I used to think we could commune with nature, like the way that Ralph Waldo Emerson suggests in his writings on Transcendentalism; that by virtue of simply spending time in it, with ears, eyes, and mind attuned, something spiritual might pass between us and it.
At some point a break occurred, however, and I find the notion of communion with nature increasingly difficult. Indeed, the word that presents itself to me over and over now is ‘indifference.’ Nature is indifferent to us–I can’t seem to shake this feeling, though I want to. I want that innocence of my twenties, when the woods buzzed with mystery; when a gust of cool wind contained echoes of ancient rituals; when the deep red-orange of autumn maples burned with knowledge of species long extinct; when the molecules of magnificent events lingered inside the furrows of ashes, behind the peels of shagbark hickories, or tight against the rippled trunks of beech trees. But now it all seems like mere vegetation–no less beautiful, just void of the visions it once held; no less a fertile ground for the imagination, just no longer offering transcendence.
Perhaps I’ve been reading too much Modernist literature, or perhaps it’s an effect of age. I do miss seeing nature through those younger eyes. Oddly, though, the loss is not all that sad. In fact, it feels pretty natural.
A pair of plump, skinny-legged women, late middle-aged and top heavy, balance in the belly-high seawater, yards from shore. Each holds raised in their right hands a beer can, and in their lefts, a cigarette. They are offset mirrors of one another, their cheeks abused by the sun, and they stare glumly at the beach. The sand-clouded, yellow-green waters washing around their expansions and crevices, their tumescent and skirted one-piece bathing suits, have surged and sucked and trembled and roared for millennia and are just as likely to do so for millennia hereafter. The indifference of the sea is pure. Few places preach the passing of time like the beach. Few things taunt us with death like the ceaseless pummel of waves upon our eroding shore.
Do you feel there is a scent in your environs? A whiff of setting–however subtle, however breathed–that informs the eras of your life? And it may be no scent at all, but a texture of the air–a psychological scent, recognizable by the baseline “I” of your consciousness, the one that is privy even to your sleepdark dreams, nestled unfathomably inside the case of your body (that is dying daily). I speak of the smell of a life chapter, so to speak–the intangible thing that, when you achieve a later maturity, will temper entire decades.
Maybe it’s not a smell but a color, diaphanous, tinting the light which surrounds you. Like fall is orange, but even less definable–a thing understood but not defined. Like November’s shroud of misted gray and the brown of bare branches somehow made richer by that very same gray.
So what is the color and scent of adolescence? Of childhood? Of those first few years of marriage? when you can’t figure a thirty-year anniversary and adult children; it simply escapes your powers of projection. What is the color and scent of those two earlier years in which you struggled, failed, and survived–simultaneously the best and worst of times? Of those other two years, earlier still, when you were so certain, yet you failed anyway? What is the aura of each of these gilded and tarnished eras? And all along, your most consistent boon has been experience–bitter, ecstatic, human experience.