Sunday, January 13, 2008


Even in winter -- maybe especially in winter -- the community garden yields a rich crop of images. The going is tough between the little, fenced-in plots: boot-pocked snow, frozen slick and solid on the surface, collapses under my weight, and my gyroscope is in overdrive. The tangled remnants of plants, both cultivated and wild, weave through and overtop lopsided walls of wood and wire. I stop to rewind my scarf. I am a refugee in an abandoned shantytown.

It is midwinter. Daylight is wan and still brief. We gather indoors where it is warm and try to make the fall's harvest last. The world is cold, harsh and inhospitable. Defend us from all perils and dangers of this night we mutter at mid-day.

It's the season for lying fallow, for hibernating. I can feel it in my bones. At night I crawl under four blankets and read. I am slowly traversing the vast expanse of Moby Dick in my snug bed-boat; a cat, the largest, warmest one, sleeps at my feet. I feel her warmth through my socks, through four blankets. My nose is cold. I navigate Melville's majestic, complex prose; the surge and ebb of text lull me; I founder and sink, then float, weightless, on currents of dream.

How much sweeter it is than wakefulness with all its gravity and perplexity: to be free of both clinging and being bound. To fly, float in a medium of infinite, eternal buoyancy.

But, of course, it's a small respite: the cat leaves, Moby Dick falls off the bed with a leviathan thud, the din of the world muscles in with the sound of a million simultaneous crucifixions.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That thing that overtakes me, clutching at my heart and throat, that familiar thing that unpredictably overwhelms, that nausea, that vertigo it is none other than Timor domini, the nameless, prostrating awe that follows the slightest intimation of the presence of God.

It is a sensation of absolute contingency; how can we possibly venture the word "Love" for such a whirlwind ? Love calls us to the things of the world the poet said. The line shows up like a tether when things get too metaphysically windy, reminding me of the Down To Earth that is Christ. Bread, wine. Feed my sheep. Love God, love one another. Christ calls us to the the things of the world.

So I walk through the winter garden again taking pictures of weeds -- beings that have collapsed, grown smaller and simpler, drier and stiffer. There is a twinge in my left knee when I squat; the skin of my hands is chafed and dry in the cold air. Under the snow lies the frozen earth; in the frozen earth lie all manner of seeds and sleeping things.

Thank you for all the blessings of this life I mutter, morning, noon and night.

And even in midwinter -- maybe especially in midwinter -- there are simulacra of resurrections everywhere.

The Newborn sleeps in his manger, in a snug embrace with death; there is a faint whiff of myrrh in the winter air.

The husk of a flowering sun hangs above the low garden plots, stiff as a host.

Standing in the ruined garden, I turn and face what has loved -- what loves -- me into being. I turn and turn and it is everywhere -- in the blinding glare of the low sun in the west, in the row of leafless trees in the east, in the empty blue overhead, in the weedy snow underfoot. I stand, and look -- love -- back.

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