I turned off my radio because I noticed the tips of the trees were already bare in many places. All across their tops the sunlight was catching them in a way that softened them like the bristles of a baby’s hairbrush, except wavier and stretched wide as the land–an earthwide undulation of soft, orange-pink bristles. And I turned the radio off because I wanted to listen to the trees, which is another way of saying I wanted to listen to nothing, because nature doesn’t talk to us: a leaf falls, and we call it an omen. We pick it up; turn it in our hands; roll our mind over its veins and across its papery flesh behind a dry fingertip, searching and searching for meaning, and when the meaning doesn’t come we create it: this is the sacred work of the artist. And aren’t those bristles lovely.
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.
Look at your world. Anticipation hangs round the trunks and low branches of hillside trees. Behind the laboratory, up on the steep slope, which spends its day much in shade now, fall has come. Everyone always guesses at the reason–some say shorter days; others say cooler weather; still others say moisture. Whatever the cause, it begins gradually in mid-August with a shy, suggestive fading of the green, which few seem to notice; then it waits; time must pass–elusive, insomniac time, falling away at the moment we would seize it.
Then on a traffic-addled September morning, one on which time has willfully mobilized against you, bringing tardiness, despite your efforts, and its attendant threat of reprimand, a spray of red pierces the leaf curtain at your left, followed by scattered assertions of pale yellow. A drowsing, purpling vine sways affably from an oak. And for a moment already passed, time was almost a thing to be grasped.