Saturday, April 01, 2006

In Which Camerawoman Accidentally Undergoes An Unorthodox Immersion

Of course. Aridity. That's what I'd been feeling. Dryness, dessication. A state of being ancient and paper-thin, apt to crumble and blow away at the least touch. And empty. Don't forget empty. Abandoned, deserted. Derelict. There were many excellent, applicable words. Almost too many. Acedie. Ataraxia. Abulia. Absence. And that was just the A's.

I looked around. The woods were also dry. It was a dim, cool day, windy, with a few fleeting moments of sun. I could hear the wind approaching in the tree tops, and shivered a little. I'd underdressed for the day, except for when the sun peeked through. Then I was too warm. I stood listening for a moment. There was an interesting gobbling sound coming from some distant trees. I closed my eyes. It grew louder. Was it approaching, whatever it was ? The sound of human voices and footsteps on the path startled me and startled whatever was gobbling into silence. I turned and watched as a man and a woman in heated conversation, and a pair of sullen adolescents passed. Gobbling, gabbling. It was clear what I preferred.

Soon I was alone again on the path. The clouds had thickened, and I was wishing I'd worn my longjohns. It was quiet; my boots crunched on dead leaves and pine needles. Was this the same gall I'd photographed two months ago on my last visit here ? The same old gall. Great phrase. Very apt. The gall ! It might as well be my spiritual and intellectual lfe crunching underfoot. Texts, practices, everything. Dust. All of it. Galling. Appalling.

The wind picked up again, I could hear it approaching in the treetops. There was a pattering sound on the overhead canopy of dead oak leaves. I tucked my camera into my jacket and zipped up. The rain was providing a counter-argument to my discourse on dryness. I smiled. I had to concede. There were bits of green evident already, if only primitive, mossy green. And, I recalled, skunk cabbages had been pushing up out of the icy mud for months. In fact I'd seen some along this very path --Blueberry Swamp Path, according to the map -- two months ago. Where were they ?

After a few wrong turns, I recognized the little swampy inlet where, last winter, I spotted a tribe of ice bound symplocarpus foetidus. Excited, I tromped in and dropped to my knees next to a beautiful, green, pear-shaped spathe. Oh, the succulent green ! The royal purple ! And they were opening ! I just had to get a shot of the little geodesic spadix inside ! I approached the very edge of the swamp -- a gorgeous one was poking out of the water a few feet in, just beyond a small tree, probably close enough to photograph if I braced myself just so and leaned, reached, leaned and twisted, yes, yes, almost got it --


Actually, make that Squish. It wasn't water into which one whole gloved hand and its contralateral lower leg sunk, but mud. Black, rich, swampy springtime mud. The Tamron 90mm f/2.8 lens dangled a half inch from the ooze.

I giggled. S. Foetidus guffawed.

OK, OK. I had to admit it. Winter was over. Even Lent was drawing to a close. I bet even bona fide deserts were preparing to bloom. Soon the ice in the most sunless recesses of the river's coves would be reborn as water. I stuffed one smutched glove in my back pocket, swiped a few muddy drops from the camera and headed back to the main path.

A fragment from a psalm occurred to me -- The river of God is full of water. Well, this river was full of mud. It seemed somehow appropriate. Even theologically so, as if supplying a new metaphor for incarnation: a yeasty compound of earth and divinity.

This was, I reflected, a strange variant on baptism. Was I being invited to notice, to partake in some kind of rebirth ? Instead of being reborn to Christ by water and Spirit, being reborn by mud and March wind ? And reborn to what ?

Create in me, if not a clean heart, at least a muddy one ?

As I headed back to the visitor's center of the sanctuary I stopped on the boardwalk of the cove and leaned over the dark water. Green stalks and leaves were rising from the mud toward the surface and the light and, yes, the turtles had stirred from their mud-bound sleep and were paddling about underwater. They seemed stunned and a little slow.

Like any creature trying to wake up on a cold, dark, wet morning.

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