kind. Strong, sharp. Full of thoughts.
Playful and fond of the absurd, because laughing together is good medicine.
I said, "They'll like reading. And growing herbs...or wildlife habitat. But they're a little dangerous, somehow...like, they're witches."
I looked over at him. He nodded.
(He's heard me dreaming aloud about other hypothetical communities that we could somehow be part of. Maybe a permaculture-green-sustainable community in the Pacific Northwest? A pagan-artist-village community in Devonshire? The oddball, charming fictional communities of Bluebell, Alabama, or Stars Hollow, Connecticut...surely they must be based on real places. Etcetera.)
The next day, musing on the ways of my mind, it struck me—I had been describing the person who I want to be when I grow old.
The ongoing sense of community with other women that I sometimes long for, especially now that my mother and grandmother are gone, my aunties dispersed.
Be a good parent to yourself, a wise woman told me. Be both the daughter and mother.
To that, I'll add...also be the grandmother-crone to yourself.
I'm reminded that as a girl, I had a habit of buying highly impractical clothing for imaginary scenarios.
Floaty, gauzy gown with a long sash and ruffles? Of course. Because I was hopeful that one day very soon, I would be walking in a sunny meadow and come across a princely young man who would promptly fall in love with me and my lovely dress.
"Wear it and he will come."
It didn't seem unlikely, then.
(The meadow never actually happened. Eventually there was indeed a princely young man, but he's never cared for meadows. Or walks.)
I'm poking fun at my younger self, but that imagining came from the same mind that today muses on knitting circles and community. Still trying on possibilities of the person I want to be and the life I want for myself.
When I was a young woman with a head stuffed full of romantic novels, my longings were different than they are now. The knitting circle suits me better these days.
So it appears I have a sketchy map, and a place to get to...but which paths will take me there?
I have to get on with it. I'm already oldish, with no community in sight. Or else I'm overlooking something right under my nose, which is a possibility.
But it all began with the girl that I once was, let's not forget her. I love her once-upon-a-time longing for the mythic that played out in dresses.
And I am glad she lives on as again I try to envision a life that fits who I'm longing to be now.
On the day I took this photo, I was using my new smartphone. Taking it on a test run before a big trip coming up.
As you see, the sun was bright (unlike today, which began with rain and then stopped raining and began to sullenly "gray" at us instead).
But the screen was so reflective and dark that I couldn't even see the image in it. I just hoped I was framing this sole oak leaf caught in a net of pale grass.
That's what much of life is like—like those blind photos I was taking, I mean—you can't see ahead of time what the outcome will be. You just line up your shot, click the shutter and hope for the best.
Look at that moss growing greenly! It does my curmudgeon heart good to consider it today, even at a remove, through such a poor simulacrum of life as a digital image.
As usual, the spring rode in on the wings of red-winged blackbirds, and is unfolding in the woodlands, where bloodroot and skunk cabbage now grow. I know because I see others' photos and posts in my Facebook stream, tracing their botanical wanderings.
I, however, have been indoors all week. Struggling with technology, glued to screens following primaries and caucuses, Netflixing, reading The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (a novel that's especially interesting now, in light of the stark competition for the soul of America playing out in our national campaigns and among Americans overall).
This is how I'm feeling: Unsettled, fragmented, restless, dull. Discontented, bored, exasperated, excited, intermittently hopeful; ready to surprise myself.
Magic's happening somewhere. Maybe like those bloodroots, buried deep beneath the soil, only shyly and slowly emerging into this inhospitable grayness.
Why do I suddenly have the image of a mushroom in my head?
I feel more a sort of humble fungi than that invisible leaf caught in grasses.
Early in the springtime, my lungs need oceans of air. [an everlasting wash of air.]
A huge expanse of sky, where eagles circle...where human eyes can rest on a vast vault of wind-washed blue softened by cloud.
(Do you see her up there, the glorious winged one? Did she hear me speak to her in praise as I moved below, so small and large-hearted through the wildlands?)
Trammeled by months of dimness, small screens, small rooms, small gaze—so close to warmth of hearth, breathing the small air of home—my mind rests on these broad sweeps of land.
The particular beauty of trees on a rise that I have loved for my whole life without ever tiring of their speaking branches, of their shapes curving against the sky, so individual in their ways, complete in themselves.
Before I am ready, I come up against a boundary. [Then the good minute goes.]
It sends my thoughts racing ahead, worrying against peace's edge. Once the boundary-less becomes bound, my large breath begins to shrink...until the wind rattles the grasses, the red-winged blackbirds chirr, and there I am again, back to where I stand.
If you live in a place where the ground does not freeze, then you miss the pleasure of the thaw—that receptive, bodily feel of the earth under your foot yielding once more to your weight, a sensation you may not have even realized you had lost until it is restored to you. It reminds you that the earth is your beloved.
How fair you are, young birch sisters, I think.
Red-osier dogwood, bright kinnikinnick, you that the native peoples honored, I send you good greetings.
O oak-crowned hill, do you feel the reverence with which I approach you? Maybe the rustle of your leaves as I pass is for me.
On this day, you feel once again in conversation with this earth, like catching up with a relative you have not spoken with for many months, though you were sometimes lonely.
It is more than walking on. Together you walk, reunited.
Long ago, I visited the Amalienburg in Munich, a rococo hunting lodge built for an emperor.
The jewel box Hall of Mirrors there is pale blue like this sky, with branching silver tracery and silver sunlight pouring in through wavy glass, and the trees in the parkland outside grow into infinity in a round of silvered mirrors.
All in a circle, like a glade of silver-white birches in the snow.
I scatter seed on the ground for sparrows.
For blue jay, peanuts.
Suet for woodpecker.
As dusk falls, rabbit will creep out under the moon and glean whatever is left. Tomorrow I will find her small pellets left in the hollows of my footsteps.
I gaze out at leaden skies and snowflakes falling down, up, sideways, uncertain as feathers riding freezing breaths of wild air.
But once the clouds make the snow, it must needs land. Finally it will settle, on branch, shingle or ice-slick ground.
Birds speed past. Cold. Yet this morning I heard a cardinal outside my window, singing his breeding territory song, and now the eagles warm and shelter their clutch of three eggs from harm.
Everybody has chore goals: clean the house/mow the grass/scoop the litterbox.
And more complex, multi-step goals. Like "plant more native flowers this spring," "get rid of 30 years' worth of accumulated possessions," or "find a new place to live that meets the requirements of two people who want very different things" (to name a few of mine).
But sometimes progressing toward some ideal is not exactly a goal. Not in the sense of analysis, problem-solving, list-making, or even about taking action...at least, not in a linear sort of way.
Can we talk about that?
You encounter moments when you overlap your past with your present, and see the differential. Somehow you've managed to expand your view of the world or yourself. Not because you've cleverly delineated a goal and a plan to reach it; but because you grew toward it all unknowing, like it was the sun.
Over many days or years, you chose to embrace an idea: a way of thinking or experiencing the world that moved you, imprinted itself on your impressionable heart. And you don't realize until your Current Self unexpectedly collides with your Past Self that these selves are no longer the same.
How does this happen?
It's like you're traveling along a spiral, where you come around to some version of yourself every so often and give a nod to the person you were the last time you traveled this path. Maybe you're a star on this cosmic spiral I'm envisioning, and you notice that the luminosity you're emitting has leveled up. Maybe you had been as bright as red Antares, the heart of the Scorpion...and now you're even brighter, moving toward Betelgeuse.
But you realize this only when you juxtapose where you began with where you are now.
The idea that made me think about these encounters with oneself in the first place is the way that some indigenous peoples define "persons," and how that is broadening my circle of compassion and relatives.
All humans are persons, but not all persons are human. All living things are considered persons; and the definition of "living" is wide and deep, encompassing mountains, mosses, waterfalls, lakes, winds, clouds, the animate Earth itself. All our relations.
I am still thinking about ancestors, the land and their relationship to one another, you see.
How much wonder does such a personed world hold, how much sacredness and magic? This way of seeing wanted me to claim it. I know this because encountered it many times, was on its trail in books, poems, articles, interviews, art, the leaves along the pathway stirring in its wake.
I've thought of animals as persons for a very long time—but not mountains.
I've thought of birds as persons for a long time—but only more recently bees.
What I'm saying is that if I can't see a fish as a kind of person, then I am the one lacking, not the fish.
So good news for people like me who are not planful. Who don't have words for what they're seeking until it shows up like a gift. Some part of you may be mysteriously working away at finding that thing and making you a better person, through an underground process that neatly bypasses your tendency to get stuck in your head.